Winning the ad blocking war: Former Red Bull marketing boss launches manifesto for change

Can brands penetrate the wall that consumers are building to block their ads? Huib van Bockel, the former head of marketing for Red Bull and author of The Social Brand, says the answer is 'no'. And they shouldn't even try.

Winning the ad blocking war: Former Red Bull marketing boss launches manifesto for change
One of my favorite questions I ask my fellow marketers is: "Do you have Spotify Premium?" And of course, the majority do.

People are giving brands a pretty clear signal: stop bothering us.  And now that technology is making that possible, they are taking it into their own hands to block the endless stream of advertising.

Ever since September when IOS 9 started to allow ad blocking software to be installed: apps with fitting names like Purify and Peace (although they have pulled out not wanting to be part of this ‘war’) have been topping the download charts. People clearly want to be ‘purified’ of all the noise and finally have some ‘peace’.

Even before the IOS change, ad blocking software was growing at a staggering rate of 88% in the UK. One of my favorite questions I ask my fellow marketers is: "Do you have Spotify Premium?" And of course, the majority do. I bet quite a lot have ad blockers installed.

It may be a grim comparison but in those cases we are essentially in our little bunker trying to shield ourselves from the very ad messages we create, while bombarding others who haven’t got around yet to download the ad blockers. But they will. If there is one thing we know about the human race: it’s that when it gets targeted, when it feels attacked; it will defend itself, it will build a wall. And that is exactly what they are doing now.

It has become a war. Business finds ever more way to target their ‘consumers’ and people find ever more ways to block them. Most businesses and brands still struggle to fully appreciate and incorporate the fact that we no longer live in the days of four (unblockable) media channels: TV, radio, print and outdoor.

Sure, we have moved budget to digital, but we have not changed our behavior or the way we market our brands. We have simply transplanted our old ways of marketing and shoved them on the ever increasing digital platforms.

Stop the war

Instead of airing a TV ad, we pre-roll before a YouTube video. Instead of hanging our outdoor banner on the side of a road we have stuck it on a website. But, and this is the catch, that outdoor banner did not follow us around for weeks, did not slow down our car or install malware on it, did not know exactly where we were going or worse decide where we ended up next. It did not stop us from driving all together demanding we sit and watch a 20-second ad. Imagine if that did happen to us in our cars? We would not hesitate for a second to block that.

So what is the solution?

Stop the war. Stop trying to penetrate the wall people are clearly putting up. That starts with changing our behavior. The key in this social era is not to be ON social media, the key is to BE social. We should change the very first question we ask ourselves in the boardroom.

How can we give them something they will truly appreciate? Something that they will WANT to see and engage with, something that they do not want to block, but seek out and share with others.

Instead of asking: how can we make sure ‘consumers’ will like us, how can we make them buy us? How can we target them? We should turn this around. We should ask ourselves: what can we do for the people that are important to us? How can we give them something they will truly appreciate? Something that they will WANT to see and engage with, something that they do not want to block, but seek out and share with others. This will not only make sure that our messages will be heard, but in my opinion it is the only proper way to build loyalty.

So find something you want to give first as a brand. Define a clear brand mission. Then find ways to make that mission happen. Find a media mix that is as ‘giving’ as possible. 

As a metaphor I like to use the ‘Brand Bank Account’. How much do you give as a brand and how much do you take. Typical deposits are: a great piece of content, an engaging and well-executed event, and outdoor banner in a city that points you in the right direction. Things people voluntarily engage with and enjoy. Typical withdrawals are, everything that gets forced unto people: pre-rolls, pop-ups, radio ads, you name them.

Just like human relationships: they can only be built by giving and are broken up by taking. The exact same goes for brands. If we want people to stop blocking us, then it’s time we gave them something worth their while.

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).

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