Facebook’s mobile ad numbers grew last year, but in the company’s most recent earnings call management warned that they will probably flatten out in the future. Why? Because Mark Zuckerberg knows that he’s maxed out on the number of ads he can insert in visitors’ feeds without ruining the user experience. Other platforms, like Snapchat, face the same problem with what used to be called “performance ads,” or ads whose responses can be tabulated. As the industry seeks to establish “attribution,” the number and type of ads changes. For the remainder of publishers, struggling against Facebook’s dominance, it’s simply worse. The harder you try to use data and metrics, the more users complain.
Doc Searls, a well-known advocate for consumer control of advertising and the author of “The Cluetrain Manifesto,” recently said on an episode of The Gillmor Gang podcast that the days of what he refers to as “surveillance advertising” are numbered. By surveillance advertising, he meant the kind of ads that track a consumer from place to place on the internet, using cross-channel campaign tactics and retargeting.
Survey after survey has shown that consumers don’t mind ads as much as they mind being stalked on the web. But while consumers are moving in one direction, some brands are moving in the other: connecting content to commerce, going after reach even to uninterested consumers, and using retargeting for the “ones that got away.”
Put yourself in the shoes of the consumer for a moment. 68% of online shopping carts are abandoned. From the marketer’s perspective, that is way too high, and there must be a way to bring that number down. But from the consumer’s perspective, there may be information that the marketer doesn’t know: perhaps the article didn’t fit into the budget, wasn’t really necessary, had been added to the cart by mistake, or was more expensive than a similar product.
Trying to track down a consumer who has already made that decision using retargeting can be seen as rude, in this case, and won’t be fixed with more aggressive retargeting.
On the other hand, running clever brand ads with helpful creative that isn’t so heavy it mars the user experience, and at the same time presents valuable information that may make the future purchaser choose a brand, is a form of advertising that’s been acceptable for hundreds of years.
Searls, who is considered an expert on the future of marketing, believes that in the mobile environment, good brand advertising will always be welcome while performance advertising will not.