“Advertisements are now so numerous that they are very negligently perused…”
Samuel Johnson, 1759


It is safe to say that ad avoidance is not a new problem. But it is a perennial one for the industry, because if adverts are actively avoided, brands get less value for money and publishers struggle to pay for their content. The all too familiar subject of online and mobile ad blocking springs to mind here, yet despite ad blocking being one of the most talked about issues in the industry in the last couple of years (often with an end-of-times edge to the discussion), ad avoidance itself is a wider issue and needs to be thought of as such. There have been panics before (remember the scare over DVR ad skipping?) and will undoubtedly be panics again, but since we are media planners and buyers that operate across a large spectrum of media, it’s our job to look at the bigger picture.


During the aforementioned DVR anxiety, research was conducted to find out exactly what people did during the now skippable adverts. It turned out that the head-turn (really the ultimate in ad avoidance tech) was a bigger threat to ads on a DVR schedule than skipping. It also found, and bear in mind the study was all the way back in 2011, that other media was a distraction. Participants in the study didn’t tend to skip adverts, but turned to companion media during advertising.


This trend has only grown since then. Last year it was found in a large Accenture study that 87% of consumers use a second screen device while watching TV. This makes it necessary to know not only the primary media habits of the target audience but secondary and tertiary media habits too. Multi-device media plans are not a luxury in these circumstances, they are necessary.


A Swedish study (by market researchers TNS Sifo) provided further support to this. They noted that avoidance dropped greatly when multiple media sources were taken into account. 91.3% of those asked stated they actively avoided one type of advertising, 84.7% avoided two types, 73.2% avoided three… a drop that continues to six types of media, where only 22.1% actively try to avoid all types of advertising across all six formats. As the study says: “Every individual has his/her own set of channels that he/she prefers or does not prefer, that he/she listens carefully to or that he/she fends off directly. Most people can be reached, but not via all channels. This is, of course, a weighty argument for making strong brands visible in more media channels, which must therefore be planned in parallel by the media agency.”


Giving the viewer choice is an obvious strategy when it comes to combatting ad avoidance, not least since in turning to companion devices this is what they are doing for themselves. Here are a few ways brands could do this.


    • Plan for ad avoidance. Where might it occur and how might it be solved in each media plan?


    • Providing ad free premium options and channels (think Spotify or Netflix) makes the free, non-skippable ad-option far more palatable. The consumer is smart enough to know when they are getting relative value for money. If the free option is taken, ads are a known and accepted part of the territory.


    • Make better ads. Ads could always be better – but we should go out of our way to make them considerate of the audience’s time we’ve demanded too.


    • Target ads more accurately. As we have previously discussed, random mobile ads are one of the drivers of ad-blocking. Ads that are designed and sent to the correct audience will always stand a better chance of effecting engagement and recall.


    • Whatever else, don’t just shout louder. This is a traditional response to ad-avoidance, because it does, very occasionally work. It also makes consumers angry and less likely to ever trust a brand (or medium) in the future.


    • And finally, accept that ad avoidance, from head-turning to ad-blocking is part of the territory. A thing worth fighting positively.


As Tim Wu of the New Yorker and Columbia University puts it: As consumers, we should understand ad-avoidance as a way of setting a price on our time and attention. For the past century, we’ve arguably been selling it too cheap, trading it all for a few decent sitcoms and sports programming. The rise of ad-avoidance is a way of putting a higher price on the privilege of doing what ads do—make brands more valuable and convince us to spend money. Just as we don’t let every salesman into our home, there’s no reason to let every advertisement into our life.


By Oliver Brown