3 reasons nobody’s watching your online ads – and what you can do about it

Andrew Opala doesn’t blame users who install ad blockers on their desktop or mobile devices.

While fewer Canadians use ad blockers than you might think – between 17 and 24 per cent, depending on whether you choose to believe the Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada or Irish firm PageFair – those who decline to install them still frequently skip ads simply because they don’t like what they see, the COO of mobile ad agency Addictive Mobility says.

“We use ad blocking at home,” he admits. “My wife swears by it. She has an iPhone 6 with iOS 9, and she loves not being disturbed by pop-ups and windows while browsing.”

Numerous studies indicate Opala’s wife isn’t alone, he says: When interviewed, the top three reasons consumers give for skipping ads are that they are disruptive, repetitive, and – perhaps most egregiously – boring.

“They interrupt me too,” he says. “I try my best to subscribe to things that don’t have ads, but on occasion I’ll get a 30-second video at the front of YouTube, and I’ll go, ‘no, I don’t want to wait,’ and close it, thinking I’ll get my free content later.”

Instead of interrupting, assist

So what can marketing teams do about it? Opala has three suggestions, which he refers to as a “manifesto” for advertisers and publishers alike.

The first, and most important, he says, is for ad designers and layout staff to put themselves in the shoes of their readers, and consider how excited they would be to have their browsing interrupted by a loud, garish pop-up message – or worse, video.

Instead, he says, they should think about augmenting the browsing experience, by placing ads unobtrusively above or beside content – or better yet, using it to assist users at appropriate times.

“Interruption’s never been good in advertising, and the only way to get around that is to follow the paradigm of assistance,” Opala says. “So if I’m looking for shoes, show me shoe ads. If I’m looking up recommendations for books, show me book ads. If I’m on Yelp, looking for a lunch spot, then I’m ready to receive ads about lunch spots. Assist in the search, don’t interrupt.”

Adopting this paradigm, he notes, is the responsibility of both publishers and the tech companies reporting to them: “Part of it is a matter of ad tech companies like our own saying, ‘listen, you don’t want to do this pop-up here,” he says. “What you really want to do is run your campaign slightly differently and reach these people when they’re looking for you – not when you’re interrupting them.”

Get creative

Opala is the first to admit that many ads are grating, but that doesn’t mean all advertisements are equally terrible. Some – usually the ones that don’t look like they’ve been slapped together in an hour – can even be entertaining.

Still the author’s favourite.

“I think we like good advertising,” Opala says. “We like good content. Look at how we can watch good movie trailers over and over again.”

The fault, he says, once again lies with both advertisers or agencies and the companies hiring them: The former have become too complacent submitting what Opala calls “the bottom of the advertisers’ heap” – the type of text-based, clip art-heavy banners that make a brand’s carefully crafted message look about as professional as a neighbourhood convenience store announcing its grand opening, or a Kijiji user with a couch to sell – while the latter often has unrealistic expectations of what consumers consider compelling content.

Addictive Mobility, for example, has had to explain to a pipeline company that a 30-minute video of employees washing birds covered in oil wasn’t likely to go viral.

“We often won’t sign certain contracts, knowing they won’t fill the requirements of the users they want,” Opala says. “Like we know our user base well enough to know that people aren’t going to click through a 14-step process and submit their social insurance number at the end to sign up for a bank account.”

The solution, he says, is to be more creative – which doesn’t necessarily require hiring an NFL player and then staging an elaborate series of set and costume changes assisted by computer graphics.

In Addictive Mobility’s case, the firm once designed a beer ad that instead of automatically leading to the beer company’s site, led users to a game where they had to catch beer bottles in a case.

“People will interact with that ad, and they’ll even try to share it with their friends, because it’s interesting and fun,” Opala says. “The old advertising paradigm was to give something for something – a funny or emotional experience, say, and people will give you time to interact with your brand – but I think people have forgotten that message.”

Creativity in the ad industry, he says, simply means that you can guarantee you’re offering something – and the possibilities offered by the Internet are far more numerous than many companies think.

Entertain your viewers – instead of wearing them out

Even the funniest ads grate on your nerves after you’ve seen them half a dozen times in a 24-hour period – part of a process Opala calls “wearing in” and “wearing out.”

“We used to say in advertising that repetition helps, so you repeat as much as you want,” he says. “But enjoyable as some ads can be, when you’re forced to watch them for the 15th time in one day, you start to wear down, and it feels like the advertiser is pummelling you.”

In fact, Opala says, there’s an ideal number of views – usually between five and seven – when people tip from being engaged by interactive or graphic-heavy ads to becoming annoyed and trying to skip them, and though many advertisers have the tools needed to identify this tipping point, few bother using them.

Addictive Mobility’s platform, naturally, includes a tool that programmatically measures when a message is wearing someone out.

“We can guarantee, for example, that Royal Bank talking about its newcomers bank account, will not tire people out and will still be fresh next time somebody sees that ad,” he says. “If an ad always appears at the top of a news page, people will tolerate that because it doesn’t interfere with the reading process and every time they see the ad, the clickthrough rate is relatively stable.”

“If it’s a pop-up though… after hitting the sweet spot of between five and seven during a day, you can see that people won’t be leaving the ad up long enough for it to complete filling in all of the graphics,” he continues. “But you can track the individual who interacted with the brand earlier and gave it a chance, and on a daily basis figure out when they got tired of an ad.”

The payoff

Based on traditional clickthrough rates, Opala says, 0.1 is generally considered acceptable, and 0.5 downright good. Addictive Mobility’s techniques typically yield interaction rates of between 2.5 and 3.7, Opala says – a gain of more than 30 times the Internet standard.

“You buy far less ads too,” he says.

Opala will be giving a presentation on how marketing teams can use ad tech to optimize their campaigns at FFWD Advertising & Marketing Week 2017 in Toronto. For more information, click here.

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of ITBusiness.ca turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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