Irish Examiner: Ad blockers offer opportunity to online publishers

Imagine a web without ads: No more intrusive page takeovers, no more irrelevant pop-ups, and no more bizarre, third-party banners promising a septuagenarian’s secret to wrinkle-free skin.

For millions of media consumers around the world, this commercial-free utopia is a reality.

Ad-blocking has been a major concern for digital publishers and advertisers for a number of years, with consumers migrating to mobile, where the uptake in ad-blockers is greater.

PageFair, a Dublin-based company that provides media organisations with ad-blocking analytics and which creates anti-ad blocking technologies, published a report last year in conjunction with Adobe. It found that 200m desktop users have installed ad-blockers in their PCs and laptops.

A second report, focusing on mobile ad-blockers, was published last month. It found that 419m mobile users have installed ad-blockers in their devices.

“We’ve had 20 years of the online advertising industry, and it has gotten itself to a point where it faces a cul-de-sac that is self-destructive,” said Johnny Ryan, head of ecosystem at PageFair.

“Ad-blocking is like the remote control for TV, invented in the 1950s. It might have taken a few years to land on your couch, but it was inevitable that it would eventually do so. I think it is possible to slow the spread of ad-blocking, but I suspect that the genie is out of the bottle,” he says.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau — IAB — a non-profit group that promotes best practice for online advertisers and publishers, has strongly condemned companies that create ad-blockers.

Recently, the IAB published the results of a small survey on ad-blocking, quizzing 1,300 desktop users and 201 mobile users in the US.

It found that 26% of desktop users and 15% of mobile users avail of ad-blockers. A further 17% of the sample, who do not currently use blockers, are “at risk of starting to do so”.

Similar to PageFair’s research, young respondents were the most likely to block ads, particularly young males who play data-heavy online games.

The reasons for using blockers are varied: over-populated ad spaces are distracting for consumers, ads sometimes intrude on content, and interactive ads consume a lot of data — a reason why many readers in emerging markets use blockers.

Mr Ryan says the rise of ad-blockers is also because of digital advertisers’ over-use of personal data.

“Advertising has evolved into a position where the industry is preoccupied with the notion of monitoring your behaviour to build a profile of you.

“It’s a mistake, because advertising worked just fine before the web. It was based on the idea of context,” Mr Ryan says.

The over-reliance on data has also led to inaccurate counts of genuine readers viewing advertisements online.

However, the problems created by ad-blocking and poor online advertisements have given publishers the opportunity to reimagine online advertising.

Mr Ryan, who is author of the book, A History of the Internet and the Digital Future, sees the problem of ad-blockers “as being one of those historical milestones”.

One proposition is to simply reduce the quantity.

Ads would cost more for advertisers and give readers an uncluttered space.

Suzanne McElligott, CEO of IAB Ireland, which in September will publish a Red C study on ad-blocking in Ireland, predicts that “we will see more engaging, more creative, better-quality advertising served in a more user-friendly manner”.

She thinks publishers will have to educate online users about the purpose of ads.

Harry Browne, a journalism lecturer at DIT’s School of Media, said he likes and uses ad-blockers.

But he warns that “it breaks the 200-plus-year-old, traditional media business model more surely than the mere provision of free content online ever did.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner on August 1, 2016.

Irish Examiner: Marketing gurus catch a ride on Pokémon Go craze

Marketers will have to catch ‘em quick if they want to capitalise on the Pokémon Go craze.

Savvy retailers have already taken advantage of the game’s augmented reality function, where digital graphics are viewed in the real world through a smartphone camera.

In a bid to entice gamers to congregate at their shopfronts and boost footfall, businesses can use “lures” to increase the number of Pokémon characters in an area for a set period of time.

But simply dropping lures and hoping for the best is not enough for small businesses, according to Ellen Ryan, managing director of Yellow Machine, a communications firm specialising in the 18 to 35-year-old demographic.

“Create a bit of a buzz in your store with an event. You might have discounts around the store and have some goodies to give away. There is a small spend through the app, but you can really leverage that yourself and drive it to the next level by doing these incentives.”

Other brick and mortar businesses could use the game to attract attention and showcase their services too, she suggested.

“There are an awful lot of brands looking to capitalise on it,” said David Hayes, director of social search and performance media at digital agency, In The Company of Huskies.

