A major part of digital’s commercial success was its ability to very cost effectively (read cheaper than traditional media, in fact, payment by results) specifically target (therefore ensuring, no target audience wastage) consumers with relevant advertising (either by demographic profile or surfing habits).

In theory, this is great. I only get served useful ads, except it ignores a simple human truth; people don’t like being advertised to. Online programmatic advertising has become akin to being stalked – a relentless and very often misplaced interest.

However in the ‘free content’ internet age the consumer can’t have its cake and eat it. Costs need to be covered and this was traditionally done via a mix of subscriptions AND adverting, with the consumer benefiting from quality content and the option to ignore whatever advertising they wanted to. 

Ad blocking is now being talked about and implemented widely with 200m* active ad blockers and growing. What is its impact?

  • Paid for content will come back. Consumers will have to start to pay for quality content or not be able to visit certain sites without receiving ads
  • Online advertisers will have to become even more targeted but most importantly even more creative. Remember the good old days of creative (and highly celebrated) advertising? Just being targeted isn’t enough you’ve got to engage your audience.

So great news for advertising agencies. Where does this leave the sport, entertainment and sponsorship Industry? Like all things, to understand where things are going, you have to look back.

Sponsorship grew off the back of the rationale that advertising wasn’t working. The ‘I’ll turn the kettle on during the ad break’ argument. In addition to this consumers weren’t even watching TV or reading the paper anymore (but at least we were dual screening on mobile and tablets). ‘Seeding’ (read pitch side hoarding) your ‘content’ (read brand logo) within an ‘emotive environment’ (a match or performance) to a highly targeted audience (read fan) was considered a great way of reaching people. But just like the banner ad consumers wanted and needed more, hence the need for activation. Again as sponsorship become more popular it became more cluttered and therefore we needed to be more targeted (research and insight) and engaging (creative).

Digital was a huge threat and opportunity to the sponsorship industry – it could do the same thing i.e. directly reach people via their interests. The only downfall is when the content is uninteresting and the targeting is often misinterpreted.

So where does Ad blocking fit in?

Well it’s just the digital kettle (switched on or off by your smart phone of course). So in order not to miss out, the advertisers need to integrate themselves into the content. With relevant, emotively engaging content (which plays perfectly to sport and entertainment’s sponsorship strengths) which needs to be delivered in a stimulating and thought provoking way which is where the creative industry comes back into play.

The Rugby World Cup was littered with bland media buying led activations, however there were two campaigns that stood out. Heineken which focused on putting the fan first, offering genuine ‘money can’t buy’ access to the tournament (such as being part of the coin toss) and Samsung who put together (for the first time ever) a genuinely creative (and amusing) ad campaign perfectly weighted to appeal to both the fan and non-fan. Its digital distribution worked as a result. Facebook knew I liked rugby and I didn’t mind opening up the ad (something I never do) as it hit all of my consumption criteria and never let me down. I even shared it, which must be the holy grail for any advertiser, just like we all used to talk (yes we did used to talk to each other) about the really great Ad campaigns that hit the nations nerve.

Of the 200m* current active ad blockers the majority are young, male and well educated, spending $200 a month online. A small but influential target audience (also one perfectly tailored to sport).

With no advertising revenue, quality content might have to be paid for again. Or alternately you might opt to receive sponsored content and by ‘sponsored content’ I mean genuine editorial content that you are interested in, where the sponsor adds to the quality of the consumer (or fan) experience.

With 50% of advertising spend now on mobile and an est. 10 - 50% of a user’s data allowance now being taken up by ads they don’t want to see, consumer forces will start to come into play. It’s unclear what will happen next. Will online programmatic advertising disappear as quickly as it came about? Unlikely. However what is clear is that programmatic dominates the industry and it is intrusive and unwanted for the vast majority. In order to avoid the ‘virtual kettle’ it needs to serve relevant, emotively engaging content that connects with the consumer and offers something they are interested in. A commercially driven, creative sports and entertainment sponsorship platform has these tools in abundance.

*Adblock-alypse Now; The Sunday Times Magazine, November 29 2015 

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