People hate seeing ads

It seems like a little thing to ask. To have free television, we have to have commercial breaks. Otherwise we have to pay for Netflix or sit through public broadcasting. Pledge week sucks.

Most people compromise and go to the bathroom during commercial breaks. Maybe you get up and go open the fridge. If you’re lazy, maybe you check your email on your phone or channel surf for a few minutes.

It’s easy to develop habits to avoid predictable advertising. Online advertising was supposed to revolutionize the ad ecosystem, with new online channels to serve ads. Yet instead, we’ve developed new habits to dodge ads.

Banner blindness is one glaring example. Eye-tracking software shows that we look everywhere except the ads on free content websites. It’s impressive how we know exactly where the ads are even on a site we’ve never surfed. Could you predict, for instance, exactly where commercials start and end on every network channel for every TV show?

When we’re forced to watch advertising, we develop routines that help us avoid seeing those ads. Whether it’s going to the bathroom or clicking the skip button, there’s no denying that we hate sitting through the ads that make our beloved free content possible.

Any long-term effective advertising channel shouldn’t be innately predictable by its target audience. If it’s easy to figure out where the ads are, viewers will find easy ways around them. A successful ad channel prevents us from forming ad-avoidance habits.

What’s truly surprising is how often online ad formats provide an option that encourages viewer attrition. Publishers like YouTube include a “Skip ad” button for viewers, which gets clicked on 70% of pre-roll ads. YouTube executives have described this as a method for discovering which ads work to engage viewers and which don’t.

The problem is how predictable these ad formats are. There’s always a way to create a habit that prevents the ad from reaching the customer. At its best, advertising is a way to show customers to products that they’re interested in. Right now we avoid every ad at the cost of missing ads for interesting products.

You could design an ad with unpredictable skipping options, which change from impression to impression. Alternatively, you could design a route for skipping the ad that leaves customers with the impression from the skip, not the main ad itself.

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