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Learning to Use Digital Marketing in Ways that are not Annoying, Intrusive, but Persuasive, to Consumers is Job #1

July 6, 2018    I   A. Bruce Crawley

There is an increasingly inescapable conundrum facing those relying on improving the effectiveness, reach and accuracy of digital advertising efforts. It’s created by the concurrently growing reality that consumers targeted by online solicitations seem disinterested in, and even resentful of, being targeted by such campaigns.


Consumers are reluctant to engage with ads that they know have been forwarded to them because of recent online activity, and feel they are being intruded upon, and it makes them suspicious and distrustful.


In a recent Kantar Millward Brown survey, e.g., 71 percent of respondents said that ads are more intrusive now than they were even three years ago, that they’re appearing in more places than ever, and that there are simply more of them.


Evidence of consumer pushback in this area is clearly seen in the public’s growing propensity to use ad blockers. In fact, it’s anticipated that three in 10 U.S. Internet users will use an ad blocker in 2018, with 51 percent finding ad content annoying, 50 percent saying such ads are too numerous, and 27 percent fearing digital ads might compromise their online privacy.


In fact, there seems to be a hierarchy of ad dislike, as discovered in a recent survey co-facilitated by AdBlock Plus, a major ad blocking service provider, with the most disliked ad formats being online pop-ups that require users to find the “x” to remove them from the screen(73%), followed by mobile phone ads(70%); and online vídeo before content loads (57%). Least-detested were online banner ads(43%), and traditional TV ads (36%), billboard ads (21%) and magazine/print ads (18%).


An over-emphasis on reach as a primary metric rather than on content quality and accurate identification of the target recipient no doubt contribute to the finding that 74 percent of CMOs have little to no confidence that they have the right technology in place to achieve their marketing goals. 


While tech-based distribution channels may be new, the poor “list quality” issue is as old as mass media advertising, itself. In fact, I clearly remember a professor in an old direct marketing course explaining that, in most cases, poor response rates were more the result of bad lists than of poor messaging in the actual mailers.


It’s also clear that advertising distrust did not appear “out of the blue,” with the emergence of online marketing. Indeed, attitudes toward advertising began to shift negative as early as the pre-digital 1970’s, and more recent studies also provide a rather unfavorable assessment of public attitudes toward advertising.


In 1989, e.g., most survey respondents believed that advertising did not present a true picture of advertised products. In a subsequent 1992 study, less than one-fourth of respondents believed tv advertising presented a true picture of client products or services, and a majority believed that products generally did not perform as well as advertised. 


In a study by Banwari Mittal, respondents believed less than a quarter of tv commercials were honest and believable. The same survey suggested that people generally found advertising to be insulting to the intelligence of the average consumer. These findings led Mittal to conclude that ”If the health of advertising can be defined by the public acceptance of it, our study shows the patient to be ill.”


Even in the midst of such ad industry-focused animus, the same recent responses present reasons for marketers to be optimistic about finding solutions to their current online ad challenges, and to recognize the factors that might lead to regaining consumer trust in branded online content. For example, 56 percent of digitally active respondents say they believe ad block users need to be fair, and pay for content in other ways; 84 percent say not all online ads are poorly executed, and wish they had a means to filter out the bad, rather than block all ad content; and 63 percent said they feel that most ads they see online don’t look polished or professional.


Let’s see...users accept their need to pay, through advertising, for the cost of valued content; they believe online ad content is not universally poor; they also believe that the quality of many current online ads can and should be improved; and implied that they would not mind being exposed to quality- and target-filtered content. All seemingly issues that marketers ought to be pleased to embrace.


In fact, there is a new train of thought that holds, to the partial chagrin of brands, that the volume of unsolicited digital follow-up ads can be controlled, on the consumer side, by the use of audio inquiries.


The challenge for today’s marketers is not peculiar to the shift from traditional to online media channels, or to the emergence of any new-found cynicism on the part of consumers. That disconnect has always been an integral component of the role marketers have to play in reaching targeted audiences effectively, having them pay attention, at all, to their messaging, and finally persuading them to believe, and act upon, what they have seen and heard.


There seem to be new reasons to believe that consumers won’t always resist, distrust and/or block well-designed, effectively targeted, digital marketing communications efforts by clients and their agencies, no matter the history of consumer distrust the industry has earned.


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A. Bruce Crawley is president, CEO and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management, Inc. (M3M). Read More...

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