Ronnie Thomas
Jun 23, 2014

Digital advertising: Give me utility or get blocked

I skip ads. Almost all the time. If I’m doing it (and I’m in the industry), I really wonder how many ‘normal’ people are similarly rejecting advertising. That question should be of huge interest to us because the road it leads us down is a very important one.

Digital advertising: Give me utility or get blocked

To get a sense of what this number could look like, a report from PageFair, The Rise of Ad Blocking, estimates that up to 30 per cent of people block ads in the West, with the number expected to grow 43 per cent every year, according to comScore data. There are no Singapore-specific numbers, but we do have surrogate data that illustrates something very similar.

In a video campaign we recently ran across SEA, Singapore was the country with the highest amount of skipping on TrueView. Google Trends data also shows exponential growth in searches for ad blocking software. In addition, visits to Adblock Plus, the biggest ad blocking software, have doubled in the past year in Singapore.

While it hasn’t exactly reached a tipping point in Singapore, possibly due to the surprisingly low levels of digital spending compared to markets of similar digital maturity, the trend is quite clear: people rejecting digital advertising is on the rise. With digital advertising spending on the way up—a PwC report projects it to grow 14 per cent in Singapore in 2014—things are likely to start looking a lot more like the West.

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What makes this trend particularly worrying is the fact that digital has a high skew to the millennial audience in Singapore. And Omnicom Media Group’s own research (APAC Millenials – The First Global Youth Generation) shows us that this group has the heaviest influence on household purchases, which is partly a result of Singapore having one of the highest number of 15- to 30-year-olds living with their parents.

If this group is actively rejecting advertising, it will become progressively harder for brands to have effective digital advertising, even with the growth in digital spending.

So why is all of this happening? I believe the reason is that, while brands have made huge strides in ensuring that they are increasing their digital media spending, they haven’t addressed the issue of changing how they create advertising for the digital world.

I’m sure everyone in the media industry is used to getting briefs that aim to extend an idea built for TV, and a TVC, into the digital space.

In my opinion, it just does not work.

TV led ideas are typically meant to communicate a message in 30 seconds. The common way to do this was to exaggerate situations and benefits, with reality usually being suspended. This worked, and probably still does in some markets, on TV.

Digital however, gives you an audience that can potentially engage with you for more than an hour. Exaggerations do not work well in this world, and these exaggerated ideas will very likely result in loud, glaring, interruptive forms of digital advertising that only makes people want to block ads out even more. It’s a vicious cycle, and it has to stop.

The way forward is to understand the economics of the digital world and the value exchanges taking place. The consumer’s time is now at a premium. These consumers are actually willing to pay to block out advertising rather than give brands even a second (or six) of their time. The attention economy demands that brands need to provide something of value in exchange for the time given to the brand.

Brands who have succeeded in getting digital right typically offer utility or entertainment as the key element in this value exchange. These brands, like Coke and Red Bull have made it a mission to build ideas that can earn a disproportionate share of the consumer’s attention and time. In Singapore, I thought the Singtel #HawkerHeroes campaign accomplished exactly that, and it resulted in a very effective campaign. Other brands, like Lifebuoy and Dove, have made very real commitments to important causes and these forms of cause marketing also succeed in earning attention from consumers effectively.

It’s definitely not a simple task to get to these kind of ideas, as it requires the coming together of PR, creative and media a lot more. A quick-fire way to test an idea though, is to ask yourself if you would honestly be willing to pay to see it, or at the very least not skip or block a piece of communication about it. If you can see this happen, then the idea will likely have legs and paid media will do its job to make the campaign discoverable at scale, across all channels.

When this does happen and you have an idea that consumers opt-in to engage with, at some point you will get—and I’m sure all the brands I’ve mentioned above have seen this—a comment on YouTube saying, “I’m so glad I didn’t skip this ad”.

Ronnie Thomas is global strategy manager with PHD


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