Sep 12, 2017 / by Lacey Miller

There was an old saying that went, “Half of my marketing budget is wasted, I just don’t know which half.” That was likely true before the digital age when the most common tools of marketers were print advertisements, billboards, and radio spots that are difficult to measure. Of course, today, advertising, like everything else, has moved online and you can absolutely know for sure which part of your marketing budget is wasted. But for some reason, organizations continue to waste away at full speed. Spending millions of dollars on digital ads that aren’t seen, don’t inspire action, or potentially even work against the brand.

We find that in many cases brands stick to advertising because they don’t see an effective alternative. We’d argue that they are overlooking the clear solution, earned media. Here are a few reasons to consider shifting some of the advertising budget to supporting and expanding earned activities.

The Use of Ad Blockers Has Exploded

Some estimates say that as many as 47% of consumers are using some kind of adblocking technology. According to Business Insider, there were 615 million devices blocking ads worldwide by the end of 2016, 62% (308 million) of those on mobile devices. Desktop ad blocker usage grew 17% year-on-year to 236 million. That’s why, even though the average person is served about 1,700 ads a month, only about half of them are ever seen.

According to a study by Hubspot, the top reasons people block ads: they are intrusive and annoying (64%), they are disruptive (54%), they cause security concerns (39%), and they slow down the performance of the desired content. In short, people are telling advertisers to quit it because the advertiser’s goals and the viewer’s goals are misaligned. Why would you want to make a huge investment in something that your target audience is willing to take steps to prevent you from doing?

Digital Advertising Works – For Google

Google gets about 95% of its revenue from online advertising, so it’s working great for them. But what about everyone else? According to Google’s own benchmark tool, the click through rate of display ads is only .06%. That means that less than one in a thousand is getting a response. And some of those responses are not responses at all. A Gold Spot Media survey found that half of all advertising click throughs on mobile were accidental. What’s more, only 8% of internet users account for 85% of clicks.

Aside from the fact that people block or simply ignore display ads, there is also the problem of targeting.  The average in-target rate is about 44% with 4% of ads being delivered outside the intended geography.

Beware the Company You Keep

One of the biggest downsides of digital advertising is the loss of control over the surrounding content. Display ad networks are vast and include thousands of sites that might include intentionally or contextually inappropriate content. For example, nearly 2,600 advertisers have cut ties with the controversial outlet Breitbart News in recent months largely because of pressure placed on them in social media to cut the association between their brand and the site. A negative association can also happen accidently because of poor timing or an unfortunate co-incidence. You might not want your ad for your fast food restaurant to appear next to an article about an e-coli outbreak, for example.

We are not arguing that digital advertising never works. Some brands are successful, but in terms of efficiency, there are surely better alternatives. Earned media being top among them.

Earned Media is More Effective and Efficient

People don’t block earned media, they seek it out. In many cases they pay for it. Why? Because it contains information that is useful to their specific interests, they can consume it on their own time in their own way, and they trust it. According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, at 65 percent consumer trust lies with academics, analysts, journalists, and other experts — only second to friends and family.

In addition to traditional media, the influencer relationships that earned media can develop are also essential in finding a way to connect with audiences who increasingly block or pass over ads. In fact, data from influencer marketing platform MuseFind shows that 92% of consumers trust an influencer more than an advertisement or traditional celebrity endorsement. That might explain why Bloomberg, reports that $255 million is spent on influencer marketing every month.

For too long, PR has taken a back seat to advertising when it comes to the overall budget. The new reality of ad blockers and the increasing distrust in advertising should be a strong argument for PR professionals when it comes to getting the necessary investments in resources and technology.   

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About Lacey Miller

Passionate about public relations and empowering practitioners, Lacey Miller found her dream job at TrendKite, where she carries the crown of 'word nerd'. With a background in public relations and technology, she's a great fit with her desire to innovate the industry! You can find her most days writing for PR Forward, PRSA, and other marketing trade publications.