Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Sep-Oct 2021

The Curse of the Skip the Ad Arrow

Digital audiences can now not just ignore your ad, they can potentially opt out of engaging with your brand ever again.

The moment was intense. The instrumental music was epic, dramatic and building up to a spine-chilling climax and my heart was beating to the same tune so loudly, it felt like a piece of that music. I couldn’t have wished for much longer nails to cope up with this nail-biting situation. My eyes were glued to the screen of my laptop; I was waiting, without daring to blink. And then, without any warning and abruptly, catching me off guard, the music changes and so does the drama. I see people dancing around to a sweet melodious jingle selling a product that I was least interested in. Annoyed, I waited and as soon as the ‘skip ad’ arrow appeared, I pressed it immediately. The heroine was back on the screen and the drama continued. However, to get back into the mood of a few seconds earlier was impossible, although I was persistent enough to wait to see what the hero did when he realised that the heroine, whom he thought had died many years earlier, was in fact alive. The episode ended, but as I closed the tab, it hit me as an ad woman that it’s just not me who waits for the ‘skip ad’ button.

Let’s face it. Consumers do not have any notion that they are part of a ‘campaign’ when they interact with a brand’s digital marketing creative. They simply move between devices, channels and screens and expect their experience to be seamless, engaging and fun. At any given moment, any one person is taking in several bits of information and has to decide what they should be paying attention to. As a marketer, it becomes challenging to make an impact and resonate and inspire a consumer to give us their attention.

Across the world of brand marketing, we have heard the mantra that ‘content is king’, and as the digital arena has made it far easier for a wider range of content providers to compete for attention, creativity has been the most powerful tool in getting audiences to pay attention. Indeed, given that creativity is the bedrock of the advertising industry, it is fair to say that the industry is currently facing a crisis.

Intrusive, boring, and unavoidable advertising is driving users to block ads. Every single person that has sat through an unskippable YouTube ad has thought about downloading an ad blocker. It’s that simple. In the past, the worst thing that happened when someone was irritated by your campaign was they didn’t convert and you wasted an impression. Now, users can actively remove themselves from the ecosystem for good.

Yet, rich media content can enable marketers to communicate in new and exciting ways, growing reach and relevance with key demographics that have previously been hard to engage. We have seen the impact of TikTok as a viable platform for business growth during the pandemic and this is just one example of a rapidly advancing trend towards video output. While new solutions and a wider variety of platforms provide the opportunity to create more effective ads, the sheer number of tools and tactics available for reaching consumers online are making effective digital ad campaigns more complicated to pull off than traditional ones. These days, content marketing is a lot like the housing market. Sure, it’s still possible to get on the ladder, but making the transition from renter to homeowner has become a lot harder. Several challenges are making content marketing difficult in today’s media environment. 

1 Insufficient Resources: Producing content is easy; producing good content is much harder. It takes time and skill to produce quality consistently. A lack of time is arguably one of the biggest barriers to content marketing. Another is a lack of sufficient budgets. After all, if you don’t have time to produce your own content, it stands to reason you will pay someone else to do it. The problem with this approach is that since it takes skill to produce good content, it will come with a price tag attached to it.

2 Reaction Speed and Content Relevance: This challenge is a consequence of lack of time and it can be detrimental to increasing digital visibility. Two trends are happening at the same time: people’s attention spans are becoming shorter and there is more information out there than ever before. Combine these two and you find that audiences are deeply interested in a current topic for a short time; they then quickly hit saturation point and move on to the next topic. In order to be able to jump in and create content on topics that are trending, you need to have time to react quickly. If you plan to post something about a new trend a month from now, it is highly likely that your audience has moved on by the time you give your five cents. 

3 Risk Aversion (or ‘Content Comfort Zones’): Content marketers are, by and large, creatures of habit. We tend to stick to what works. If a particular type of post resonates with our audiences, we will often apply this ‘formula’ to the next post and the next. There are two reasons for this. One, we genuinely want to provide audiences with content they find useful, actionable and valuable. Two, we are hopelessly addicted to pageviews. Remember that it can sometimes take years to establish an audience and generate consistent traffic from content marketing campaigns. So, imagine that whatever you have been doing has worked really well, and you are seeing tens of thousands of unique monthly pageviews as a result of your efforts. You would probably hesitate to try something new that could potentially tank your traffic, right? This is why so much of the content out there is bland, generic and forgettable.

4 Bad or Tone-Deaf Messaging: The biggest challenge is bad or tone-deaf messaging. Brands and agencies have to develop a consumer-centric mindset and learn to communicate with audiences without using ‘ad speak’. They want human messaging, not acronyms. This may sound surprising, but convincing brands to put customers first is still a challenge many marketers and creatives face when developing content. The only solution is for brands to change their mindset about the value of content and understand that content marketing is not the same as advertising. Content marketing is about being helpful and providing value to customers by giving them what they want at each stage of the customer journey, rather than creating tone-deaf messaging that is ignored.

5 Increasing Competition: Whether we are creating content for a cooking oil or a baby formula, someone else has already been creating content about it for a long time. To make matters worse, there has never been such intense competition to grab audience attention – and this means creating better content, which requires more time, money, or both. The result is a figurative arms race – who can produce the best content most frequently? In addition, as the competition for audience attention escalates, consumer expectations are raised, placing us under even greater pressure to consistently deliver exceptional content. (If we must bring Darwinism in the context of content, then only the strong will survive.)

6 Reaching the Right Audience: With the shift to WFH and other changes, reaching the right audience at the right time has become more challenging since the pandemic. Third-party data offers an effective way to address this challenge with audience building, identity graphs, intent data and other strategies, empowering marketers with precision targeting and insights into prospects who are in-market and ready to buy. 

The continued growth in the popularity of branded social media content has demonstrated that consumers do not necessarily care whether content is sponsored or not. They just want it to be relevant. Create better advertising and fewer users will hit the button on the ejector seat. The key to getting this balance right is using a content marketing platform capable of listening to consumers and adjusting the content by combining performance metrics with consumer insights as to how the content is performing. The key to keeping your head above water is to master the art of standing out in a marketplace full of noise. Stay ahead of the curve.

Sumaira Mirza is Executive Creative Director, Create Think Tank.

Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2021