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28 November 2017

Is the digital ad industry turning a content corner?


We live in an age of hyper media consumption. Whether as individuals or businesses, never before have we been presented with so many ways to communicate with each other. 

People now have access to constant communication and, in the digital landscape, a seemingly never ending choice of channels and devices to choose from. Businesses have taken advantage of a growing and increasingly sophisticated range of digital marketing solutions to converse with their consumers alongside traditional media.   

So are we facing communication overload? And how can businesses rationalise their comms strategies and make sure they are connecting with the right people on the right device at the right time? 

Many brands and businesses still approach the ‘standout’ objective through media blitz - advertising across as many channels as possible, with the most impactful ad messaging available. However, this can create high levels of disruption for consumers as their digital communication is interrupted with often poor and irrelevant ad messaging. The result? Ad blocking, which 22% of consumers now indulge in according to the latest IAB figures, and which the Association of Online Publishers says is costing publishers up to £2 million ($2.6 million) a year in lost ad revenue. 

In response, many brands are turning towards developing native content to make their advertising more interesting and relevant to boost engagement. Almost a third (28%) of all display advertising is now content-based, according to the latest IAB/PWC report and well over half (57%) is delivered through mobile.  

However, it’s one thing to commit to content and quite another to do it well. And it would seem that despite a major shift towards content, old habits are dying hard. Havas Media Group’s excellent annual ‘Meaningful Brands’ study reports that 60% of content produced by brands is poor, irrelevant… and is therefore unsurprisingly failing to engage. And that’s a pretty big proportion when the ultimate objective is to cut-through the digital media blitz.  

So how can brands turn this around and start getting it right? 

The priority should be putting the user experience first. The key factors here are the subject and quality of content you are delivering, and how you are proposing to engage people with it. Relevance to surrounding editorial content is key, as is minimising disruption to the user.  

The initiatives of the Coalition for Better Ads and the IAB’s ‘Gold Standards’ are welcomed  for their simple goal – to provide a better online ad experience. However, if we are to really improve user experience, we need to remember that it’s not just about formats or ads. Audiences simply want experiences that are: interesting, relevant, entertaining; found in trusted environments; and accessible on their terms, whether ad-funded or not.  

Simple stuff it might seem, but it’s vital that we keep the emphasis on the quality of content, as this is ultimately what will engage the right consumers and inspire them to act. 

Not only will this have the benefit of cutting down on content overload for the consumer, but it will improve publisher monetisation and the user experience, and encourage digital ad industry health in the face of a challenging – but exciting – period of change. 

A recent survey by Kantar Communications Planning revealed that over a third of people (36%) think that advertising is changing for the better. Keeping the focus on content, quality and relevance will hopefully push this figure higher. 

By Paul Lowrey, Digital Strategy Director at Time Inc. UK 


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  • Right Brain, Left Brain sums up the dichotomy of a media business that’s constantly battling with the challenge of delivering a profit and discovering new ways to communicate to consumers. The Cream editorial team combined with a dream team of industry pioneers from around the world share their expert opinions.

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