The Ever Changing Impact Of Digital Adverts

The internet has become hungry for our attention. After all, it's how some of the largest tech companies make their money. But how does it affect the consumer? How has the evolution of online advertising impacted how we view not only the web, but the world we live in?

The average person sees an estimate of 5000 ads every day [Yankelovich Firm]

Almost everything online is trying to get our attention. The longer we spend on a specific platform or page, the more ads the business can show us increasing the money they can make. In the past, this was a great way to allow users to access platforms without paying money for it. Instead they pay with their time (and data). It felt like a win-win situation - users got great products for free and companies got paid.

The problem is, as more companies adopt this model, and the more the platform grows, the more they compete for your attention; the more data they need to capture; and the more adverts they show.

So with people seeing more ads more often than ever, how do we create promotions that stand out?

People have tried to overcome the noise by being louder. This has introduced tactics like clickbait and flashing banner ads. Over time, these tactics have a hugely negative impact on user's mental health to the point where some users began to subconsciously ignore ads. This was named banner blindness and was first noticed in 1997.

Mental health concerns have grown with our attention and emotions being pushed all over the place. Being told we need this item to do well in life over and over again affects how we feel about ourselves. More specific ad groups like weight loss and fashion can cause even further mental health issues when the customers emotional state isn't considered.

Today, up to 80% of users ignore sponsored search results.

During this time small groups of people were discovering a world with less. A minimalist lifestyle. They were actively removing the things that craved their attention and seeing massive benefits in their well-being. So much so that minimalism has grown rapidly into millions of peoples lives across the globe.

But for some people, giving up the tools they used every single day was just too difficult. Partly due to the addictive nature of some of these platforms and also due to workplace changes that have required employees to spend more time online.

The average person living in the UK now spends almost 7 hours online every single day.

Instead, they chose to deal with the ads and continue using the service.

In 2005, Adblock was launched. It was one of the first, easily accessible, advert and tracking blockers available. It allowed people to continue browsing the web without being tracked and without the distraction of ads.

In 2019 over 615 million devices used an adblocker of some sort. That's a 330% increase from the year before.

But unfortunately, ad blockers can’t block everything. Blocking ads on mobile apps can be tricky. But that hasn’t stopped people trying. From creating ad free versions of popular apps like Instagram and YouTube which can be sideloaded onto your device to mobile browsers that block out the ads. This stuff is a bit more technical but it shows the extent people will go to prevent ads.

All of this means that the total number of people seeing ads is shrinking, whilst the number of ads being served is increasing. The quality of targeting is also taking a hit due to some trackers being blocked. Add this to the new ios14 update that requires users to opt in to be tracked across apps and it'll be interesting to see how the quality of user targeting is affected and if this makes more people frustrated by the ads they see.

Now, consumers don't necessarily hate all advertisements.

An estimated 72% of consumers wish that they could just filter the ads they don’t want to see instead of blocking them all.

The problem lies with intrusive ads that ruin user experience and don't consider the users current intent. Designing quality ads that connect with the user at the right time is now more important than ever.

With traditional adverts taking a hit due to people both actively and subconsciously ignoring them, companies turned to people who had already grown a trusted audience to help. These people became known as influencers. They don't have to get your attention. People actively seek to engage with them as they provide quality content that people already enjoy. Lots of these are in the form of a review, in which 91% of customers from the ages of 18 to 34 trust just as much as personal recommendations.

Reviews come in different formats - some are direct from a user, and some are paid for by the business who owns the product or service. In the UK, you could be breaking the law if you don’t declare that the review is paid for by the company so users are aware that the review is an advertisement. More and more web users are aware that an increase of companies are paying for article reviews or offering customer incentives to leave positive reviews for their products.

With a sea of information to digest, it's no wonder the average time spent researching a major purchase is a whopping 79 days.

Traditional ads aren't dead. Far from it. There's a lot of research showing the benefits. Social media ads have some the biggest return on investment opportunities as they reach a huge number of people for a very low cost. You just have to be smart in how you design and deliver them, keeping the customer's intent and experience at the front of your mind. So next time you post an advert online, think about how it could negatively impact your customers online experience. Something which they then may associate with your brand.

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