Tackling the ad waste dilemma

Has the volume of ads now spiralled out of control?

In the vast expanse of the open web, ads have long served as the lifeblood, facilitating the production of digital content and fostering engagement with cherished brands. But has the volume of ads on any given page at any given time now spiralled out of control? The problem is, our increasing exposure to an onslaught of ads has cultivated a discerning audience, less tolerant of any advertising that fails to enhance the overall experience. The consequence for advertisers? According to a recent report by the ANA, a staggering 23% of programmatic dollars are being squandered on ineffective ad placements. And only this week, a report by CreativeX forecasts that brands will waste a chilling $73 billion on digitally suboptimal ads in Q4 2023.

To get to the bottom of the problem, we need to delve deeper into consumer frustrations. YouGov/Picnic’s annual User Experience survey among 2006 UK adults in October 2023 has shed light on consumer grievances that not only undermine advertising efforts but also contribute to wasted ad spend.

Annoying ads are taking their toll 

The survey hit home that brands are jeopardising their reputation by serving a constant stream of ads that aren’t hitting the mark. In fact, 70% find digital ads annoying, with 72% stating that they cast a negative shadow on their perception of the associated brand. Meanwhile, for 71%, intrusive or annoying ads were deemed sufficient reason to abstain from future purchases from the brand.

Ad overdose: when more is not merrier

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 86% of respondents said they felt overwhelmed and inclined to dismiss ads completely when confronted with an excess of advertising on a webpage. After all, as humans, there is only so much visual information we can process before we zone out. As a result, ad campaigns designed to maximise visibility through high ad density may inadvertently be repelling the very audiences they seek to attract.

Below-par UX just doesn’t fly

The survey also revealed consumers’ views of the most annoying aspects of user experience on the ad-funded web, with ‘blocked screen content’ topping the list, followed by ‘slow load speeds’, ‘accidental clicks’, and ‘unstable page content’. 

We’ve all been there — the frustration of waiting for what seems like an eternity to pull up the information we need, then finding the page content has been obscured by an intrusive ad, and then finally, unwittingly clicking on a half-hidden box and finding ourselves on a completely unrelated page. 

Marketers, take heed — these are all things that can be avoided as part of the campaign planning process. 

From vanity metrics to true attention 

The pursuit of scale and performance metrics — think impressions and CTRs — has long been the perceived hallmark of advertising success, but not everything that glitters is gold. As we can see from the numbers above, what might appear as positive engagement could in fact be the opposite. 

And of course, one side effect of a brand’s mission to get in front of as many eyeballs as possible — regardless of UX — is a growing propensity for ad waste, harming both the advertiser’s pocket and the environment. Yet, amidst these challenges, there is real potential to get consumers back on side. Well over half of those surveyed (56%) enjoy reading free content from reputable publishers, and almost two-fifths (39%) enjoy discovering new products and brands on the open web. 

So what are the key considerations for advertisers looking to re-engage weary customers?  

Three ways to win back the hearts of consumers 

Minimise ad density: If this is proving a challenge, consider using marketplaces that can filter inventory for ad density as standard, and keep your campaigns lower than the Coalition for Better Ads benchmark of 30% ad density (anything over this is considered detrimental to UX).

Optimise page load speed, visual stability, and processability: Fast loading, stable pages, featuring easily digestible content, result in far fewer wasted impressions and heightened engagement.

Include KPIs for attention: When it comes to attention — it’s not all about the creative. Choose a partner that considers both eye-tracking data and placement-level attention data across their marketplace for maximum campaign efficacy. 

As user expectations evolve, prioritising ad solutions that address UX issues head-on will significantly reduce ineffective, wasted, and potentially damaging ad spend. And the ultimate reward? A rekindled enjoyment of the internet for us all.

Featured image: Giles Lambert / Unsplash

Matthew Goldhill, CEO at Picnic

Matthew Goldhill is the Founder and CEO of Picnic, the User-First Media Platform, which exists to create a more user-friendly, ad-funded web.A vast background in digital media, Matt has previously held positions at Xandr, Sharethrough, and Mobile 5 Media. Through these roles Matt realised the industry's need for an ad marketplace that prioritises high-end formats and user experience, leading to Picnic's inception in 2017.Recognised as a Forbes 30 Under 30 leader in 2021, Matt's strategic vision has since propelled Picnic to UK ad tech success, delivering outstanding outcomes for brands with ad experiences focussed on quality and creativity.Matt is now based in New York, where he is leading Picnic's US expansion.

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