The Future of Advertising Is In the Hands of Ad Blockers


Young adults are hungry for the ad industry to be better. They are right.

“I block ads because I believe ads can be so much better.”

This was a direct quote from an advertising student at the University of Texas. I visited campus recently and had the opportunity to talk informally with advertising students from the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations. What I learned affirmed my faith in the future of advertising. I also walked away with a strong sense that these young students, if given the chance to practice the craft the way they see it, would upend the whole industry.

First, I was blown away at how smart, thoughtful and energized these young professionals are about advertising and media. It’s exactly what our industry needs: young talent who believe advertising and marketing can both be better as well as help society, and who want to lead the way. They were passionate, and we discussed a wide ranging set of topics throughout our 75-minute chat.

Second, the students already have a high standard for corporate excellence and behavior. They are savvy and sophisticated, watching and studying everything. This extends to how they think about brands, advertising and the value exchange between their time and attention, as well as a brand’s message or promise.

When the topic turned to ad blocking, I asked the students which of them employed ad blocking. Half of them raised their hands. I asked why, and the professor interjected, “I know it doesn’t make sense that advertising students are blocking advertising.”

But the thing is, it did make sense to me. Their range of answers were fascinating and counter-intuitive. In the end, it may be exactly the type of radical, post-digital, 21st-century advertising thinking we need.

So why do they ad block? Expectations and relevance.

1) They expect more for their time and attention. They simply do not want to sit through pop-up ads, banners, displays and 30-second commercials that are not entertaining or informative. They want more creativity.

A great example of creativity cited by a student was “OK Cupid’s DTF campaign.” It broke through because it was a strong example of user need (dating) and technology (their app) coming together. The ads and messages were relevant, irreverent and meaningful to the young singles dating scene, and their anxiety about being noticed. One of the students said it was obvious the company and its agency did their homework and research on young professionals and millennials want from dating, as it was obvious from the messaging and the use of media, they got it’s all about getting past the anxiety.

2) They respect and give serious credibility to ads, content and memes that get through their ad blocking software. In fact, if content and marketing makes it through their ad blocking, they find it more interesting and they pay attention. Why? Because they believe it was more targeted and embedded into content they care about, and therefore, more effective.

Spotify’s “Thanks, 2016. It’s been weird” stood out for one student because it was not only witty and funny, but very relatable. Their media strategy was to be on platforms that related their ad messaging back to search and social data such that the student saw the campaign during his search and social activity. It was a great example of targeting interests through different media platforms versus trying to target an audience with an ad. This is a classic example of fighting through ad blocking. The student would not have seen the ads in a conventional way, but because they targeted interests, they followed him through his consumer journey — exactly what the future should be about.

3) They expect advertising to be relevant and to take them seriously. They want better targeting! They want more creativity and more authenticity. They are begging for brands to be more vulnerable, real and authentic. It’s ok if you make a mistake — not everything has to be packaged. However, they do expect companies and brands to admit when they are wrong. And, they want to know upfront, what’s happening with their data. The best value exchange with any person starts with honesty.

For one student, the “Truth” campaign from The New York Times stood out because it spoke to him and respected his time and interests on many levels. The student loved the media placements in a mix of traditional TV, out of home and digital. There was nothing fancy about this campaign other than it respected his intelligence and being a thoughtful young adult in an increasingly complex world.

So what does this mean? Young adults are hungry for the ad industry to be better. By better I mean to be more creative, to use data more strategically and ethically, and to use media in unexpected and surprising ways.

I, for one, am relieved. By ad blocking, these UT students will make advertising better. They know what works, they know what doesn’t, and they are determined and idealistic enough to go after it. They have the insight to build a better model that is authentic, more creative and uses technology and data better than the experts on Madison Avenue today.

Graduation day can’t come soon enough.

9 thoughts on “The Future of Advertising Is In the Hands of Ad Blockers”

  1. I believe that advertising should be following ones “journey”. In my opinion, I am 28 years old and can’t stand ads. When I am on my phone and an ad pops up I just put my phone down and ignore it unless it is something that sparks my interest. It advertisers were more focused on the demographic and using their data ethically to advertise people might not block ads. Using this new way of advertising may help “millennials” like myself watch more ads.

  2. I would agree that the advertisers should follow the viewer if they want to be successful at their job. if they create an ad that does not appeal to their audience, it will just be an ad that we all try to avoid. Advertisers need to create ads that grab the viewers’ attention: make them laugh, get their viewers to tell others about it, and even make it into a meme. When an ad pops up on whatever content I am viewing, I get to the point where I do not even want to continue watching my favorite show or YouTube video. So, if I came across an ad that appealed to be humor or experiences, I would be less inclined to go lay down in anger after dealing with ad after ad. I do not really like ads no matter what type of content, but if they can appeal to their viewers on a personal level, these advertisers might solve a huge problem for themselves

  3. I would agree. I when I see an ad I won’t pay any attention to it unless it is specifically something I am interested in. I don’t think advertisers should just take shots in the dark and hope that you will follow that advertisement to buying their product. The advertisement shouldn’t force you to click on the ad and have 50 million ads on one page. This should be a sign that advertisers do need to take a better and more ethical approach.

  4. In my opinion advertising should be focused on ones journey and personalized, but the individual should be allowed to say where companies follow the virtual paper trail. When on applications such as Facebook and Instagram, ads appear constantly but most are completely unrelated to myself and as a result are usually skipped over to view other content. by targeting interest, companies can stop wasting money on individuals who have no interest for their product and give it to those who desire the goods they sell. I also think that when visiting a site that utilizes cookies to share data, the page should make it abundantly clear where the data is going and should not deny access to the pages if the terms and conditions are not agreed to.

  5. I believe that it is a good idea to for advertisers to follow our journey, because they are able to relate to us more and, in turn, create ads that can relate to our experiences. Doing this will make us not groan in annoyance at an ad, because we will be able to connect with the ad on a deeper level and it can even provide an outlet of humor for us.

  6. I agree with Desmond that advertising should follow your journey. I find that the majority of ads that I am viewing I have no interest in so I dismiss whatever is being advertised right away. If advertisers did their homework and played ads that I had an interest in they would have more success. I want to see ads on things that are relevant to my life.

  7. I believe that advertisers following our journey is beneficial for their careers, because they can learn to relate to our experiences and how we perceive things and use that to create ads we can gain entertainment from. When an ad interrupts whatever content I am viewing, I get the feeling of putting my phone through the wall. So, if advertisers actually paid attention to their viewers interests, we would be less inclined to skip an ad.

  8. I feel that a company’s advertisements following a target consumer through their consumer journey is the best possible way to connect with an audience or customer base. In the example of Spotify’s “Thanks 2016, It’s Been Weird” campaign, consumers were able to relate to the data due to it’s quirky nature because they too use the program or similar ones to do the same. When company’s try their best to relate to their customers, a positive response comes from it. Making advertisements that customers could fine themselves doing the most effective.
    Companies targeting consumers on platforms they already use is also a direct way to reach a specified audience. The target audience is more likely to see the add, and also more likely to actually pay attention to it if it appears as a hulu commercial that relates to the show that’s being streamed, versus appearing on live television, but not relating to the current program.

  9. I absolutely agree with you. some of these ads nowadays are painful to sit through especially since a good eight out of ten they have nothing to do with me. I enjoy the ones that have similar taste to what i look at while shopping or reading online for instance with news and new tech. I enjoy what google is doing and giving me the option of liking and closing out ads that don’t quite fit my taste.
    Onesmus M.

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