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Advertising must mend its relationship with the public for a more sustainable digital future
March 15, 2022
In 2019, the Advertising Association's Credos think tank published research revealing that public favorability towards advertising had hit an all time low since Credos had begun tracking the measure in 1992. According to the report, just 25% of those surveyed had a positive perception of the industry.
Between accelerated digital engagement brought on by Covid-19, increased importance placed on brand values and emerging technologies that challenge and improve the industry's accessibility standards, expectations around online customer experience are growing.
As advertisers and digital marketers, we're responsible for addressing those expectations and building a more sustainable future for this industry, making advertising a more positive experience for users, brands and publishers alike.
This new customer experience economy offers a backdrop for an emerging call to keep user experience (UX) front of mind when advertisers are building their campaigns, instead of adding UX as an afterthought.
Use customer insights to improve ads
In an increasingly cluttered online landscape, it's time to focus on the most effective areas for improving user experience of advertising. To do this, we must first identify what consumers really want from the industry, and why it's currently missing its mark.
According to the 2019 Credos Report, the strongest drivers of low trust in advertising include 'bombardment' (21%), 'sensitive sectors & vulnerable groups' (16%), 'intrusiveness' (8%) and 'suspicious techniques' (5%).
Conversely, the strongest positive drivers of trust in advertising were cited as 'creativity & entertainment' (25%), 'social contribution' (8%), 'information' (8%) and 'value exchange' (4%).
To improve the industry's relationship with the public, we must double down on our strengths and improve on our weaknesses.
Here are four ways in which brands can do this.
Recommendation = search in reverse
At its core, advertising should function as a channel for recommending products or services that its audience may benefit from. Good advertising should be informative, helpful and relevant to the consumer. Great advertising should work as search in reverse.
Over the past two decades, consumers have become accustomed to using search engines to find the information, products or services they need. Advertising that hits the mark should deliver this information to the consumer without them having to search for it, and do so at a moment in which they're capable of and open to processing it.
Instead of designing campaigns to capture eyeballs and drive clicks at any cost, digital advertisers should take a more nuanced approach to developing campaigns, considering who their target audience is, what information they are really looking for, as well as when and where they are open to receiving it.
The secret to capturing attention in a user-friendly way lies in contextual relevance. According to a study by GumGum, contextually relevant ads increased neural engagement by 43% and produced 2.2X better ad recall.
The IAB UK identified that ads placed on publisher content received 105% more attention than ads placed on task sites such Trainline and Rightmove. The reason for this may be something called cognitive load: there is a limit to the amount of information that humans can hold in their working memory at any one time. Therefore, an advertising message that appears while a user is busy completing a task, such as booking a train ticket, is highly likely to be missed.
On the other hand, placements on relevant, premium content that the user is already engaged with is the recipe for a successful, clickable campaign, no search required.
Do not disturb
With 'bombardment' and 'intrusiveness' being cited as key drivers of negative public opinion of advertising, it's no surprise that many consumers have welcomed ad blocking: according to research by the AudienceProject, 36% of UK consumers use an ad blocker.
In an attempt to understand which ad formats consumers are most disturbed by, the Coalition for Better Ads (CBA) has surveyed over 66,000 consumers about their preferences regarding digital advertising. This data offers critical insights into consumer attitudes, and formed the basis for the CBA's Better Ad Standards, which identifies ad formats that fall below an acceptable threshold of user experience. These include pop-ups and flashing animated ads.
Often, marketers are tempted to use these formats to maximize viewability rates and capture attention; however, these disruptive digital ads annoy customers and do more harm than good. Instead, brands should choose more user-friendly ways of capturing attention.
Native advertising formats, which match the look and feel of the media environment in which they appear, are a great way to do this. Rather than standing out and trying to force attention, native ads create a more natural experience by fitting seamlessly into their environment.
Brands can also optimize their creatives to make use of subtle cues for attention, without disrupting the user. For instance, rather than bright, flashing ads, incorporate gentle movement, people, bright colors, and even animals. These best practices generally increase attention and click through rate, without sacrificing on user experience.
Formats for the future
Many brands and agencies gravitate to tried and true channels to distribute their campaigns, without giving much thought to whether these are in fact the best places to reach customers - and whether they work with the messaging of their particular campaign.
According to Statista, 74% of digital advertising spend in the UK goes to just three platforms: Google, Facebook and Instagram. Undeniably, these are great channels that perform well for marketers in many circumstances. However, according to GlobalWebIndex, only 39% of time online is spent on search and social sites - and not only Google, Facebook and Instagram, at that.
By only investing in these channels, marketers ignore the enormous opportunity presented by shopping platforms, video platforms and the open web: publishers, company websites, blogs and everything else that lives online.
To stay current when creating digital marketing strategies, marketers should study how their target audience consumes content across digital platforms, and use this knowledge to inform and create new digital marketing campaigns.
We should accept that success in the new customer experience economy requires adapting and evolving in line with emerging formats such as TikTok, digital audio and Taboola Stories.
The Black Lives Matter movement brought diversity issues to the forefront, across all spaces and industries, and advertising is no exception. It's no secret that the industry has a representation problem: a 2019 study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that based on an analysis of 251 ads entered into Cannes Lions Film or Film Craft Awards, just 18.2% of the characters depicted were black, and 69% of black characters were male.
No doubt related, the Advertising Association's 2021 All In Census found that 84% of the advertising workforce and 90% of c-suite executives are white.
These figures not only showcase the wide representation gap in the advertising industry, but also the opportunity cost that comes with it. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that diversity in marketing resonates with a wide range of consumers and improves campaign effectiveness.
For example, research by Columbia University in partnership with Taboola showed that engagement with ads showing racially diverse models outperformed those showing only white models, even amongst white participants.
Similarly, ITV's Feeling Seen report from 2021 demonstrated that video ads featuring Black actors generated a far greater emotional response among Black British viewers than other ads.
Brands who sell to consumers regardless of ethnicity, gender or economic status should be including diverse characters in their advertising, rather than completely ignoring large portions of their customer base in their messaging.
Now it's your turn
Expectations around online customer experiences are changing: it's time for digital marketing professionals to step up their game and respond to customers' signals.
As leaders in the advertising industry, it's our responsibility to respond to the subtle (and not-so-subtle) signals hiding in customer experience data, and to create customer-centric digital advertising experiences to safeguard the advertising industry for brands, consumers and publishers alike.