Ad Blocking’s Promising Flip Side

Instead of focusing on finding new ways to push advertising onto consumers, we should be looking for ways to empower them to participate in the marketing process.

Ad Blocking’s Promising Flip Side

Ad blocking is no longer used to paint a jarring portrait of marketing’s distant future. The future is here.

Reports suggest that 200 million people worldwide have some form of ad-blocking software installed on their computers or mobile devices—a figure that’s up 41% in just one year. Not surprisingly, Millennials and teens overindex in this kind of behavior. Heck, even my 3-year-old knows how to press the “skip ad” button on YouTube.

What’s more, ad-blocking is becoming more ingrained in the Web browsing experience. Earlier this year, Europe’s biggest mobile carrier, Three, announced it would allow customers to opt in to ad-blocked service. Early last month, Opera announced the general release of a built-in ad-blocking functionality that will decrease page load time and mobile data usage.

Of course, advertisers don’t want to pay for ads that are never seen—but the bigger issue here is the reality that incoming generations of consumers have been trained to equate advertising with disruptive, irrelevant experiences. For many marketers, the million-dollar question has become: “How do you serve ads to people who hate seeing ads?”

There’s another way to look at this trend, however, and that’s to identify which behaviors are trending up as consumers’ trust in advertising declines. One of these behaviors is social media content creation. Put another way, at the same time people are actively ignoring, skipping, or outright blocking ads, they are telling more of their own stories than ever before.

People might not like ads, but they still love brands. Approximately 45% of Millennials say that brands play “an essential role” in their lives. And forget what you heard about their “fickle” purchase behaviors: Millennials are also the most brand loyal generation. Incoming generations of consumers might be harder to reach, but if you value them beyond their ability to see your ads, they will stick by your side.

Consumers are creating more content than ever before, and some of this content is around their experiences with brands. Instead of focusing on finding new ways to push advertising onto consumers, we should be looking for ways to bring them into the story and empower them to participate in the marketing process.

Here are a trio of brands that are already adopting this philosophy:

1. Doritos: For a decade the Frito-Lay brand enjoyed countless Super Bowl “wins” thanks to a pioneering campaign that brought the idea of crowdsourced advertising to the mainstream. Doritos’ “Crash the Super Bowl” contest empowered creators to dream up their own concepts for a 30-second spot and allowed the community to vote on the eventual winner.

Doritos astutely played into the “I could’ve come up with something better than that ” moment we’ve all had when viewing an ad we don’t like and transferred the power back to its customers. Creative types relished the opportunity to have their work featured on a global stage, and the Doritos community delivered brilliant spot after brilliant spot. In early 2016, the brand announced that it would be evolving the campaign into an evergreen strategy—meaning that the brand will be tapping into the creative community across all of its future marketing.

2. Whirlpool: Content does not only come from expert creators, though. Thanks to the prevalence of social media and the proliferation of places in which people can share, most consumers are “creators” in some form or another. For companies aspiring to showcase authenticity and transparency—two critical attributes when it comes to driving brand loyalty—user-generated content can be a powerful way to tell an emotional story through everyday people.

Whirlpool sits in what’s referred to as a “cold metal” category. Most brands in the space have relied on product-focused marketing messages that tout utility over emotion. But last year, Whirlpool flipped the script with an integrated effort designed to celebrate everyday acts of care in the home. The brand encouraged consumers to share their own stories via social media content, curating the most powerful UGC within a dedicated microsite and amplifying UGC via paid social media. The result? A 6.6% sales lift in just six months and a six-time lift in online brand sentiment.

3. Heineken: Beyond co-storytelling through content, brands can also empower their customers to share feedback and ideas that can have a tangible effect on products and marketing messages. For example, Heineken has used an “Ideas Brewery” to enlist fans to help create a new kind of tap. Within the digital hub, people could submit photos, videos, and text descriptions of product concepts that were then brought to life by the brand.

Marketers are well aware that the media landscape has changed. It’s more complex, more fragmented, and—most importantly—more democratic than ever before. The next logical step is to put this mindset into action by making the operational and strategic shifts necessary to adopt a people-powered model.