People Like Advertising

Originally posted on Medium

I have an unpopular opinion: People actually like advertising.

I know this flies in the face of every digital ad strategy that forces readers to watch ads (pop-up’s, auto rolls and everything other moving, drifting and jumping ad technique that drives people crazy). And it is also contrary to every ad blocker installed by someone who grew to hate all of intrusive ad formats.

But long-term industry experience is clear. Twenty-six percent of millennials last year preferred the Super Bowl commercials over the game itself. One popular edition of Vogue was 77 percent advertisements. When newspapers hit peak print circulation in the late 1990’s, a large percentage of readers actually bought papers for the sole reason of consuming the advertising. Even today, HubSpot notes that 77 percent of consumers would rather filter out the “bad” ads than block all advertising. You can go on and on. There is a lot of evidence that the public doesn’t have to hate advertising.

So in the digital space, why do we assume that people hate ads and have to be forced to watch them? I think it is because the advertising industry — writ large — has become deeply enamored of data and targeting, and too often dropped the ball on creative. A lot of money and energy is spent figuring out who should be exposed to what ad, and much less on whether that ad actually engages the consumer.

Just look at some of the most common ad formats today, and how misplaced they are for the digital environment. A banner ad is just a print ad. Creatively, my grandfather could have written one. 15 and 30 second pre-rolls? Those are just repurposed TV ads.

Where are the ads that are uniquely designed to creatively engage people in a digital space — and why is it ok that they are so rare? Imagine a radio ad running on a blank TV screen, or someone reading classifieds on the radio. Too many digital ads are creatively retrograde and derivative. We just seem to be hoping that data and targeting will save the day.

In a speech at the IAPI/ADFX awards in Ireland, Bob Hoffman, author of the popular “Ad Contrarian” blog said, “The consumer never sees the briefing documents or the strategic rationale. All she ever sees are the ads. And if the ads stink, the whole thing stinks.”

This is actually the reason why I am an optimist about the future of digital advertising — including advertising on news and other content sites. This whole thing is new and we are still just getting started. When TV first started, they actually did just read radio ads on the air. They didn’t yet understand the power of visual images.

Similarly, I don’t think that we know yet how awesome and engaging digital advertising can be. We don’t know how the medium is different (after all, it does change constantly), and what will really drive people to engage and consume. There really are no answers yet — which also means that we don’t know how great the answers can be.

“We have to make advertising beautiful, and interesting, and entertaining. And I have bad news… algorithms, and data, and metrics can’t do that. Only people can do that,” Hoffman said.

But the good news is also that people can do that. We just need to embrace creativity again stop treating it as a digital advertising afterthought.


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