Close ☰
Menu ☰

An ad-free Internet?

Posted on: Friday 30th of August 2013

An interesting article in the New York Times supports what we’ve been saying for some time. Today’s internet business model is supported by advertising which is driven by sellers trying to find buyers, reach out to them, and persuade them to buy. It’s a seller-centric model driven by sellers’ need to sell.

We think this model is tipping on its head, to become much more buyer-centric, driven by buyers trying to find the products, services and suppliers they want and make better decisions about their purchases.

Under this model the emphasis shifts from advertising to decision support. Fundamentally, it’s exactly the same economic process of matching supply to demand and connecting buyers to sellers. It’s just done a different way.

The fundamental problem with most advertising is that it fails to pass the first hurdle of good marketing – identify and meet your customer’s needs. Advertising is not designed to help buyers make decisions, it’s designed to help sellers sell their particular products. Because it doesn’t address the information needs of the buyer/user it tends to be ignored.

That’s where the New York Times article comes in. It reports on research showing that 23% of visitors visiting 220 web sites were using ad-blocking software that removes advertising from web pages. The current rate of growth suggests that almost all web pages could be ad-free by 2018.

Couple that with similar figures for the percentage of users installing anti-tracking technologies, these numbers point to a crisis for the Internet’s current funding model.

Meeting customer needs

The article then notes that online tracking means that no single ad ‘works’ in isolation. Rather, advertisers try to track and message people as they travel through their purchase journey from consideration to research to evaluation and so on. It quotes an advertising executive as saying “Agencies have to think about having a ‘journey strategist,’ neither a data head or a pure creative, who maps where you’re going with a product, and figures out the best possible way that journey goes.”

The only thing that’s missing here is that the way to reach would-be customers is not to advertise to them through every step of their journey (bombarding them with information they don’t find useful) but to offer decision-support at every step of the journey (providing them with information they do find useful).

If organisations understand customers’ decision-making journeys in order to help them make better decisions, then customers have a good reason to pay attention to and trust the organisation providing the service. The resulting information exchange is key to the organisation improving its performance. We analysed this in depth in our seminal research into Volunteered Personal Information.

A new arms race

Our research into the decision-support market suggests that the market for decision-support services will grow very big, if only because every consumer/citizen wants to make better decisions.

Of course, this evolution won’t be simple or easy. In fact, it is already the subject of an arms-race. The research quoted by the New York Times was conducted by a company that sells technology that blocks ad-blocking technologies. It has a vested interest in scaring advertisers. By excluding ad blocking apps from its app store, Google is deliberately slowing their growth.

Nevertheless, the article has identified which way the wind is blowing.