Content-blockers anyone?

We’re panicking about ad blocking just a little bit over here, in the ad industry. Just like we panicked about the Internet altogether. And it’s a really reductive panic because ad blockers are not meant to prevent good thoughtful advertising. That’s just collateral damage. Ad blockers were built for the flash banner ad era when one click would open 5 extra tabs and launch three overlayers with less than polite close buttons. And these days they are the last line of defence against media planners who have failed to find the “schedule” button on their retargeting campaign {yeap, that same button that lets you limit impressions to a reasonable number before both you and your client realise that poor “cookie” is just.not.that.into.your.[insert product here]}.

At any rate, ad blocking seems to be the latest argument in another reductive trend, the rise of content.

“We will beat ad blocking through content. Consumers refuse ads, we’ll give them content which is different from ads in that it is interesting and meaningful and useful and all the things ads are not” (i am quoting the industry here :). Interestingly, if you asked people in advertising I bet you they would tell you nobody starts thinking that ads are meant to be bland, useless and arbitrary. Advertising was not built on the assumption that we are here to annoy. But somehow that is in-built in the rise of content. WE make content to do the job ads cannot do anymore.Content is going to save us all.

But here’s the problem, nobody really cares what content is. Myself, I am currently unable to explain to my peers what content is. I mean, I AM able but people have different opinions. Pretty much everyone has compromised into the view that EVERYTHING IS CONTENT. If we make it and stick it on the web and it is NOT a banner, it’s content. No matter that we make it in the form of a TVC and put media budgets behind it. It’s content.

So content and ads are the two extremes of a very nuanced story. Theory tells us basic facts: content is pull, ads are push. Ads are for reach, content is for affinity and utility. Both need to operate together to inform and engage consumers. But that’s theory. In reality there is a very murky line between content and ads these days. Because if we assume content is pull information that deepens an audience’s relationship with a brand/product/service and ads are push formats that get in the face of consumers to let them know of something new or relevant to them, what is that thing in between which pretends it’s content and relies mostly on the same mechanics as an ad? You know what I’m talking about. Content that is interesting to an audience BUT NOT providing deeper engagement with a brand/product/service but with itself. Brands talking about cool stuff, problematic stuff, trendy stuff, stuff that has nothing to do with what they do or what they’re involved in but which is inherently meaningful to a target audience. What IS that?

Interesting content, content that caters to audiences’s interests has muddied the water. In my mind, that’s what magazines should do.

But here’s the thing, if you can find a connection, I’ll buy into that as well. The connection cannot be tenuous, though. No whiskey talking about trekking. No clothing brand speaking about libraries. But yes, an energy drink speaking about energy burning activities, a tech company speaking about science-y stuff, an airline speaking about the future of airports. Russell Davies used to say something along the lines of “your insight should come from somewhere in the immediate vicinity of your product”. So you’re a yogurt, please do not speak to me about space travel or even DYI.

Interesting content relies on a more an more loose definition of brand universe. It relies on the misconception that brands are entitled to be involved and speak about everything. And, I’m sorry, that’s just not true. It’s not that you couldn’t do it, but what I’m saying is you should not. Because if you do you’re creating content with an ad-mechanic behind. You’re making something meant to get in people’s faces. And that is NOT content. Also you’re probably being too generic, bland and trespassing on other content creators’ and brands’ territories, which, again, you CAN do but you should not.

Why? Cos that’s how we ended up with ad blockers. We thought we could put ads that said anything, anywhere, at any time. We wanted to get into people’s faces waaaay to much. So they found a way to run away. If we do the same with content, calling anything we want by that name and having no rules around what we produce as brands, we will soon have content-blockers popping up.

Digital Strategist. The Internet will save the world (pending verification). Views expressed here are my own/should not be construed as coming from my employer.

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