Hyper relevancy and good ads: how to win back consumer hearts

Ad-blocking, although damaging, is forcing our industry to up its game... And it's the shock we all needed

Users are fed up. The barrage of forced advertising, with its intrusive and irrelevant messages that stalk users across the internet, is getting out of hand. Who wants to buy another sofa when they’ve just bought one? Or perhaps they need another engagement ring for their other soon-to-be fiancée? In the world of advertising, one is never enough.

Ad-blocking is still a problem. And one that 10 great minds from publishing, brands, advertising and media owners tackled at a round-table discussion hosted by Campaign, in partnership with Teads. Despite the uncertainty they created, have ad-blockers actually given the industry the shock it needs?

Creatively, advertising is in a golden era. If we serve up content in a relevant way, can we begin to blur the lines between editorial and advertising engagement? Can we give consumers the value exchange that makes them happy?

Is ad-blocking a result of bad ads – or how they are served?
As well as the intrusive formats, users are concerned about the impact of ads in terms of slowing down websites, slowing down the content experience and using up data on their mobile devices. But they are also worried about privacy.

Jae Hopkins, marketing director at Exodus Travel, said the difficulty is that, aside from being concerned about privacy, consumers want more relevant advertising and content.

To make ads resonate, we need to be able to track users and identify them, which is the real challenge.

Richard Harris, head of online at Paddy Power, said it’s not surprising ad-blockers are starting to become more prevalent with mobile. "It’s the most personal device and we’ve given it the most intrusive format," he said. "Users do not want to be invaded on their mobile phone."

Especially as they are paying for the data that these ads consume. Mobile content is digested on the move and the group agreed that it should be snappy and quick to access.’s head of UK online, Noel Eves, believes we are at the tipping point of programmatic. "[Advertisers] are using it to pester people rather than for its real purpose – to serve the perfect ad, at the perfect time and to the right person," he said.

"How do we get over this hurdle and share the benefits of tracking consumers by serving hyper-relevant content?"

Most agreed that millennials are the key drivers behind this behavioural change.

Their high expectations, combined with their lack of time, means they want content that is quick and easy to consume – an attitude that will become ever-more ruthless.

Justin Taylor, managing director of Teads, said we are already seeing this amplified by Generation Z. "They’re a group that spends 18 hours a day online," he said. "They can stream video, they can stream texts with audio at the same time. Their direction is non-linear. What millennials have taught us is that change is going to happen and now it is happening in a way we have never seen before."

Speaking from a different perspective, Jack Rogers, head of growth at start-up fashion app Grabble, said the rise in ad-blockers has forced the company to change its business model. Grabble has moved from being focused on ecommerce to become more of an editorial platform that creates co-branded native content. But the challenge is knowing how to maximise that potential.

"Ad-blocking has raised awareness of how poor the user experience was before," said Rogers.

"Now, we’re able to look at the digital ecosystem and say: ‘How can we make betters ads?’ We have a new opportunity to reinvent the wheel."

Breaking the habit of a lifetime: going native
Guardian News and Media’s global revenue director, Tim Gentry, said the industry has become reliant on display ads and low-cost media. "The challenge is to break out of this and start selling different formats." He added that The Guardian had "decreased the number of ads per page by about 25%".

The obvious benefit of native advertising is its editorial-like appearance. Content, although clearly labelled as promoted, often blends into the background. And if it offers something relevant and valuable to the user, its message can be absorbed subconsciously.

Another benefit is that most native content cannot be blocked. And it can be easily digested on mobile – the most popular device of all – without the interruption of dodgy banner ads.

Native has also allowed the advertiser to make contextually relevant content that will strike a chord with the user.

"Programmatic meant we bought the audience and we didn’t care about the context," said Jamie Toward, content partner at Karmarama. "Suddenly, native is allowing us to care about the context again. And understanding that is going to allow us to make better ads, that are better served, inside publishers who are more contextually relevant, for the people who we’re trying to advertise to – that’s the Holy Grail."

Ad-blocking, though damaging, has given advertisers and publishers a real opportunity. To exploit this, advertisers must ensure they are serving the content that users want to engage with.

Make it personal, make it relevant and serve it in a way that does not cause irritation or annoyance. The group agreed that we’re not there yet. But advertisers, publishers and agencies are all giving real focus and genuine thought to this – and are beginning to fight for the user.

Around the table

From left to right: Tim (The Guardian), Jack (Grabble), Stephen (Campaign) Sue (MediaCom), Richard (Paddy Power), Jamie (Karmarama), Jae (Exodus), Eleanor (Campaign), Nick (Guinness), Justin (Teads) and Noel (

Justin Taylor, managing director, Teads
"Now’s the time for change. Think of a tune first, think about what the next bit of advertisement looks like."

Tim Gentry, global revenue director, The Guardian News & Media
"Native is taking off because it is a better user experience. I can choose to engage with it, it’s giving me some value exchange or I can navigate away from it. The end consumer doesn’t care."

Nick Britton, marketing manager, Guinness
"It’s about making something that resonates with the consumer, so that they don’t see it as a piece of advertising but as a piece of content that they want to engage with."

Jamie Toward, content partner, Karmarama
"I’m not saying it’s a good thing that ad-blocking is happening. I think it’s a good thing that’s happening for, potentially, bad reasons. But we’re all trying to sort it out – and that’s a good thing."

Sue Unerman, chief strategy officer, MediaCom
"Insight is what has always fuelled great advertising – you don’t get great advertising without insight."

Richard Harris, head of online, Paddy Power
"There’s a big opportunity for the different viewpoints of publishers, advertisers and everything in the middle, which is for ad tech to come together to figure out what is best for the consumer."

Jae Hopkins, marketing director, Exodus Travel
"In lots of ways I’m in favour of ad-blockers. They exist because people were serving irrelevant stuff. It was pissing people off. It’s a way of ensuring that what we serve is in the right place, at the right time." 

Noel Eves, head of online,
"The biggest changes will come from collective action from the publishers, the networks and the giants. That is how we move forward."

Andrew Cocker, senior marketing director, Expedia
"There has to be a closer alignment between products, user experience and advertising sales to start to mitigate against some of the issues. And why people are turning advertising off in the first place."

Jack Rogers, head of growth, Grabble
"Snapchat’s absolutely killing it right now. It’s about going where the users are going with their advertising."