The end is coming!... for ads. All those stupid ads cluttering up our content, slowing down websites, and making browsing on your smartphone feel like sitting in a traffic jam are approaching doomsday. People have raced to online advertising like the 49ers in the wild west during the Gold Rush. Just like the Gold Rush, there are few winners, many losers, and an entire industry that will look like a similar ghost town in a few years.
Ads, Ads, Everywhere, but Not a Drop to Click
It's hard to read anything anymore online without AT LEAST half-a-dozen ads showing up in your content. Since a sucker is born every minute, businesses are still buying ad space online with the promises of thousands or millions of eyeballs. The problem? People aren't clicking.
Many studies have shown that Millennials are adept at ignoring and self-filtering ads, older people often click them by mistake, and other issues like robots, people who are going to buy anyway, and return visitors throw off the "results." Privacy issues, tech limitations, and other "broken trails" make it almost impossible to know the true ROI of any ad campaign. So all those big numbers about "impressions" and "engagement" are worth about as much as the 2016 election poll numbers.
At Best, We Ignore You. At Worst, We Hate You!
Disruption is still a holy word in investor and entrepreneurial circles, but consumers are pretty sick and tired of it. I don't need "disrupted" all the damn time. If I'm reading about politics, I don't want to see an ad about your "blowout car sale." Having to constantly navigate around ads, ignore them, or wade through them means I am learning to HATE your brand. I hate the site showing the ads, and I hate you for having the ad. Go away!
The End is Nigh! The Content Bubble Will POP!
Consumers are already at war against ads. We buy ad blockers, we pay extra to make ads go away (if given the option), and we will stop coming to ad-riddled sites if there is a less spammy alternative. Ads ruin the experience for your website, and for the brands in using the ads. Businesses too often fail to get a good return, and consumers grow an immunity to bad content and annoying ads.
Every business centered around ads will find it an ever growing struggle over the next few years to keep customers from walking away in disgust. The amount of websites selling ads to OTHER WEBSITES far outnumbers website actually selling something substantial. In other words, it's a giant unorganized Ponzi scheme, but we are conning ourselves.
But What About AI, Dynamic Ads, and Personal Targeting?
Bull. Maybe someday, but right now it is an over-hyped pipe-dream. Sure, Facebook has done a great job of learning my interests and tracking what I buy. Because of this, I see ads every day for all the stuff I already have. All this fancy code isn't getting much better results than good old-fashioned common sense "go where your people are."
Selling luxury men's watches? Maxim. Selling beauty products? Cosmopolitan. Selling first-class seats to Europe? The Economist. Opening a new fast-food chain? Local coupon mailer. Delivering pizza at 1 am? Put a flyer up wherever *cough* novelty smoking accessories are sold. There is your fancy analytics.
The Future of Online Advertising
So will ads go away? Certainly not. However, businesses will soon realize that the online equivalent of showing up on a random street and waving a sign in someone's face won't work. Here is what the future looks like:
Ads Will Be Separated: Instead of interrupting our content, ads will eventually appear on social media and websites in a "playpen." People still love to shop, but only when we WANT to shop. Putting ads in an easy to browse section means we will gladly take a peek and browse around. I foresee a tab on Facebook labeled something like "Your Offers" or maybe just "Shopping."
Online Shopping Malls Will Happen: This is NOT like Amazon, Jet, or another eCommerce site. Those are just the online equivalent of department stores. I am talking about some websites being honest with themselves and customers and having ALL content exclusively be ads. You will enjoy browsing wares from all sorts of websites, customize your shopping experience, and use it like a product-only Facebook.
Locality Will Bloom: Because making your own mobile app is still pretty hard, local businesses usually don't have one. At some point, they will be like websites. You will have apps for your city, or communities around near you. These will work like local papers and become your biggest place for coupons and small business shopping.
So Should I Advertise Online At All?
Yes... Probably... But probably a lot less that you are being told to. People still want to buy, and we are still interested in new products IF they match whatever interest or activity we are engaging in at the time. Don't buy ads with the promise of "exposure" - only buy ads when YOU are confident the audience is likely to be YOUR audience.
Use common sense, and don't spend on a gamble. If people aren't buying your stuff now, they probably won't buy it online. If people love your stuff now, advertising online to similar people will probably work. If keeping "top of mind" is important for your business, then some exposure may be worthwhile. Just get out of our news feed and weather report, OK?