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Ad bombardment: we all need to fix the pollution problem

25 Feb 2020  |  Nick Manning 
Ad bombardment: we all need to fix the pollution problem

From advertisers and agencies, to the many intermediaries in-between, it is the job of individual companies to finally take action, writes Nick Manning

The first stage of solving a problem is to recognise it exists. It is now well-known that the advertising industry has a chronic reputational problem that, left unaddressed, is an existential threat. The research conducted by Credos on behalf of the Advertising Association shows indisputably that public favourability towards advertising has long been in decline, and has halved since the early 90s.

Advertising is now below any other major industry in public trust, and this is likely to get worse if corrective action is not taken. Ad avoidance is easier than ever via ad blockers and increased take-up of subscription services. Television is just starting down the latter journey.

The Credos research shows clearly that ad bombardment is the single biggest contributor to public annoyance and hence loss of favourability, and we can all relate to this in our own lives. Excessive advertising that clutters up our media is a major irritant. Who among us doesn’t think there is too much interruptive advertising? The user experience is suffering and the traditional compact between the public and the ad industry that held the acceptance of advertising in balance has eroded as some of the old controls fell away.

Although global warming is a true threat to the planet, our equivalent to pollution is too much advertising that is ill-considered, irrelevant, intrusive and plain irritating, and this is damaging our environment.

While this is a problem for all media, the absence of a regulatory apparatus for online is undoubtedly a contributing factor.

The Advertising Association has a strong five-point plan to restore public trust, but trade associations can only go so far. It is the job of individual companies to take the appropriate action and reduce ad bombardment within their organisation, and this can only happen if the whole industry recognises the problem and then addresses it within each organisation. There is no ‘one-size’ solution, and all players in our industry need to share the collective responsibility.

It starts with the advertiser because that’s where the industry takes its lead and its revenue. Advertisers should adopt a programme, company by company, brand by brand, that reduces bombardment by eliminating excessive frequency. The latter is not just waste, it is pollution that is damaging the consumer eco-sphere.

Advertisers need to place the consumer experience at the heart of their thinking and concentrate on how their brands are received by the public, within and beyond the target audience.

To reduce waste and pollution, they should place advertising effectiveness first. What works and how should be the starting-point of communications thinking, with content and channel strategies aligned.

The end benefit is better, more effective advertising and the beginning of the clear-up of the pollution in our industry, in that order.

However, this is not just the advertisers’ job. There has to be reciprocal corrective action by media owners to improve the user experience. Too many broadcasters and publishers have allowed their media properties to be swamped by intrusive advertising that gets in people’s way.

Again, there is no ‘one size’ solution to media owner responsibility; the answer for linear TV is not the same as Broadcast Video on Demand or Online Video, and the answer for Radio is not the same for Print. In an era of multi-platform media owners, they have to look at this problem within and across their channels.

The media agencies have a major role to play in helping to resolve this issue. In the absence of multi-media exposure currencies, the agencies should provide both the tools and the expertise to inform good decisions by advertisers. The agencies should not allow business model dynamics to prevail over the need to safeguard their future. Enterprising media agency leaders will benefit from championing this cause.

The intermediaries can also play their part, placing the consumer experience and effectiveness at the heart of their service offering with independent advice to advertisers.

The true existential threat is not so severe for the advertisers as it is for the supply chain. Advertisers have several levers to pull to support brands and they are increasingly using them to maintain business. Those who stand to lose the most are those players who depend on the advertising-funded model for their livelihoods; let us not under-estimate this in an advertising market that is growing in low single figures and trending downwards.

The case for collective responsibility with individual action could not be clearer, and the trade associations will do all they can to advise, facilitate and encourage the eco-sphere to work together. We are already seeing promising signs of co-operation from the advertisers and media owners on cross-media measurement, and this level of co-ownership will be needed to address ad bombardment.

There is time to rectify this problem if collective action is taken swiftly, and the acknowledgement of it is growing in intensity. Now it is up to each company and entity to answer the basic question as to how they make advertising more consumer-friendly, more effective and better for the industry environment.



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Nick Manning is the co-founder of Manning Gottlieb OMD and was CSO at Ebiquity for over a decade. He now owns a mentoring business, Encyclomedia, offering strategic advice to companies in the media and advertising industry. He writes for Mediatel each month.

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