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We never learn, do we?

Every time an effective marketing channel is created, it's not long before we (as in marketers) ruin it by flooding it with irrelevant message after irrelevant message, until consumers finally switch off (or unsubscribe, or opt out, or ad-block).

First it was Direct Mail. By inundating people with huge volumes of barely targeted and terribly written mail, we made sure that these days most people a) barely get any post at all and b) throw most of what they do get straight into the bin. We sucked all the joy out of receiving letters and aided the creation of the word "Junk Mail".

Next came telemarketing. We harassed people non-stop with awfully scripted sales pitches for unwanted or irrelevant products, until they finally demanded that we stop. So then we had to create the Telephone Preference Service so they could block our calls. Instead of asking them what they did want, we just told them to block us. Genius. (Oh and we didn't really learn from this did we?)

Luckily, email came along at just the right time, so we just shifted our budgets to that and dumped trillions of crappy emails into inboxes. Because it was so cheap, right? Who cared if millions of people unsubscribed or blocked us?

What idiots we were. Nowadays, sending a marketing email to anyone requires us to navigate a maze of IP reputation, compliance, data protection, and deliverability.

The latest channel we are killing is display advertising. We have shot ourselves in the foot by bombarding our Web visitors with an array of intrusive ad formats – pop-unders, pop-overs, interstitials, auto-play videos, etc. – to the point where many people have had enough.

Figures from the IAB released last November tell us that 18% of consumers in the UK have ad-blocking software installed.


You'd think we would learn, as an industry, not to kill our cash cows. But we haven't.

So what's the answer? That's probably too hard a question to answer here (although I welcome your thoughts), but here are six things we should definitely be doing to counteract ad-blocking:

Stop lazy and stupid retargeting. After looking for a pair of trainers on Amazon, and then buying them (from Amazon), I was retargeted by Amazon for 3 weeks with trainer adverts! That's just idiotic and presumably completely ineffective.

Be smarter with our data. So few ads actually use what we know about our customers/prospects to drive creative and targeting in a joined up way.

Let people block us. Giving people the option to turn off ads completely in return for something - money, data, endorsement, whatever is of value to the business you're working for - is great customer experience and may actually improve the relationships you have with your customers.

Educate people as to what the purpose of advertising is - for some businesses (like the one I work in) advertising is absolutely vital in providing free, high quality websites to our local communities and we shouldn't be ashamed to admit that. Sometimes just explaining why we run ads is enough.

Invest in technology. If we do want to run ads, then let's make them load quickly, and display correctly

Finally, consider what the visitor wants. If we want to ask someone to sign up for an email, or complete a survey, or enter a competition, let's allow people to SPEND SOME TIME ON OUR SITE before we bombard them with calls to action, shall we?

You never know, just by being patient and looking at what they are browsing, we could learn something and serve them with much more relevant, personalised AND effective ads.

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