Why a coalition for better ads won't stop people blocking ads

Iris co-founder Sam Noble says he's more interested in starting a 'Coalition for Better Connections'.

The industry appears to have its usual blinkers on when it comes to responding to the seismic challenge of ad-blocking, discussed recently in Campaign following speakers at Dmexco uniting in their assertion that the industry needs to up its game in the face of ad-blocking and consumer disengagement. 

As the discussion pointed out, over a quarter of UK Internet users are predicted to be running ad-blocking software next year and rates on both desktop and mobile are forecast to continue to rise dramatically.

And guess what. The solution we seem to be proposing as an industry is – wait for it – better ads! And what’s more, by jove, we’re going to create The Coalition For Better Ads to sort it out!


Do we imagine consumers in the pubs, playgrounds and supermarkets across the country wondering to themselves: "If only those advertising folk could serve us with digital ads that are a bit less intrusive and have a bit more of a seamless UX. If only they could get organised into some form of ‘Coalition For Better Ads’ to help them do it! Then we’d definitely ditch the ad blockers and really enjoy starting to be sold to!"

No, I thought not. 

I’m sure that those promoting the idea of and joining The Coalition are well intentioned, but surely they are really missing the fundamental point. People aren’t building their software walls because most ads could be a bit better, they’re doing it because they want to devote their finite mental energies and interactions to stuff that they are truly interested in and value; to popular culture, to their passion points, to the friends and communities that they want to develop relationships with; to new tools and ideas that help them live their lives in more exciting and/or more efficient ways.

This is why they’re responding much better to quality content, experiences and conversations that feel less like marketing and more like culture; that feel like they come from their world, not a brand’s world. It’s the big lesson that the social media platforms have been handing out to the advertising world for ages now… people are just more interested in businesses that can facilitate and enhance their lifestyles (through their products, services and indeed their marketing) than they are in ones trying to sell their way into them.

Somewhat ironically, given how many smart people work in them, most agencies still haven’t truly grasped the nettle of this ongoing lesson. Legacy structures, vested media interests, lack of conviction and will at a leadership level, blind hope in some cases … all seem to be playing a part in preventing them respond to this reality in the way that cultural content businesses like Vice and BuzzFeed for example are.

We must not retreat into a mindset where the answer is ‘better ads’. When we deploy advertising, in any channel, of course it should be good. That’s a statement of the bleeding obvious.

But more importantly, we must fully recognise its fundamental limitations. If we’re really going to mount a fight back against the rising tide of ad blocking we need to connect brands and consumers in more meaningful ways.

To do it we must pack our agencies jammed full of the right talent; cultural creators, curators, developers, and influencers; people that are genuinely immersed in the world they are making content for.  We must build partnerships and networks (in the fullest sense of the word) that allow us to work together with other businesses that enable us to pop the advertising bubble.

This at the heart of the success we’ve been creating for brands like adidas in football globally and Domino’s Pizza here in the UK. And it’s why, while we don’t see the need for a "Coalition For Better Ads", we’d certainly be interested in building a "Coalition For Better Connections" instead.

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