Adblocking to adspotting:engagement on London Underground

London Underground

2016 has been a year of unpredictability for the advertising industry. In a recent blog on Warc, David Tiltman, head of content for Warc, talked through how Warc’s own predictions for this year have matched up to the reality.

One of the themes David touches on is the ‘digital kickback’. The ongoing problems with ad measurement and fraud, coupled with wider concerns around algorithmic accountability, have made it clear that the digital advertising ecosystem is not the Promised Land it was once purported to be. Through a lack of transparency and accountability, and by not having consumer experience at the heart of digital advertising, the ‘kickback’ has been most notably realised through the rise of adblocking.

The rapid adoption of adblockers has been one of the biggest wake-up calls for the ad industry this year. Earlier in the summer, the IAB launched new research that showed over a fifth of online adults had adblocking software on their devices[1]. When Apple launched its iOS 9, three adblockers were in the top five paid listings on iTunes. Reasons for using adblockers, according to Globalwebindex, include ‘too many ads are annoying and irrelevant’, ‘ads get in the way’ and ‘I find online ads intrusive’. Clearly the issue is one of a faulty consumer experience.

Growing investment in the UK’s digital advertising market reflects how much effort and thought has gone into creating new products, better targeting and use of data. But in all of this, has the end consumer been forgotten?

Positive engagement needs to be a two-way relationship between advertising media and the consumer. Advertising needs to be contextually relevant, impactful and non-intrusive. In short, it should be welcomed.

Proving unique engagement

The media environment plays a significant part in the advertiser-consumer relationship, and brands need to be investing where their audiences are, and where their audience wants to be engaged.

For example, there is mounting confidence from advertisers in Out-of-Home (OOH) as a broadcast medium that is going through an exciting period of transformational change. The latest ad spend report from Advertising Association/Warc signalled continued growth of investment in OOH, spurred on by impressive digital OOH growth of over 30% in the last year alone. Investment in digital technology and data is transforming the effectiveness of the medium, making it more accountable and creating new ways to engage with consumers.

It is important that we continue to conduct research to enable us to better understand consumers – their habits, their feelings and actions – in order to create better advertising. A neuroscience study we conducted with COG Research and Bournemouth University earlier this year, The Engagement Zone, revealed how people interact with, think and feel about, advertising on London Underground.

London Underground is a unique environment, with nearly five million passenger journeys made daily on the network. It provides huge commercial opportunities for brands to connect with the London audience.

The results of our study really demonstrate how responses to advertising on the Tube showcase both the strengths of OOH in general and also the uniqueness of the environment. The biggest take-away is that consumers enjoy the advertising. Commuters are alert and receptive to communications, with 60% saying that ads provide a welcome distraction, and 2 in 5 spotting ads to read on their commute. What also really stood out is likeability towards advertising on the Tube being ahead of all other media, liked by 80% of those who don’t like social media or TV advertising. For them, advertising on London Underground isn’t an intrusion; it is a positive part of their journey.

2016 has seen the viewability of digital advertising continue to face interrogation, and consumers are constantly switching between multiple media touchpoints during their daily lives. In this world of fragmented media consumption, the Tube environment offers a place for browsing communication messages. Dwell time on journeys mean that the majority of commuters, 7 in 10, feel they have time to take notice of the ads. This is particularly useful for advertisers when you consider what commuters are thinking about throughout the day, such as about meal planning in the evening.

Looking to the future

Greater investment in digital and data will enable more traditional media owners to compete with those native internet giants that have been taking the lion’s share of digital budgets. However, this isn’t about digital innovation for digital’s sake. Transforming the media environment means understanding what works best for the consumer experience.

As Amber Burton, Senior Lecturer in Digital Media at Bournemouth University, said when I met with her recently, we have yet to see the promise of digital advertising being fully realised.  She added that “adspotting is moving in the right direction, but there are opportunities now, via digital solutions, that will return us to a more creative space that pulls the viewer into the message. ‘Ad immersion’ – to coin a phrase – is now a real possibility, in virtual and augmented, location-based, personalised experiences.”

While our research showed that digital ads increase engagement by over 20% and increase attention by 40%, compared with other forms of traditional media, we know that the future of OOH isn’t about making all screens digital. Others may take that approach, but we know it is about the right mix of digital and classic formats to create the best environment.

Our OOH prediction for 2017 will be that greater data insight and new digital innovation – in terms of systems, tools and portals – will give advertisers a unique understanding of engagement and audiences, to make the adspotting experience even more powerful.

(Article first published on Warc, 19th December 2016)


[1] IAB Survey – Ad Blocking Software – Consumer Usage and Attitudes – July 2016

https://www.iabuk.net/research/library/ad-blocking-software-consumer-usage-and-attitudes-july-2016