Guest Column: Combating ad blocking: Atique Kazi, Xaxis

The question for the developing world’s digital industry is whether it can avoid repeating the mistakes of the recent past and find a way to deliver an effective and user-centric experience to these new consumers from day one, writes Atique Kazi, Director, India at Xaxis

e4m by Atique Kazi
Updated: Aug 4, 2016 8:35 AM
Guest Column: Combating ad blocking: Atique Kazi, Xaxis

Thanks to the adblocking explosion, we’ve learned a lot in the past year about what people don’t like about digital ads. As advertisers look to make nice with consumers in developed markets, there’s a large and rapidly growing group of Internet users with whom the industry is starting out completely fresh. 

Namely, the developing world’s mass of first time Internet users coming online via smartphones in places like India and Indonesia. According to a report earlier this year by Morgan Stanley, the Indian smartphone market is growing five times as fast as China, the previous smartphone growth king.  The bank expects, “India’s internet penetration to reach 50 per cent by 2018, up from 26 percent [in 2015], driven by rising smartphone availability and affordability, online content and changing user behavior.”[1]

These new users represent a completely blank slate for digital marketers, app makers and e-commerce companies alike. In contrast to Western consumers at the dawn of the smartphone era, many of these users have little to no legacy desktop Internet background behind them, making the entire experience of digital advertising completely new.

The question for the developing world’s digital industry is whether it can avoid repeating the mistakes of the recent past and find a way to deliver an effective and user-centric experience to these new consumers from day one. Following are four, hard-earned lessons for emerging market marketers to take to heart as they approach this opportunity.

Understand who you are targeting and why you are targeting them – When ads are poorly targeted, advertisers must deliver more ads to generate the response they want and publishers are forced to show more ads to make any money. This dynamic leads to an increasingly unpleasant experience for consumers. Not only are they bombarded with ads, they’re bombarded with ads that simply aren’t relevant our useful. 

Irrelevant ads aren’t just annoying, they also have the knock-on effect of slowing down the entire digital experience by making page loads much more data-intensive than they need to be. 

Advertisers can combat this dynamic by using quality audience data for their campaigns. Limiting outreach to only the most relevant, in-market consumers, means brands can achieve better results using less ads. Less ads means publishers can offer a better experience. And a better experience means consumers are less likely to take matters into their own hands and deploy adblockers to, in effect, create their own digital experience.

Prioritize value – Everyone loves a bargain and the digital marketing ecosystem offers some seemingly fantastic deals. Why settle for 10 clicks or leads or registrations for a dollar, when you can get 100 or even 1,000 for exactly the same price? 

This is actually a trick question. Assigning a single value to any of these metrics is disingenuous as the quality of each individual action can vary widely.  Some clicks are just that, a click with no further engagement. Others can lead to sales, subscriptions and high lifetime value.

Instead of measuring results based simply upon the volume of response, marketers should incorporate a quality element into their metrics. This means optimizing to those actions that lead to things like sales or other forms of concrete engagement.

Improve the consumer experience – India’s existing Internet users, in particular, have delivered a crystal clear message to advertisers and publishers – they’re not pleased with the current digital ecosystem of intrusive, poorly targeted and bandwidth hogging ads. In fact, according to a May 2016 PageFair report, India has 122 million consumers who use mobile adblockers.[2]

Especially against a backdrop of slow Internet speeds, marketers simply don’t have the luxury of throwing as many ads up against the wall and hoping some will stick. Ads must be relevant, offer something of value and be lightweight from a data perspective.

The good news for the industry is that with the exponential growth rate of new Internet users, there’s still time to turn the ship and welcome these consumers with a more engaging experience. On the flip side, this fact shouldn’t be used to kick the can down the road in the hopes that perhaps the new users won’t be as demanding as the ones we currently have.

Beware the long-tail’s siren song – The tantalizing premise of the so-called “long-tail” is that on the Internet, there’s so much inventory that it’s easy to reach consumers for vanishingly small fees. In the West this fixation spawned an entire alternate universe where advertisers were paying bots to click on ads displayed across inventory no humans actually saw.

The lesson learned is that while there is, in fact, a vast amount of available inventory, the supply of quality inventory on properties consumers actually frequent is much, much smaller. Marketers need to understand where their campaigns are running and work with partners who have implemented safeguards to ensure that the people viewing or interacting with their ads are in fact people.

Ultimately, we need the whole ecosystem to work on this. If there is only one responsible marketer for every 10 who are not, the entire system will still be at risk. We already know how this has played out both in more developed markets and with the existing mass of ad-blocking consumers in India. 

Yet with hundreds of millions of brand new Internet users still to come, India and other developing world markets do have their advantages. By applying the lessons of the recent past, we can collectively build more effective and consumer-friendly digital advertising campaigns that deliver for brands, publishers and users.


[1] Indian Express, “India to become second largest smartphone market by 2017.“

[2] Quartz. Indian news publishers are cracking down on ad blockers.

(The author is Director-India at Xaxis)

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