This week I received an offer from LinkedIn for $50 worth of free advertising credits. If you’re a marketer, you probably got the same message. There were no strings attached. As an advertising student, I was excited by the opportunity to broadcast my portfolio of work across the LinkedIn network. I accepted the offer and began hastily creating an ad for my book.
As I neared the closing stages of the process, LinkedIn generated a preview of my ad. I have to admit that upon seeing it, I was a bit taken aback. The small advertisement looked completely unfamiliar to me. In fact, it looked downright out of place on the page.
With mild surprise, I realized that I had never before seen a sidebar ad on LinkedIn. I’d been using the platform for more than a year, but I’d installed an ad blocker plugin before I built a profile.
I stared for a moment at the suddenly distasteful ad and then closed the window. If I, a copywriter at a digital marketing agency, was unwilling to look at an online ad, how could I conscientiously foist it on others?
It wasn’t LinkedIn’s fault. Their ads are easily as beautiful and effective as those of any other social media platform. The fault was mine. I had created something that I wasn’t personally interested in and expected others to engage with it. Publishing it would have been the digital equivalent of throwing a diaper out onto the street.
Since then, I’ve given a lot of thought to the state of modern digital advertising. I’m no genius, but I’ve chatted with my peers and they generally feel the same way I do. Here are some of my conclusions.
1) Ad Blockers Aren’t Going Away
Did I delete my ad blocking plug-in? No. I deleted my ad. It wasn’t a hard choice. Ad blockers allow me to access content cleanly and immediately. I don’t want to hear your quote of the day. I don’t want to download Clash of Clans. I just want to read the blasted article.
In a very unscientific Twitter poll, I recently asked my followers if they thought ad blockers were “good” or “bad.” Bearing in mind that my network is mostly composed of marketing and advertising professionals, I was surprised when the results showed that 86 percent of voters thought ad blockers were good. They’re just too convenient. They make the Internet experience so much more pleasant. They’re here to stay.
I know it’s selfish, but I get irritated when pages beg me to disable my ad blocker. I never do it. Call me irresponsible, but I don’t feel obligated to personally hold up the faltering online publishing industry like some sort of modern Atlas. I just want to read another piece about the Kardashians.
2) Outlets Matters
The same day that I deleted my LinkedIn ad, I read dozens of sponsored articles posted by The Onion. The satire page is a personal favorite of mine. I ravenously devour everything they post. In a twisted way, I trust them as publishers. If they write it, I know it will be entertaining—even sponsored content.
Businesses should carefully consider the outlet they choose to publish their content. Facebook and Twitter are the go-to outlets for most, but there’s a risk of over-saturation. Many of my friends feel like social media is becoming too promotional. Distasteful marketing drives them from platform to platform, but the ads and promotional posts are never more than a step behind.
In addition to traditional social media outlets, I think that businesses should consider sponsoring content in online periodicals and news sources. Many of these outlets have devoted followings who will happily digest content the way I savor Onion articles. I think content marketing is generally a better approach for marketers than pay-per-click ads.
3. If You Don’t Love Your Content, Nobody Will
If Charles Dickens had serialized A Tale of Two Cities on Quora, he probably could have published the whole novel before he had a thousand readers. The sad truth is that today’s content consumers are a jaded bunch. They’re so used to literary cabbage that they’re prone to miss the occasional strawberry that finds its way into the trough.
When you finish a content article, you should feel a strong impulse to bind it in leather and display it on the mantelpiece. It should be so good that your kids ask you to read it to them as a bedtime story for consecutive nights. If you can’t picture your ad hanging in the Louvre, at least be able to imagine it on the cover of Communication Arts.
I believe that quality content builds consumer bases faster than any other marketing technique. I also believe that it’s the most difficult and time-consuming technique to pull off. Don’t expect the Internet to be merciful to your ads. Instead, try to blow consumers away with your breathtaking work. The idea that all publicity is good publicity is a tired fallacy.
I think my experience with the LinkedIn ad is representative of the whole advertising industry. We look at our work, grimace, and then press the publish button with the attitude of a man pulling the trigger in Russian roulette. It should come as no surprise that consumers are choosing to tune us out. As an industry, our music has become flat.
If we want to overcome the ad-blocking problem, we either need to correct our pitch or learn to sing a different tune.
Tanner Wadsworth is a copywriter, digital marketing consultant and connoisseur of fine jogger pants. He works for the BYU AdLab and Fusion 360 Agency, in addition to freelance work. To know what he thinks about in the shower, follow him on Twitter. To know what he thinks about at work, connect on LinkedIn. Lastly, his advertising portfolio is available here.