Click fraud and viewability have been topics at board level for the past two years. Publishers and advertisers have been working together to try and address these issues largely by engaging more and more technology. Technology used to detect a real person vs a robot click. Technology used to determine if an ad impression could ever have been seen by a real person. And while good for brands they are inherently bad for publishers due to an initial decrease in revenue.
Then comes along ad blocking.
Publishers take the first hit as they are directly losing revenue. Consumers in search of a better experience with less annoying and less intrusive advertising install a small browser plug-in or an app on their mobile phone and, presto, no more ads, faster browsing experience and no more strange companies tracking them as they roam around the internet.
The first reactions from the industry have been strong to say the least. “Destroying the ecosystem.” “The end of the Internet as we know it.” “Saviours of the consumer.” “Protectors of consumers right to an ad free and privacy centric Internet.” And even “a nuclear weapon pointed at the ad industry.”
Rather than grab an umbrella and join the symphony on 'The Sky is Falling', what if we look at a different future for media and how digital media might change to address all three of these issues.
If adblocking grows at the rate proposed media owners will increasingly be forced into taking actions including:
1. Asking consumers to turn off AdBlocking or pay for content
2. Improving the customer experience for those customers who agree by:
- Reducing the interruptive quality of ads
- Reducing advertising as a % of content space (especially on mobile)
- Driving quality of content higher
- Ensuring content is unique and not broadly available
3. Building new relationships with brands and advertisers
The future of digital media will focus on higher quality content with a clear value exchange between media owner and consumer. There will be less advertising and it will be of a higher quality. Advertising will shift towards being less performance based and more brand based as in traditional print media.
So how will this affect click fraud and viewability?
Media owners will focus away from 100 per cent performance based ads to more brand-based advertising, the emphasis on click-throughs and impressions will reduce. Publishers will have more direct relationships with brands as they work together to develop branded content that supports the media owner and delivers value to the audience. Clicks from this new form of advertising will be less frequent and more valuable. With a fewer players in a simplified ad tech ecosystem, and more direct publisher involvement in branded content, it will be harder to defraud.
With less emphasis on clicks and more emphasis on brand building, viewability becomes less of an issue for brands and becomes more important to media owners. Media owners who are jointly developing branded content will work to ensure that the best content is seen by their audience and that it enhances the consumer’s experience.
And with the best media owners focused on excellent content they will work to wrap their content in an excellent customer experience on desktop and on mobile. It will be easier than ever to adopt the IAB’s LEAN ad guidelines, comply with the ASA branded content guidelines – and even less likely that ad block will stop the ads.
Media owners who deliver first rate content to their audience in a first rate experience will build an even stronger relationship with their audience. Part of this relationship includes an expression of who they are, what they like and even what their intent may be. In short – media owners will build an ever richer base of data with which to engage audiences with the best quality advertising. And they can do this in a transparent way that supports a consumer’s desire for privacy and control over their personal data.
Not all media owners will be able to do this.
Today there is a wide swathe of media that is repurposed clickbait content with no unique value and with little scarcity – and often times a consumer experience riddled with aggressive and invasive advertising whose sole purpose is to hook a consumer’s attention away from the content they came to enjoy. These media owners will struggle. Some will cease to exist. And that is not a bad thing.
As the volume of content and the number of sources decline, value of content goes up. As quality and consumer experience increase, value goes up. It is a long overdue and very positive shift for the industry.
Media owners deliver a higher quality experience to consumers. Advertisers raise the bar along with media owners and the effectiveness of their advertising increases.
In this future click fraud is greatly reduced due to better relationships between advertisers and media owners, fewer tech players in the ecosystem and a better overall control of the user experience by the media owners. And viewability becomes less of an issue as more content is branded content of a high quality delivering value to consumer – they consume more because it’s great content even when it’s branded content.
And this future is viable and possible. Ad blocking gives consumers a voice that they didn’t have before. Media owners and advertisers have a voice too. The best is when all parties participate in the conversation and deliver a balanced future for media.
Troy Norcross is strategy director of SER Associates