AWE: Ad-blocking rates on the rise; industry must act fast
In a session that took on some serious and barely-discussed industry issues, Advertising Week delegates heard that the average ad-blocking rate is currently at around 23% in the UK - and a staggering 50% in Germany - pointing towards growing consumer intolerance towards online advertising.
This would suggest that more targeting and a need for better and more personalised advertising, but, according to GfK's Colin Strong, while there is an implicit assumption of a linear relationship between the personalisation of advertising and brand attachment, there comes a point when advertisements can become over-personalised, resulting in a serious drop-off in brand attachment.
Research from GfK found that 69% of consumers find the way that some companies use personal information "creepy", and 90% say that they prefer to do business with companies that respect user privacy.
Another panellist, Tim Abraham, director of data and audience, EMEA, Xaxis, said that consumers are not blocking advertising because they don't want them at all; but rather because they feel that they are being served the wrong ads.
Tim Gentry, revenue director at the Guardian, said that for consumers to want to see ads, advertisers need to make sure that they avoid over-personalisation by creating a more "sensitised, nuanced and relevant experience" for the consumer.
Industry has already begun taking steps towards giving the consumer more control over the ads that they see and don't see. One such service, AdPlus - a new web browser tool from Mutual Media - was demonstrated. The tool allows users to choose the advertisements they see and the information that they share with advertisers, described by AdPlus as "intelligent personalisation".
Marketed as an 'ad controller' rather than an ad-blocker, AdPlus learns from users to replace the ads they see on the sites they visit with ads that "more closely reflect their individual preferences."
"[When it comes to online advertising], we're dealing with a lot of consumer apathy," admitted Adam Freeman, founder of Mutual Media.
"Consumers don't wait every day of their lives to be engaged with by a brand [...] It's easier to block than engage.. that's not going to go away, and I think we're just going to have to ask for more permission.
"We've gone from the world of interruption to engagement; we're now up to engagement plus permission. The tools are there," Freeman said, citing ITV, which last year began preventing users with ad-blocking software from watching content via ITV Player in a bid to protect ad revenue streams.
"The quota of video blocking is dramatic because it's the most obvious form of advertising," said Freeman, "and although forcing people to watch ads before the content may force them to watch the content somewhere else, all we can do is accept that loss of control and learn along the way."
Although unable to confirm at the time whether Channel 4 would be implementing a similar function for 4OD, the broadcaster seems to have followed in the footsteps of ITV, rendering ad-blocking software ineffective on its on-demand platform.
The panel raised issues that the whole industry need to wrestle with (there will be follow up debate at Media Playground on 21 May) but Strong closed the session by commenting that it would be dangerous not to act very soon if the advertising business wants to retain control and initiative.