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Do Readers Hate Your Ads?

Posted on Tuesday, January 28, 2020 at 11:38 PM

And, if so, what can you do about it?

By William Dunkerley

There is growing evidence out there that, more and more, consumers hate advertising. Entrepreneur magazine ran this headline: "7 Reasons People Hate Your Ads." Digiday said, "Most People Hate Ads." Morningconsult.com reported, "Consumers Love to Hate Ads but Won't Pay to Escape Them."

After reading these stories and others, we were beginning to think that some kind of advertising aversion disorder is festering among audiences. But as I looked at the matter more closely, I concluded that this is no disorder at all; much of the dislike is a rational reaction to unlikable advertising. Here's a term for it, Aversive Advertising Syndrome (AAS).

Whatever it's called, it is a problem for us as publishers. Whether it's a disorder or a syndrome, it has the potential to chase audiences away from our magazines.

I see three main categories of aversive advertising: (1) ads that are obtrusive, (2) ads that are irrelevant, and (3) ads that invade privacy. Perhaps you can identify even more categories. For now, though, let's discuss these three.

Ads That Are Obtrusive

This is a category I can really relate to on a personal level. As a publisher and media business analyst, I do a lot of online searching. And very often I'll run into a site that is laden with obtrusive advertising. A big part of being obtrusive is that the ads are intrusive, too.

I'm talking about ads that pop up. Multiple pop-ups in fact. Then there are auto-start videos. Not only do they take up part of the screen, but they force you to listen to audio that you never wanted to hear. The ironic thing about this kind of advertising is that the advertisers are being deluded by clickthrough statistics. On the surface the numbers may suggest there's a lot of interest. But one study showed that an alarmingly high percentage of the clicks are just the result of the consumer trying to close the pop-up or video.

Obtrusive ads seem to be a good way to make visiting your online publication a miserable experience. That's not going to be good for business. You'll eventually lose readers. The advertisers won't be getting the payback they'd receive if they placed more effective forms of advertising. So in the long run you may lose advertisers, too.

It's best to counsel your advertisers against using obtrusive advertisements.

Ads That Are Irrelevant

One of the pleasures of subscribing to a magazine is that you get to see advertisements that are in line with the publication's subject matter. If you're reading a city magazine in Cleveland, you'll see ads pertinent to that city. If you're interested in fly fishing and subscribe to a magazine on that subject, the ads serve a very useful purpose of acquainting you with the latest fishing gear and best fishing venues. And if you're a carpenter reading a carpentry magazine, you'll value its ads for tools, equipment, and materials.

Most magazine publishers are well aware of the value of subject affiliation when it comes to advertising. If you run an ad for a New Jersey auto service station in your Cleveland city magazine, it's not going to help anyone. I'm sure you get the picture.

The problem occurs when a publisher begins accepting programmatic advertising. That means opening up some of your ad spots to be filled by an external agency. In these cases the ad placement is typically controlled by an algorithm. And my observation is that these algorithms are often at least somewhat off target.

The impact here is primarily on your readers. If someone is reading a fly-fishing magazine that has a lot of irrelevant ads in it, the publication will seem less like a fly-fishing magazine. That could damage readers' perceived value of your publication.

Ads That Suggest Privacy Invasion

Let's say someone has gotten a headache from obtrusive ads. He goes online and searches for headache medicine, then goes to Amazon and enters “headache medicine” in the search bar. He may find a good headache remedy to ease the distress from the obtrusive ads, but he is likely in store for another headache later. That's because he's likely to start seeing ads for headache medicine showing up on other websites he may visit in the future. He may see paid ads on the subject in Google searches. Then will come a flood of spam emails offering good deals on headache meds. Some of them may even be dangerous phishing attempts. And finally he may start hearing from overseas telemarketers.

We never actually tested this out with the "headache medicine" term. But I've seen it myself many times following searches for products that tend to be well advertised.

So, so what? This chain reaction is obviously a result of data sharing. Reports are showing that a lot of people view all that sharing as an invasion of privacy. Some consumers say it gives them a creepy feeling.

A New York Times headline asked, "Are Targeted Ads Stalking You?" The article goes on to say, "Online ads have always been annoying, but now they’re worse than ever." The story also provides an example like mine above: "Consider what happens when you shop online for a wristwatch. You peruse a few watch websites and the next thing you know, a watch advertisement is following you everywhere. On your computer, it’s loading in your Facebook feed. On your phone, it’s popping up on Instagram. In your Web browser on either, it’s appearing on news sites that have nothing to do with watches. Even if you end up ordering the watch, the ads continue trailing you everywhere. They’re stalker ads."

Is There a Cure for AAS?

What's the remedy for Aversive Advertising Syndrome? Implore your advertisers to avoid using aversive ads. A lot of advertisers are dazzled by new advertising technologies. That dazzle can blind some of them to the perils that exist. Surely they don't want to annoy prospective customers any more than you want them to annoy your readers. Try working with them so they can come to see that.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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