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LiveRamp’s Richard Foster: how can we make online ads more relevant in the era of ad blockers?

We can all relate to annoying pop-ups or autoplay video ads that block the page when you scroll, so the rise of ad blockers is no surprise. Despite yearly reports on brands increasing their ad spend, 22 per cent of people installed a blocker globally in 2016.

The gradual erosion of online ad effectiveness over time has been caused by standardised formats and positions on web pages, which lead to ad blindness. Brands have tried to compensate for the revenue shortfall by increasing their advertising budgets (global ad spending is projected to rise 4.3 per cent this year). But this reach-over-relevance approach has resulted in a negative experience of persistent and annoying ads, and more and more users blocking them.

In response to this to this vicious cycle, Google is on a mission to filter out disruptive ad experiences to help keep the web ecosystem healthy and improve the user experience. Chrome’s recently launched ad blocker seeks to punish those who display excessive irritating ads, which has led to the wider discussion: Is the rise of ad blocking helping or hindering the industry?

Google’s reliance on online ads as its prime revenue driver (digital advertising accounts for more than 86 per cent of its $111bn revenue) means they want to increase relevance, and rightly so. Unwanted ads are a lose-lose for everyone. This is not a cull, but a reminder that more needs to done to refine industry practices. With greater power to report annoying ads, people will be quicker to flag those that are irrelevant or don’t appeal to them. This means more now than ever, knowing what customers watch, buy and choose needs to be a priority for brands, so that targeted and effective ads can be easily differentiated from nuisance pop-ups.

Rather than viewing Chrome ad blocker as a hindrance, advertisers should see it as an opportunity to enhance ad effectiveness. We know that ads are welcomed when they are relevant, but knowing precisely what types of ads your customers actually want to see can be difficult. The key problem remains that advertisers are still making spend decisions based on an incomplete view of customers, through a fragmented digital landscape across multiple devices and channels. This has resulted in an equally fragmented customer experience, so marketers are now focusing on how to rein in costs and make ad spending more efficient. P&G announced that it slashed $200 million last year on digital advertising, after a recent push for more transparency had revealed such spending to be a waste.

Having recognised the wasted media spend, often the first decision is to suppress certain audiences from certain marketing campaigns across, say email. For instance, those who have seen the email already, people for whom the content will be irrelevant, those are already in contact with sales and others who may be part of another higher priority campaign – all of these segments can be readily identified and suppressed within the email channel.

Take this a step further, however, and by connecting CRM data to online marketing channels, a brand can ensure that anyone who buys a certain product offline will not see ads for that same product online. Suppression across multiple channels – online and offline.

Identity resolution helps brands achieve this deeper level of audience ad suppression. It connects individual web data from all sources to first-party data from offline channels, to build a holistic, de-identified view of every customer. This makes it easier to recognise customers as they move across different devices and channels. The result is fewer wasted media impressions and a far better customer experience.

Clearly, brands and advertisers both need to make user and customer experience a priority, or risk alienating their customers in the online space. Even Apple, Facebook and Samsung are prioritising user experience on their technologies by offering new ways to limit intrusive ads. The key is relevance, and identity resolution is a highly effective route to ensuring ad effectiveness. A win-win for both brand and consumer.

Richard Foster is UK managing director of LiveRamp

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