I understand fully why people block ads, says Lenovo CMO

Ad blocking is the topic du jour for the industry and all marketers are having to share their opinion on it. Yesterday Mondelez said it welcomed a bit of ad blocking, and Lenovo CMO David Roman isn’t far off that opinion either.

At Mobile World Congress last week this conundrum felt even more intense, as CMOs of the brands that power the mobile experience were side-by-side with the ad tech and agency folk behind the majority of the ads.

Speaking to The Drum, Roman said: “These transitions are always painful and as a user, I don’t mind if an ad comes up on a website but on a phone, the fact that it’s popping up, taking up my whole screen and maybe playing music, is completely disruptive. On top of that I am paying for the data to get that. How anyone thought that could be a good thing is so wrong.

"When advertising doesn’t work, we don’t want to do things like that but I understand fully why people block ads,” he added.

Mobile is a crucial channel for CMOs to reach consumers, and yet anything negatively impacting the mobile experience will not be good for the businesses that are ultimately responsible for it.

As a brand Lenovo is increasingly engaging with a younger audience, according to Roman. With the latest stats from the IAB revealing that almost 50 per cent of all 18-24-year-olds had downloaded an ad blocker, Roman said the brand was building a strategy around engagement to help counter the issue.

“I think the paradigm of trying to figure out how we communicate in a way that engages the audience with something relevant is something that we are learning to do as an industry. Some of the first attempts were a bit clumsy, some targeting is pretty rough,” he said.

The targeting of digital ads is particularly rough when optimised towards impressions, rather than engagement, he added.

“It’s a primitive use of a new technology. In the end, as marketers, we have to focus on what we understand. Who are the people you are really interested in? In the smartphone market, we have got a 5 or 6 per cent market share. Does that mean that we have 95 per cent of the market that we want to go after? No, not really. I would like to double our share and the more I can define who that next five per cent is, and what they really want, the more I can work out how to make my products more relevant to them. Then you understand how to engage with them,” he explained.

Roman said that the mistake brands make is not working out some of the basics around who they are targeting and why. Instead, he said, people will just use programmatic to target people that may be in the market for a phone, which leads to some of the badly targeted ads that are putting customers off.

“I go to a lot of events and the conversations are around everything being data-driven and how the CMO is becoming the CIO. It’s the excitement around some news toys but marketing has always been data-driven. We didn’t have that much data before and now we have lots of data, but to assume that just because we have that data that everything changes and is no longer the basics of marketing is equally wrong,” he said.

“Some of these aberrations that we are seeing are when we’ve gone too far overboard, everything becomes efficient and is measured in terms of impressions. Impressions on the internet mean nothing. They meant nothing on TV and on the internet they mean even less. That ad could have come up but it doesn’t mean anyone’s seen it. The only thing we track is engagement,” he added.

To do this Lenovo has effectively tried to give control of its brands to customers, recently inviting them to co-create some of its renewed visual identity. Similarly, its signing of Aston Kutcher went further than a brand ambassador, with the actor and VC being involved in product development.

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