The advertising industry has changed drastically, thanks in many ways to the rise of technology. But as the IAB recently pointed out, this transformation has perhaps come at the cost of user experience. For too long, the industry focused solely on the needs of advertisers and publishers, over-saturating the market at the expense of the end-user. As more consumers gain digital savvy, their tolerance for poor user experience is waning. The rise of ad blockers is a perfect example of how consumers are becoming agents in the marketplace and is a direct effect of the industry’s inadvertent subjugation of the consumer. As advertisers continue to expand their digital spend in this somewhat hostile environment, acknowledging user experience will be an important tactic to maximise return on investment and maintain brand favourability. 

As the digital ecosystem has grown and matured, we’ve seen a drastic transformation in ad placements, inventory, execution and even creative. But how did we get to a place where ad blockers are threatening the lifeline of digital publishers? Surely, each player within the industry has played its part. For advertisers, the problem lies less in the creative approach and more in execution. As digital audiences grew and technology enabled advertisers to reach these audiences efficiently, the possibilities of execution became the primary driver of campaigns. Best practices were rarely prioritised along the way, and user experience was lost in the shuffle.  

As a result, digital audiences have become subject to aggravating practices, like poorly executed retargeting campaigns, which can feel like being stalked by a product or brand. With the rise of the privacy-conscious consumer, these advertising practices feel encroaching. Rather than engaging an audience, as is the objective of any advertising campaign, advertisements have become a major turn-off. 

The critical component

As technology enabled advertisers to hyper-target and scale, focus shifted away from user engagement and more towards capabilities. Ad tech became leveraged for what it can do, rather than what it should. Campaigns, in turn, are often executed with a sole focus on internal KPIs. This strategy will no longer gain traction with consumers. Instead, the way in which ads engage users is the critical component. With increased access to consumer data, this is a feasible transition for advertisers. By letting consumer insights drive execution, rather than technology’s capabilities, user experience becomes the central pillar of media buys, driving strategic placements based on where the creative will generate the most impact.  

Instead of stunting a campaign’s potential impact with such botched execution, advertisers, publishers, and ad-tech companies must incorporate best practices that acknowledge user experience in addition to traditional, business-oriented KPIs. Publishers and ad-tech companies will continue to proliferate digital products that aim to bring bespoke, premium products to the market at scale, but advertisers must be mindful of how to best engage their users in an authentic and meaningful way. 

Reaching the right people

More specifically, execution and creative need to be viewed as two sides of the same coin. Premium placements offer a fundamentally different experience for an end-user than an RTB-driven retargeting campaign; what works as a brand integration on the LA Times’ homepage will not have the same impact if executed as a mass digital campaign. Placements that keep the end-user in mind will factor this into consideration – when a consumer engages with our creative, is it going to be meaningful or a nuisance? On the flip side, a retargeting campaign offers capabilities that a single site takeover cannot. All tactics have their place in this complex ecosystem, and it’s up to players on all sides to ensure they are being implemented strategically. 

Advertisers must be held accountable to make responsible decisions on how they are pushing out creative. It cannot be solely a question of what is the cheapest, most efficient way of reaching people. Instead, it is a question of how to best reach people. By approaching campaign development from this mindset, the end-user will have a much better experience. This will ultimately impact the success rate of any digital campaign. 

We have a new player in the ad-tech scene; they are smart, savvy and they will dictate our collective success. They are the consumer, and as the IAB reminds us, we cannot forget that their needs are of paramount importance. As the advertising industry continues to evolve, each player will continue to face its fair share of problems. When it comes to user experience, advertisers and publishers play an equally important role and should foster an environment that eliminates executions that impinge upon user experience. During a time when ROI on advertising spend is under a microscope, all parties need to continually refocus on user experience. By doing so, advertisers can create more meaningful engagement with consumers, which will only make a campaign that much more effective.