Michael Nicholas and Duncan Southgate explain how ads can stand out in a crowd

How do you deliver content to your audience on the right platforms at the right time? Picture this: you’re trying to share a video with a couple of friends to illustrate a point you’ve been arguing about for the last half an hour…

As the video loads, an ad pops up at twice the volume of what you’ve been playing before. You groan and turn the volume down; but you’ve missed the chance to skip the ad and get bounced to your browser as the brand site loads. You switch back to YouTube; but the conversation has moved on and your friends have lost interest.

Advertising has ruined the moment!

We access the internet every day to enhance our reality, source information, share precious moments and connect with those we love the most – not in search of ads. Our recent Connected Life study reveals that despite soaring usage of platforms like Snap and Instagram, and consumers becoming more connected, 26 percent are actively ignoring ads. And the better the ad tech capabilities of that country, the more likely they are to block ads.

Many businesses are struggling to find a relevant role in people’s lives, meaning that much of the content that marketers painstakingly create is viewed as clutter.

As the CEO and co-founder of WhatsApp Jan Koum says: “There’s nothing more personal to you than communicating with friends and family, and interrupting that with advertising is not the right solution. No one wakes up excited to see more advertising and no one goes to sleep thinking about the ads they’ll see tomorrow.”

The fact is that ads can be a pain: they interrupt moments with family, fall short of what people find funny and often don’t engage soon enough. As marketers, we can now access our customers at any time of the day or night; but our eagerness may be letting us down with 34 percent of internet users claiming they feel ‘stalked’ by brands online.

Kantar Millward Brown’s AdReaction reveals that up to 52 percent of generations X, Y and Z say they skip ads whenever they can.

YouTube is the most recent platform to acknowledge the need to provide better advertising by announcing that it will cease allowing the 30-second non-skippable ad format from next year. Instead it will focus on shorter formats. This problem is compounded as consumers spend even more time online. And as spending on global digital advertising increases, it is expected to grow to over 30 percent of all media this year, according to GroupM’s Worldwide Media and Marketing forecasts in December last year.

It is often a hard pill for us marketers to swallow. We develop a deep understanding of the brands with which we work and people who buy them, and often become passionate advocates. We strive to create content that appeals to them on an emotional level. And we want to share it.

But while this may be our reality, it is not so for our customers. Although we may pour our heart and soul into creating incredible content, we must work harder to contextualise what we serve to understand and speak to the emotional state of our customers as we do.

Your ad will be viewed alongside scores of others and people may be busy, tired, stressed or simply trying to prove a point – and your ad is in the way.

A FEW SOLUTIONS How can we combat this problem? Through interesting content at the right time and on the right platform. Brands must stop using invasive online video formats that cannot be skipped. People aren’t going to want to see your message sometimes.

But using more innovative online formats like mobile rewards video and sponsored lenses that are delivered on the basis of who they are and what they’re doing online will help you find the magic formula that gets you through. We call it taking a ‘single view’ of how customers behave in the moment based on everything you know about them – including how they use a platform rather than only which platform they use.

CONSIDER TONE Kantar Millward Brown’s recent AdReaction study found several key characteristics that made users across generations more likely to engage with content. What stands out the most is that Gen Z demands greater production values than older digital users.

So being familiar with using apps, filters and lenses to enhance the photos and videos they post online, generation Z expects brands to do the same. Ads that look great or have catchy music stand out far more for them than older generations who engage better on a more practical level with advertising providing new or more information to viewers.

On the other hand, humour is more of a constant and is the leading characteristic of content for all generations.

But once again, context is crucial: while humour works well, receiving a humorous ad in a work context may be embarrassing; and people viewing humorous ads on their mobile phones may not be open to such content due to events happening around them at the time.

Moreover, humour has different meanings in different cultures – what’s cool or funny in Brazil may elicit a very different reaction in France.

SHORT AND SNAPPY Brands have a brief window of time to make an impact particularly if their audience is younger. Even when an ad is relevant, 67 percent of generations X, Y and Z are more positive towards ads that run for 20 seconds or less. Gen Z is the toughest to engage; they skip ads three seconds faster than Gen X on average.

And ultimately, marketers need to go one better than simply understanding customers – we need to understand what they want and need at specific points in time. Understanding the specific context of the moments that matter is a powerful way to engage people who are difficult to reach. Bold content targeted with razor-sharp precision that elicits the right emotional reaction in the moment is key to creating the results your brand desires.

Michael Nicholas is the Global Lead at Connected Solutions, Kantar TNS. Duncan Southgate is the Global Brand Director, Media and Digital, Kantar Millward Brown.