People will watch advertising in your app if you promise them something worthwhile. If the promise is important enough, they will “endure” ads to keep you in business, which is how it worked in the good old days of print and TV. However, if you break your promise, and lose trust, you have lost something from which it is nearly impossible to recover. That is how publishers should look at their sites — as brands that deliver on a specific promise strong enough that users will be willing to look at a few ads in exchange for what you deliver.
How do we know this? It’s been proven, at least on a small sample. This morning I was listening to a podcast celebrating the 20th anniversary of Kottke.org, a blogging site hosted and curated by Jason Kottke. It’s just a bunch of short written pieces, but one of them struck a chord with me. It’s about how positioning changes the user experience.
There are three major mapping apps. Apple Maps, Google Maps, and Waze. Of the three, Waze promises fastest route times, although it often under delivers. Ironically, Apple Maps is most accurate in predicting its route times, and Google Maps actually gets you places the quickest. This was tested by a man named Artur Grabowski in 120 trips over the course of 2017.
At the other extreme, Waze (Alphabet) makes money through ads when you use their app. What better way to get people to use your navigation app than by over-promising short trip times when no one takes the time to record data and realize that you under-deliver? If an unsuspecting user opens Apple Maps and sees a 34-minute route and compares that to 30-minutes in Waze, the deed is done. Now Waze has a life-long customer who doesn’t realize they’ve been hoodwinked and Waze can throw at them stupidly annoying ads.
Now I maintain that you can only position a product that under delivers for so long before users get the picture. I also maintain that you can only bargain with users to accept a few ads, not a page full of them.
It took us a long time, but the pendulum is swinging back to a focus on what the reader/viewer/visitor needs rather than what the advertiser needs. Advertisers will have to cooperate and stop demanding interstitials, popups, and other garbage that turns away visitors. They will also have to stop demanding data that they can use for retargeting. We are in different times now; we’ve tried a bunch of digital advertising techniques, and we know which ones fail.
As a publisher, your brand and your visitors are paramount. If your value proposition is strong enough to have lifelong relationships with customers, like the New Yorker, or Vogue, or the New York Times, you will eventually sort the financial issues out. But you can never do that if you sacrifice your brand to the needs of advertisers.