An odd disconnect has been emerging regarding spending on consumer digital advertising in the U.S. that can be summarized as “momentum over logic.”
On the one hand, record-breaking amounts of money are being spent on many forms of digital advertising, as spending on other, traditional channels continues to erode. And more advanced forms of digital marketing continue to rise in usage.
“Digital ads may be a part of everyday life, but they’re not something that people welcome.”
On the other hand, consumers’ overall views of digital advertising overwhelmingly run from disliking it to loathing it, especially Generation Z.
And if that wasn’t bad enough for financial marketers and others trying to reach consumers, many consumers aren’t just grousing about it. Many are taking action to broom it out of their lives, exercising their tech-given right to not take part in any commercial conversation against their will.
Some forms of digital advertising are less likely to annoy consumers than others, and at times people can almost find it bearable. Experts have some tips for which formats to choose, and advice on the content that stands the best chance of holding the consumer’s attention.
Walk a Mile in My Browsers
But financial marketers must periodically put on their own “consumer” hat, considering what appeals (and doesn’t appeal) to them about digital advertising when they browse on their desktops, tablets, and smartphones.
“Do I use an ad blocker on my own personal electronic devices?”
At The Financial Brand Forum marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuk asked attendees why they would recommend spending on direct mail for their bank or credit union if they never opened a direct mail piece they received at home. In that same vein, marketers should be asking themselves questions like these:
- How often do I let skippable YouTube video ads play to their conclusion — and when I do, why?
- How much do I love ads with continuous animations that niggle at the corner of my vision while I’m trying to absorb what I went to the website for in the first place?
- Do I like videos on websites and social media sites that start automatically with sound I wasn’t anticipating?
- Would I interact positively with my own institution’s digital advertising if I wasn’t being paid to do so?
- Do I use an ad blocker on my own personal electronic devices?
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More Dollars Being Spent on Messages Consumers Avoid
U.S. digital advertising revenues hit a record-breaking $28.4 billion in the first quarter of 2019, coming off a record-setting 2018, according to the IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report prepared by PwC US. In 2018 internet advertising rose by 21.8%, hitting $107 billion, far above TV advertising at $71 billion, and newspaper advertising at $16 billion. Spending on mobile internet advertising continues to outpace desktop internet, with mobile hitting a share of 65% in 2018, after bypassing desktop beginning in 2015.
If you are selling that advertising, you are doing pretty well. But what about the consumer?
The Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that 74% of consumers now use one or more methods to avoid advertising. Consider the increases reflected over the 2018 barometer report:
- 48% use ad blocking tech, up 10 percentage points from 2018.
- 47% have changed media habits in order to see less advertising, up 6 points.
- 39% claim to have found ways to avoid nearly all ads, up 5 points.
- 38% avoid ads by paying up for streaming services, up 8 points.
According to research from Globalwebindex, younger consumers worldwide are more likely to employ ad blockers: 31% of 16-24 year olds use them and 32% of 25-34 years olds do so, versus 20% of the 35-44 year old group and even less of everyone else. Globally three in five men use ad blockers and two in five women do. North America is one of the leading regions using ad blockers. eMarketer estimates that one in four Americans use ad blockers on mobile or desktop devices.
Why such resistance? The same research ranked the seven top reasons this way:
- Too many ads, 48%.
- Ads are annoying or irrelevant, 47%.
- Ads are too intrusive, 44%
- Ads contain viruses or bugs, 38%.
- Ads take up too much screen space, 38%.
- Blocking speeds up page-loading time, 33%.
- Avoids watching video ads before watching clips/shows, 29%.
In a research report eMarketer cites multiple studies relating to consumers’ negative feelings about digital marketing. One of its own, done with Bizrate Insights, indicates that roughly two-thirds of consumers think digital ads can be a fair trade for being capable of accessing free content online under certain circumstances. Their feelings depend on the device, website, or app in consideration. While some consumers generally feel open to digital ads for free access, a sizeable portion don’t want the ads no matter what the tradeoff.
Indeed, using digital marketing to promote your brand can backfire and give certain consumers a reason to dislike your company. In a report, “The Most Hated Online Advertising Techniques,” Nielsen Norman Group quotes a consumer this way: “Ads that pop up in the way, force you to close them, or flash for attention just make me hate the product being advertised.”
