If Culture Secretary John Whittingale (above) wants to understand why people use ad blockers he could do worse than heading to the Express and Echo's website. Twice in the last week I visited the site. Mobile produced two pop ups, one almost impossible to get rid of. Accessing via desktop resulted in an extra pop up and an autoplay video with sound. Neither article was read.
This isn't the fault of the Express and Echo. Their owner - Northcliffe - has to pay the bills somehow and regional papers get little say in how their site is presented. Yet they're just one of countless examples of horrendous user experience.
It's little wonder, then, that use of ad blockers is rising. At the end of last year, 15% of UK adults have an ad blocker installed. Whittingdale may have described the ad blocking industry as a cartel but nobody is forcing people to install the software.
What the rise of ad blockers has led to is an ongoing row between marketers and web publishers. For the marketers, publishers aren't giving them the formats they need; for publishers, the advertising supplied isn't of a good enough standard.
Both blame the other although there's an agreement life would be much easier if ad blockers were banned, which completely ignores the fundamental issue behind the rise of blockers in the first place.
A lot can be traced back to the general attitude of marketers. Read any industry publication and you’ll see plenty of discussion around new formats or changes to existing channels and what they mean for brands and advertisers. There’s less of a discussion of what this means for users (although agencies working in the social space seem a little more self-aware).
But no matter the medium, advertisers still find ways to deliver digital adverts that become more intrusive than disruptive. Whether it’s 30 second pre-rolls on YouTube, autoplay videos on local sites, 4 pop-ups on a mobile screen, the whole experience makes it easy for users to seek out ad blockers.
Even social isn’t immune. Visit the Condescending Corporate Brand page and you’ll see some truly baffling Facebook adverts that somebody considered a good idea to put spend behind.
Whether it’s social, display or any other means of digital advertising, it’s sometimes hard to escape the sense that creative and effectiveness come second to “let’s get something out there” or “that’ll do.” From a user experience, it ranges from frustrating to purely laughable.
Digital advertising gives marketers more data and information about their customers than ever before. But all the data in the world can't create a good advertising experience. That's down to us humans and so far, we're failing.