How Digital Advertising became a Product Feature

Designed by the Author

The wildfire growth and development of digital products is a sign of flourishing innovation.

Making a best-in-class digital product, however, is just a single lego block and other lego blocks are needed to imbue strategic vital capabilities, minimize churn, and increase digital revenue.

One such piece of the puzzle is the product-market fit.

But beyond the surface level matchmaking, a deep understanding of how user demands are shifting and what customers of tomorrow want is indispensable. Today, users are demanding better: better transparency and better handling of personal data.

Empowered users are raising expectations when it comes to interactions and interoperability with digital products, the mindset that they are not the product themselves.

Visual Depiction in search trend for the term ‘data privacy’
Data Privacy Google Trends | Screenshot by the Author

Forward-thinking businesses need to adapt in accordance with this rising importance of data privacy.

Did you know?

The term ‘Data Privacy’ has seen a 127% increase in global search volume over the past 5 years.

Visual depiction of increasing interest in data privacy over the past 5 years
The rising interest in Data Privacy | Screenshot by the Author

Since digital advertising is extremely dependent on targeting through browser cookies and third-party data, the increasing limelight on data privacy and growing user frustration with the status quo does not bode well with advertisers.

The thing to note, however, is that although it all may have blown up over the past few years, this storm had been brewing for much longer.

Dissecting the Timeline

First came AdBlock

head to head: Data Privacy and AdBlock | Screenshot by the Author

As far as this comparison goes, these two are neither complementary nor directly antagonists of each other. But, the undercurrent sentiment that stirs any conversation around either keyword is the invasive and interrupting behavior of digital ads.

With relentless bombardment testing the patience of netizens, Digital Ads were quickly making everyone’s blood boil.

AdBlock and sister products garnered compounding user adoption and monthly active users continue to rise over the years.

2021 PageFair Adblock Report from BlockThrough

Statista also came to the same finding via a survey time period between Q4 2013 and Q4 2019. Per Statistia, the number of AdBlock users worldwide was approx. 763.1 million in Q4 of 2019.

The AdBlock plugin is particularly popular amongst internet users in Poland, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, and Canada; with 16–24-year-olds leading the pack with the highest adoption rates.

Then….

App Tracking Transparency (ATT)

Yes, GDPR was the big shake-up on giving control back to the users, but being a geo-restricted effort, the global landscape looked more or less the same. Later, with the implementation of CCPA, results were still geo-restricted, and a truly massive, global scale change was amiss.

The data-drenched world of digital advertising observed the shifting paradigm and made relevant pivots, but true disruption happened when Apple rolled out its app tracking protection.

Many advertisers, since then, have been flying in the dark and grappling with underwhelming analytics and performance metrics.

Let’s flip the script…

On the other side of the coin, users and receivers of intrusive ads are lauding the efforts Apple has undertaken to provide elevated privacy when interacting with digital products. Apple, due to its sheer size and economic impact, could easily bring the right kind of change ad blockers and privacy laws were aiming at.

The introduction of App Tracking Transparency made news waves, opening marketers and advertisers to the conversation ‘How can we take this in stride and truly bring a change to the way Digital Advertising is done?’

Beyond Apple users, the rollout created awareness and prompted users of other devices to ask for something similar. DuckDuckGo obliged.

Now there was no going back.

The barriers to progress stood strong. Digital Advertising had to truly pivot, adapt privacy-preserving best practices, and take into account the demands of users. Digital Advertising had to modernize to maximize.

Thus, the true art of advertising is about to reveal itself. Advertisers cannot any longer be over-reliant on online behavioral data but need to go back to the drawing board. Bring out the creative guns, and the true art of appealing to the viewers.

And now…

Turning Crisis to Opportunity

Digital Products could capitalize on this fast-shifting paradigm, and forward-thinking businesses did just that.

In order to showcase differentiated value offerings, digital product makers looked to build trust and show empathy toward users in this turmoil of the digital advertising industry.

Digital Products opted to offer exactly what users wanted. In addition to top-of-the-line features that can bring a digital commerce revolution for brands and businesses of tomorrow, digital products prominently highlighted on their product page ‘No Ads’.

Left: Signal | Right: Glass Photo

No ads and no trackers are brought front and center on product pages and features pages, displaying a two-fold value offering:

→ The personal values of the product owners

→ Respecting the user’s trust and expectations around interaction with the digital product.

To Conclude, What’s Next?

As Marketers, Advertisers, and Product Owners navigate this new frontier of digital transformation and constrained data collection, the uptake, and adoption of current tools, i.e. ad blockers, and tracking protections, together with privacy-preserving policies will play a major role in dictating the new path for digital advertising.

Will ‘No Ads’ continue to be a boastful feature for digital products for years to come? Or is this a short victory tide?

Time will tell.

And also…

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