When I was growing up in the UK, it was often quoted that the tea-loving British public would cause problematic surges in electricity usage during ad breaks for popular shows, when they collectively migrated to the kitchen to put the kettle on. This was symptomatic of how disengaged people were with everyday advertising content, an attitude that many would echo now.
More and more of us are interested in filtering out advertisements. The use of Ad Blockers is on the rise; the percentage varies by country, but an estimatedquarter to a third of people in Europe currently use them. This isn’t a revelation – historically speaking, advertising has a bad rep, with idealistic images and boring – or worse, seemingly insidious – content leading to negative perceptions. Even though half the population claims  advertising doesn’t ‘work’ on them at all, many still fear undesirable impacts of advertising.
What’s interesting is that the majority of advertising experiences are explicitly rated as ‘positive’ in the moment that are encountered (65%)*. This positive majority is actually higher than other, non-advertising brand interactions, demonstrating that advertising, in general, is doing a great job of appealing to its audience.
This figure varies across countries, age groups, and sectors, but on average, that means that we feel good about these encounters. Furthermore, the remaining experiences are mostly neutral, with just 4% being categorized as ‘negative’*.
This is likely being driven up by a few key things:
The Attention Economy
Brand are fighting harder for attention, as we, the consumers, are increasingly in the driving seat of what we want to digest this is becoming more evident with telling decisions such as Facebook’s overhaul in 2018 to significantly reduce the ads shown through their platform’s newsfeeds. Brands are now operating in an environment where we have multiple screens on at any one time and are in control of entertainment content we’re streaming. If ads don’t appeal immediately, sometimes in just a few precious seconds… their audience has moved on.
To complete in today’s ‘cluttered’ attention economy, brands are becoming more consumer-focused. They want to truly understand and respond to what we want and if they’re not relevant, they’ll be left for dust. Brands are putting time and energy into listening to the voice of their customers, and the result should be superior products, services and advertising communications for us.
With digital communication channels and the ability to target very specific groups of us, brands are able to tailor ads to be relevant. Just as Netflix might show me Ross and you Rachel to get us to watch ‘Friends’, digital ads increasingly understand what you find appealing so that they can speak to your personal tastes. Although this can often appear creepy, the majority of us actually prefer personalized content as we feel more in control of our experiences and appreciate that the ‘filtering’ saves us from having to do it ourselves.
More than just making money
The culmination of these previous points is the fact that brands are being held increasingly accountable for actioning their ‘brand purpose’ and standing for something other than their own sales. Brands need to be contributing to the world in a positive way, and hearing about this makes us feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. Some of the most positively received brand advertising touts charitable sponsorships, cause-related relationships or content that focuses on brand purpose. So many brands are doing fantastic things; some matching product sales with product donations, and whole companies even form around the goal of making a difference. One memorable example of extreme advertising that resonated with consumers is Patagonia’s campaign telling people not to buy their clothes, as they worked to counter their own impact on the environment. Needless to say, they saw a spike in their sales!
What all these changes are pointing to is a power shift towards us, as consumers, and the way we are interacting with brands. Companies are having to step up to the plate and meet our expectations in order to survive. As consumers, we will benefit from this evolution as we can help shape brands to contribute positively to society and their advertisements will become a happy, well-executed reminder of this.
*Figures on positivity from the MESH Experience database