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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Marketers: Here’s how we can ensure that consumers learn to love advertising again

December 3, 2019 | By Zoe Monborne, Product Communications Specialist – Outbrain @outbrain

When it comes to digital consumption, I’m about as avid as it gets. While I use my Amazon firestick to find a new show, I simultaneously scroll through Instagram and shop on my laptop. I forego physical books so I can listen to podcasts while playing Candy Crush. I’m not “techy” in any form; I’m simply a product of our highly digital generation.

And, like everyone else, I’ve grown up with various forms of ads. TV, magazine, newspaper, billboards – you name it. However, today’s ad environment is with us even more pervasively. In our digital society, it’s harder to escape screens filled with ads and calls to buy now.

Don’t get me wrong, I recognize the role of advertising. As a marketer, I understand how ads benefit our ecosystem. I know why YouTube runs ads on video, Hulu has commercials, and CNN features personalized article recommendations.

However, I have realized that there’s something that marketers must do in order to restore the value of advertising. We need to change the consumer mindset around advertising. Of course, winning back consumer trust is no easy feat. To do so, we need to examine how the industry changed from enjoyable and glamorous to over-saturated and salacious. And we need to figure out where to go from here.

Advertising’s “Golden Age”

The Golden Age of Advertising (the 1960s to the late 1980s), was a time of big ideas and larger-than-life personalities. From Volkswagen’s “Think Small” and Apple’s “Think Different 1984” to Burger King’s “Have it Your Way,” and innumerable ads in between, the campaigns were engaging, witty, and captured consumer attention. With television making its ascent into every household, magazines catering to every interest, and newspapers as the primary source for getting the word out, advertising thrived. People actually looked forward to seeing pages filled with their glamorous idols touting the latest products and fashions.

So, what changed?

Calculating too much

In the Golden Age, ads thrived because they were vibrant, fun, and intriguing. They offered a creative and engaging experience that made consumers want to learn more and own the products. Today, advertising focuses heavily on data, personalization, and research. Frankly, though the goal is to appeal to consumers, digital advertising’s constant in-your-face tactics are off-putting.

The market is oversaturated, crowded, and cluttered with disjointed marketing messages. Too many times, a popup ad has interrupts and degrades the consumer experience, causing them to close the page altogether and never return. And beyond simply losing advertisings luster, we’ve lost the trust of consumers. They’ve been burned too many times by clickbait and fake news, not to mention unexpected and even unethical uses of their data, which has caused them to ignore or block ads altogether.

However, instead of acknowledging this discomfort, consumer avoidance makes the advertiser push harder to increase engagement. The disconnect is real. As a consumer, I am acutely aware of the ways that ads ruin my experience. And, as a marketer, I focus on ways to get ads in front of consumers. To help heal our unhealthy advertising relationship, I propose a different idea: creating ads that serve a purpose. Ads that help the consumer experience, not hurt it.

A new golden age

Purpose-driven and values-based marketing is a growing area in which brands are reconnecting with consumers on ideas that matter to them — culture, society, politics, etc. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of consumers prefer to purchase products and services from brands that stand for a purpose which reflects their own beliefs.

Nike’s famous “Dream Crazy” campaign, featuring Colin Kaepernick, struck a chord with consumers, both good and bad. But a year after the initial launch, Nike shares have surged 36% over the year, adding nearly $6 billion to the company’s market value. Marketers, the lesson learned here is that consumers don’t mind ads. But they want ads that mean something to them.

Advertising also thrived during its first golden age because of brand loyalty. You could show a consumer a logo — Nike’s Swoosh, McDonald’s Arch, Starbucks’ Siren — and they would instantly recognize the brand. To stay top-of-mind, brands made it a point to circulate their logos on newspapers, TVs, billboards, etc. But today, consumers are too desensitized to care. And data-driven efforts are not the brand-building campaigns of yesterday. Brand loyalty and successful marketing campaigns must be driven by value, so as not to turn off the customer or lose their attention.

A new Golden Age is right around the corner. We can win back consumer trust and show them the value of a smart ad campaign. This will happen as we evolve beyond disruptive nature of the digital ad industry and create well thought out content that focuses on a long-term brand story and excellent user experience.

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