Worth nearly $365 Billion, the global digital advertising industry has saturated online markets to the point where the average person could see up to 10,000 online ads per day. Millennials and Gen Z have been raised in these digital contexts, and even though the industry is expected to grow to $460 Billion in just the next three years, younger generations don’t care as much about the current efforts to get their attention.
In fact, young people who grew up in the attention economy are increasingly resilient against digital marketing tactics that continue to convert Gen X and Boomer consumers. Nearly 90% of Millennials distrust traditional advertising tactics, including when digital advertising mirrors these approaches. For example, whether online or offline, outbound marketing is significantly less effective with younger people compared to influencer and other forms of inbound marketing. In addition to seriously questioning why young people distrust brands, advertisers must also look to the evolving digital landscape to understand younger consumers.
With the shift from third party data collection driving digital ads to first party data extraction empowering personalized interactions, brands must change the way they understand digital audiences. Younger audiences expect much more from brands and tend to demonstrate far less brand commitment than older consumers; publishers need to help their advertisers understand young audience segments and why they may be ad averse. Here are a few reasons Millennial and Gen Z readers remain ad blind, and how publishers can help advertisers overcome it.
Brands use digital ads to talk at young people
Millennials and Gen Z are not brand loyal in the ways other consumers have been historically, meaning they have high expectations and are prone to switching brands quickly if unsatisfied with a product, service, or experience. Young consumers are extremely aware of the difference between a brand that centers itself–instead of its audiences–and this is a reason they will ignore a brand and avoid its ads. The solution? Digital advertising must stop talking at young people and begin creating an online dialogue with them.
One way brands can do this is to create more thoughtful funnels that honor the complex ways young people understand digital experiences. Essentially, brands must re-humanize the ways they view online interactions and stop thinking of young readers as mere data points, conversion rates, and capitalistic vanity metrics. First and foremost, digital ad strategies must think of them as people they can serve.
For example, messages to young readers that simply push purchases are ineffective. Alternatively, brands who offer opportunities for feedback, offer ads with genuinely valuable and interesting information, and demonstrate personalized understanding of their audiences will be better positioned for success.
Digital content strategist, Dana Kachan, offers some examples of this approach:
“Interaction defines modern generations…Companies that rethought their approach to advertising earlier and timely adjusted ads for new consumer needs avoided the wave of distrust of online advertising. By providing people with an opportunity to interact with each other and the brand itself through the ad, they addressed new consumer socialization needs. Interactive content like quizzes, open-ended questions, surveys, contests, giveaways, interactive videos, polls, calculator widgets, etc., can help brands connect with their target audience and drive engagement.”
Rather than focusing on ‘capturing’ the attention and interest of young digital audiences, brands should focus on cultivating a more genuine relationship with them. This requires advertisers to understand the humanity and holistic experiences of young people–not as a monolith, but as a highly diverse group seeking real value. Brands that make this shift will find younger audiences more open to their ads and potentially invested in their product or service offerings.
Digital advertising is on the wrong platforms
In addition to not understanding young readers holistically, many advertisers also don’t understand where to find young people. Readers are ad blind because they see the wrong content in the wrong contexts. It’s not just about ‘using social media’ to engage young people: brands who want to overcome the ad blindness of Millennials and Gen Z need to understand where to connect with these readers in context of their brands’ value proposition, how, and why.
For example, brand storytelling on social media platforms via smartphones are some of the best locations for digital advertisers to connect with young people, but digital advertisers must ask ‘why’ in context of their own brands. Millennials and Gen Z are least likely to use ad blockers on smartphones compared with other tech tools, for instance, but this does not mean digital advertisers will be effective simply launching mobile social media campaigns.
Information technology senior product manager Milos Stanic explains, “Stories are in, but it’s not as simple as that. The question we need to be addressing is why is Snapchat appealing? The answer is simple: visualisation, context, and channel appropriacy. Things don’t succeed on Instagram because they’re on Instagram. If they succeed – and that’s a big ‘if’ – it’s because content is created there with the specific channel, and the ethos of that channel, in mind.”
Advertisers who can answer why their brand should be on a mobile social platform in context of the news media habits of younger readers will be more likely to construct ad strategies with the right technological experiences.
Digital ads can be perceived as irrelevant and useless
If digital ads hope to earn Millennial and Gen Z dollars, they must meet the online standards expected by young people. One of the biggest problems brands have is that they don’t truly understand why young consumers follow their content online, including interest (or disinterest) in their advertisements.
Digital marketing expert Tom Ritondale explains, “62 percent of younger audiences…follow at least one brand on social media. Their primary motivation is to get updates on that brand, or its products and services. This adds more credibility to the notion that if the content and given environment is respectful to users’ desires, they will engage.”
Brands who understand where their audiences are–and why they are interested in their products, experiences, or services–will be better positioned to serve ad content that is relevant and genuinely useful to young readers. There are a variety of digital ad targeting models gaining momentum that can help brands comprehend this, but advertisers should also think more deeply about the real value their brands ought to be putting into the world for their younger readers.
Marketing strategist Meaghan Moraes explained for Hubspot a concept that should extend to digital advertising as much as to generic digital content (say on a brand’s Instagram account): “Millennials support businesses that are dedicated to improving their customers’ lives with informative content. Rather than product and service listings, Millennials want e-books, whitepapers, blog posts, videos, and other how-to information – and that’s inbound marketing. They appreciate thought leadership and expertise, so this is your company’s chance to provide killer content that ranks highly in Google and show young consumers that you’re the industry buff.”
Brands who find ways to shift towards different ways of communicating in the right spaces and with relevant, useful content will be more likely to connect with younger readers. Ritondale affirms: “Millennials do not mind [digital] advertising; they just want ads that make sense. In order for an ad to make sense to a millennial user, brands must consider the message, the technology, and the context.”