Consumers Will Drive The Next $50 Billion in Ad Tech

jeff-banderData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Ephraim (Jeff) Bander, president and chief revenue officer at Sticky.

Randall Rothenberg’s evangelical speech at IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting conference ignited fresh introspection into the role that digital advertising plays to support freedom of speech, diversity and a dynamic, commercial economy. He posed a simple question: “How will we create – and how will you, personally, contribute to creating – the next $50 billion in value … value to society, value to the culture, value to your family, value to your friends and neighbors?”

Amid recent muted skepticism around ad tech, I applaud Rothenberg for bringing the question of “why” back to the forefront. Some have already taken a shot at confronting our industry’s existential challenge. Lindsey Slaby, founder of Sunday Dinner, and Todd Sawicki, CEO at Zemanta, argued that the next $50 billion will come from agency disruption and the emergence of new models that integrate agency collaboration with publishers and ad tech during the campaign planning process.

While this is true, we also need to challenge ourselves and hunt for answers outside the ad tech bubble by exploring the notion of value from the eyes of the consumer.

In the past, consumers represented a passive constituency, patiently absorbing all the digital ads that the industry threw at them. But now that consumer backlash has clearly vocalized increasing grievance with interruptive and annoying ads, the industry is quickly shifting its strategy toward less intrusive and more relevant user experiences.

As consumers become attuned to these changes and emboldened by platforms that give them more control, value in the next $50 billion will undoubtedly come from the empowered consumer.

Ad ‘Light’ – The New Compromise?

Anyone with an ad blocker who has recently visited a site most likely has seen the message, “Looks like you’re still using an ad blocker. Please turn it off in order to continue into Forbes’ ad-light experience.”

Perhaps requiring users to unblock a site seems like a curious publisher solution, but initial test results appear positive. In Forbes’ initial pilot, 44% of ad blocking users felt compelled enough to whitelist Forbes’ site to enter and consume content. Afterward, users “did not receive a welcome ad when coming back to the site, autoplay pre-roll ads, inline videos and interstitials. They receive only ‘lightweight’ ad units on the pages throughout the site.”

While the verdict is still out with other publishers, the “ad light” model represents a new kind of deal with consumers that sounds like this: “We hear you loud and clear. If you unblock us, we will no longer abuse your experience with hefty advertising. From now on, we’ll be courteous and mindful by only serving relevant, ‘featherweight’ ads. As a result, this will allow us to keep serving you great content and at the same time make revenue to survive as a digital media publisher. Thank you for your continued patronage.”

User Experience Is Becoming King

A recent Adobe study explored user expectations of online content among consumers who use an average of six devices and 12 sources of content. It found astounding results related to what consumers want from their overall experience:

  • 73% said content “must display well on the device.”
  • Given only 15 minutes to consume content, 66% “prefer to view something beautifully designed vs. simple and plain.”
  • If an image won’t load or takes too long to load, at least 44% switch devices and 39% stop engaging with the content.
  • 35% of millennials reported they value entertainment over accuracy.

To date, “content is king” has resounded through the industry as the standing mantra for marketers. But the era of ad blocking has shined a spotlight on the degradation of users’ experience of content. Adobe’s results illustrate the paramount importance of not just developing content, but also creating an experience that users will find entertaining, quickly digestible and easy on the eye.

This becomes even more critical as native advertising continues to accelerate and the lines between editorial and branded content appear to blur. Over the long run, if publishers continue to dismiss the signs that consumers want better experiences, consumer trust and eyeballs will slowly decline on their site and move to publishers that know consumers are king. Alternatively, if brands, publishers and their ad tech partners heed consumers’ demand for immersive, entertaining content, the whole ecosystem will quickly achieve the next $50 billion in value.

Follow Ephraim (Jeff) Bander (@Stickyadman), Sticky (@sticky_ad) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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