Adding Ad Value

I have good news and bad news today.

The good news is online ad spending is booming. Some advertisers are even predicting several industries are looking at an online inventory shortage.

The bad news? Consumers seem to hate online advertising more than ever.

According to a new Forrester study, the number of consumers using pop-up blockers and spam filtering software has more than doubled in the past couple years. And not only do they seem to be actively avoiding ads, but only 6 percent said they believed the ads they saw and only 13 percent said they made a purchase because of an ad.

What’s a marketer to do? It’s not news that people don’t like advertising, but the rise in technologies that allow them to skip ads has given them a new way to fulfill their dreams of never having their programming interrupted by advertising. With 15 percent of consumers now using DVRs to skip commercials and millions more blocking ads with software, is the model of free, ad-supported content doomed in the long run? Will the industry have to follow the Motion Picture Association of America in an “ad blocking is piracy” campaign to make ad-blocking illegal to combat the rise of these technologies? Will advertisers looking for new channels to advertise in (e.g., Second Life) have to engage in pitched battles with groups of techno-savvy consumers who resent the intrusion into their social spaces?

Perhaps not, if we heed the signs that surround us. For every new ad technology that’s developed, someone will develop a counter-technology to meet growing consumer demand to avoid advertising. As the music and film industries have learned, this technological arms race can’t be won in the long run. As soon as a new technology is released, someone figures out how to circumvent it. Witness that the PlayStation 3 DRM (define) was cracked within days of the console’s introduction.

What do we do? We can continue to fight ad skipping in the way broadcasters continue to unsuccessfully circumvent DVR features.

Or we can consider advertising in a radically new way: ads as content. Ads that add value to people’s lives. In short (and pardon the pun), we need to ad value.

Whirlpool’s new initiative to provide 3-D models of its products for Google Earth users is a great example. Recognizing many of its target customers (design and architecture firms) have turned to Google’s free SketchUp app for visualization and design, Whirlpool makes these designers’ lives easier by providing products that can be plunked into designs. It’s a smart strategy; get in on the specification and design phase so when the client sees the walkthrough they’re already predisposed to want the products.

Virgin Mobile kicked off its own experiment in ad value by trading cell phone minutes for ad-watching. The SugarMomma program targeted at teenagers rewards viewers with up to 75 free air minutes per month for watching ads online or receiving ad text messages.

Adding value can also mean providing unique opportunities for consumers in exchange for publicity. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) boosted its international visibility through its SELENE “Wish upon the moon!” campaign, which allows people to send a free message to the moon with JAXA’s new space probe. With luck, it’ll be an improvement over the unsuccessful orbital chip shot paid for by Canadian golf firm Element 21.

Sure, people have been pulling off stunts like this ever since Edward Bernays invented the publicity stunt. The difference is the Internet’s ubiquity and ability to link people together in new ways that the broadcast model never allowed. This gives us some incredible opportunities to rethink what we consider to be advertising. Some new initiatives in in-game advertising, ad-supported machinima, and Second Life brand outposts are a step in the right direction, but they’re still just ads repackaged for new media. Were we to apply the ad value filter to these, we could easily change them into services people would really want: free games in exchange for in-game ads, branded environments and tools for creating machinima, and free Second Life goodies (or linden dollars) in exchange for interacting with brands in the 3-D space.

Combating ad avoidance with an ad value philosophy isn’t tough. It needn’t be any more expensive than what you’re already doing. It’s really more about changing your perspective than your objectives. It’s about understanding the paradigm is shifting from broadcasting to interaction, that power is now in consumers’ hands.

How can you ad value?

Related reading

Digital marketing strategy for business
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