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What Consumers Don’t Like to See in Digital Marketing
What do consumers like and not like about digital marketing today?
There’s precious little they actually like about digital marketing. In multiple studies one picks up the feeling that if there were no ads, consumers would be just as happy. But people have been griping about ads forever. But with many consumers loving free content — the internet model went that way for many categories decades ago, eclipsing many paid content models like American Online and CompuServe — free with no support is a nonstarter.
More typically, the studies measure what consumers dislike least, grumble about, and downright hate.
In eMarketer’s research, reflected in the chart above, one out of ten consumers don’t mind digital advertising — a pretty tiny minority given how digital channels have come to dominate today’s media mix.
The types of ads most disliked seem to share a lack of consumer control. They kick in automatically and often effectively take over one’s own device. While this is not much different from commercial television during the days of rabbit ears — all you had to do was stand up, walk to your set, and change the channel — there’s a big difference between the web we know today and a handful of VHF channels being the only electronic media besides radio.
“Consumers can be willing to strike a bargain for their eyes and their time.”
Nielsen Norman’s research evaluated both mobile and desktop experiences with digital marketing.
For desktop, the firm found a four-way tie for most hated type of advertising:
- Modal ads — ads that appear on top of a site’s content and must be clicked out of before the content can be viewed.
- Autoplay video ads.
- Intracontent ads that shuffle page content as they load.
- Deceptive links that appear to be content but are really ads.
Least disliked for desktop: non-animated ads set on the right-hand rail of the web page and “other related links” boxes or sections.
“Running such ads should be safe and not damage users’ brand loyalty,” the study suggests.
Mobile preferences are even more important to consider given the migration of ad dollars to the smaller screen. Here, the two most-disliked formats were modal and intracontent ads, but these were closely followed by video that had to be viewed before other content could be seen and deceptive links.
One point about videos, from a study by Jun Group: Consumers can be willing to strike a bargain for their eyes and their time. The firm’s survey asked about “rewarded videos” and these were favored by consumers for multiple reasons. Consumers said they would be more likely to buy as a result of seeing a rewarded video.
A rewarded video gives the cooperating viewer something besides the right to view a video after sitting through a commercial. In exchange for watching the message, the consumer may receive points of some kind, in-app rewards, or something else of value. On the Pandora free service, for example, sitting through a longer message than normal can be opted into. Rewards can include a long period without the usual commercials or access to an album.
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A Special Heads Up on Generation Z
Kantar has been conducting studies on advertising reactions in various channels for years. “One thing has remained consistent,” the firm states in a report. “People are generally more positive towards traditional advertising, and more skeptical about digital forms of advertising. Digital ads may be a part of everyday life, but they’ve not something that people welcome as much as print, outdoor, TV and cinema advertising.”
If marketers think they face challenges for digital advertising now, wait until Gen Z becomes a bigger part of the banking public. Studies indicate that punching through to these consumers will prove hardest of all. In many ways they feel overwhelmed by an ongoing barrage of marketing from all directions and this can make them resistant to seeing and hearing any of it. What they can’t turn off, they have developed the ability to tune out, according to Kantar.
Generation Z lives in digital, and so these consumers tend to feel proprietary about their “world,” according to the Kantar report. One way to make them feel positively about a message is to provide on/off controls, rather than presenting them with a non-skippable video, for example. They, too, also favor rewarded behavior, regarding their viewing of the ad content as a fair trade for the “free” content.
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Tips to Mitigate Consumer Distaste for Digital Ads
Some suggestions from experts on how to improve consumers’ feelings about digital advertising.
1. Try humor. Kantar’s research indicates that something that will hold many consumers’ attention is marketing laced with humor. Humor can be a tricky thing, and sometimes very generationally specific. But the firm finds that it can turn a perceived negative to a positive experience.
2. Don’t be the uninvited speaker. Nielsen Norman’s Therese Fessenden, User Experience Specialist, believes digital ads could benefit from a sense of propriety. Think about a formal dinner at which somebody barges in with a product and, without so much as a “may I,” begins touting the product to the guests. She says many digital ads can be just like that. Those that can’t be interrupted are the worst.
3. Be polite. Fessenden adds that this can go a long way to making consumers receptive. Digital formats that don’t interfere with the content that brought someone to the site in the first place stand the best chance of being positively received. She’s a big believer in the “right rail” ads.