Presented by Rubicon Project

Brands and agencies spend millions entertaining consumers with slick content, celebrity endorsements, and creativity that stand apart from the typical TV ad. Now who doesn’t love a good online ad? Regardless of the season, the same creativity and thoughtful approach that is invested in TV ads is almost nowhere to be found online, and as a result, consumers have started to tune out, and even worse, turn off ads.

The marginalizing of the online consumer ad experience and general lack of advertising innovation is probably why there’s been viral adoption of ad blockers by the public. What this tells the industry is that while the discussion and innovation has typically focused on the buyers and sellers of online ads, ignoring consumer preferences and the consumer experience is now coming at a steep price.

With ad blockers, consumers essentially have a binary option between seeing all ads or blocking all of them. This all-or-nothing approach is not ideal for advertisers or content creators. There has to be a better way –one that does not disenfranchise the consumer.

By focusing on the consumer experience, the industry will go a long way towards making ads more effective, and along the way continue fueling the business of online publishing. The idea of prioritizing consumer experience and preference is borne out by a recent Adobe study which found 78 percent of consumers actually liked personalized online ads, but only 28 percent felt the ads they received were tailored properly.

By bringing consumers into the mix as an active participant, advertisers and publishers can allow consumers to control their digital advertising experience. Starting with the consumer in mind, the industry should consider the following steps to better the ad experience for all participants.

1. Don’t guess — capture explicit consumer sentiment

Forget trying to guess who the consumer is and start by asking consumers what they want — explicit positive signals. In today’s world, when someone visits a website, we infer they like it. Facebook is one of the very few media companies that offer consumers the ability to explicitly signal their preferences about content and advertising. A similar approach is needed for the entire market.

2. Measure twice — cut once

All content creators need to evaluate their work with hard, user data. Publishers and app developers today need to take a lesson from Ad Men of the 80s who embraced advanced computing power (“database marketing”) to reinvent their understanding of what influences consumers. They must invest in real measurement and analyze every step of the user experience they offer, from page layouts to ad formats to content engagement.

3. Embrace innovative thinking  

The new world of digital advertising calls for advertisers and content creators to embrace innovative thinking. One idea might be to allow consumers to bookmark ads they’re interested in. Another possible innovation would be to take advantage of the average smartphone’s numerous sensors, such as GPS compass, gyroscopes, cameras, and proximity sensors to create a more immersive, interactive experience. Who would have thought that sponsoring selfies on Snapchat would take off, but it’s the exact type of innovative thinking and execution that caters specifically to millennials.

Create an innovation lab. Even if there’s no budget for a formal endeavor, assign a few employees to experiment and try new approaches. Being nimble and creative is the key to unexpected success amongst the backdrop of complex evolution that is the Internet.

4. Rethink the ad unit

The Internet of tomorrow will not look like the Internet of today, which is why it’s important to systematically rethink the design of the ad unit. For instance, banner ads are a 25-year-old passive display medium that haven’t changed appreciably despite significant changes in how viewers consume content. It is incumbent on advertisers and content creators to become more forward-thinking, turning advertising into helpful information and providing that information as an added value for consumers.

5. Change the dynamic

Consumers today are much more savvy than ever. They know when they are being served retargeted ads for items they already purchased, and they can and will turn off online ads entirely.

By treating the ad experience with the same thoughtful approach as they would a product or editorial experience, content creators and their ad tech partners have an opportunity to change the dynamic of the ad experience by putting consumers at the heart of the ecosystem.

Ultimately, by allowing consumers to explicitly curate ads they want, advertising can transform the medium from passive to active. By embracing creativity and innovation and by putting the consumer value on par with the needs of ad buyers and sellers, online advertising can become far more effective for everyone.
Take control of your ad experience by joining Project Awesome here

Zach Poag isVP, Strategic Operations at Rubicon Project’s Innovation Lab, The Garage.

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