“A lot of people want to just piggyback on something to make themselves look relevant. It’s like any major event. People will see through that.”

He argues that because Pokémon Go is a location-based app, brands that are somehow connected to mobility, such as businesses in the leisure, tourism or retail sectors, will benefit the most.

“One of our clients is Fáilte Ireland. We would be suggesting proactive pieces around [the game] because we think it is applicable to tourism.”

The Youth Lab, part of Thinkhouse youth marketing agency, has also explored opportunities Pokémon Go offers to brands, especially those looking to reach the coveted millennial market through “nostalgia culture”.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Claire Hyland, director of insights at The Youth Lab, explained young people have this sense of sentimentality “because we’re in such a fast-paced, instant, everything-now world.

“Things are fleeting in so many ways that young people can actually have a nostalgia for something that happened six months ago or a year ago.”

She said that Pokémon Go’s ability to project the game into real-life scenarios makes it similar to the image messaging app Snapchat, which is largely associated with the youth market.

For advertisers, in-game promotions are certainly not a new concept but has largely consisted of pop-ups, that tend to irritate players.

It is hoped augmented reality will help solve this problem: Snapchat recently filed a patent for an ad-overlay system that turns messages into ads. For example, if a user takes a picture of their latte, a coffee brand’s logo will appear as a suggested filter.

With Pokémon Go and other augmented reality games, big brands should look to reach people using similar techniques that don’t intrude on the overall experience.

“The key thing is that [advertisements] don’t take away from the game,” said Eddy Danielsson, Gamestop’s director of merchandising, marketing and e-commerce for Northern Europe.

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner on July 25, 2016.

Why did a mattress company open a newsroom?

This article first appeared on

Former journalists have always been valued in marketing: They understand the components of a good story, they know the culture of a newsroom, and they can write.

But in 2016 we see a growing trend in marketeers hiring journalists to work as journalists, not PR pros.

Their role is to create a community around a brand, rather than write content that is exclusively concerned with sales: Think of the documentaries on counter-culture presented by Doc Martens.

Media consumers value content that digs a little deeper; they want to feast on something that offers them sustenance rather than SEO junk, and journalists are equipped with the skills to ask good questions, find interesting sources and ensure that articles are reader-focussed.

It has been almost seven months since the New York-based mattress company Casper opened a newsroom.

The self-described “sleep startup” hired journalists to work on its online publication, Van Winkle’s, which is funded by Casper, but isn’t part of their marketing budget.

Gawker-founder and former editor-in-chief of the New York Observer Elizabeth Spiers was hired as Editorial Director, with journalist Jeff Koyen as editor-in-chief and three other editorial staffers.

The two ventures share the same office space, but Van Winkle’s doesn’t feature reviews of Casper’s products or report company news. In fact, mattresses are a “blacklisted” topic. Why? Because mattresses just aren’t all that interesting.

‘Own’ a niche

So what is the purpose in funding the publication? There weren’t any media outlets specialising in the topic for Casper to partner with, so they decided to create their own.

The intention is that the site will “own” the topic of sleep as a niche. They then become the “go-to guys” when it comes to sleep and wellbeing.

Van winkles homepage

Van Winkle’s identifies itself as an “addition to the cultural phenomenon around wellness and lifestyle. While there are numerous publications covering fitness, shelter, and wellness, no single publication owns the conversation around sleep.”

Knowledge bank

It might sound a bit naff to write solely on the topic of sleep, but editor-in-chief Jeff Koyen recognises it as an important issue: “Sleep may account for one-third of our time, but it affects us around the clock. It may be the most important influence on our daily lives.”

And there is a host of material available to cover: Van Winkle’s publishes at least 10 original articles every day, including in-depth features, investigative reports and columns.

The material has nothing to do with Casper’s products, but it helps establish them as the powerhouse behind all things sleep.

Brand recognition

An important feature of their model is syndication. They disseminate material to websites that are hungry for content. One of their biggest customers is Huffington Post.

The service is free, but their website outlines that “You must cite us as the original source with the following text: This article originally published by Van Winkle’s,, the editorial division of Casper Sleep.”

The idea is that their material does not push the sale too much — it is a slow burner that will eventually build a community and play an active role in shaping the company’s brand voice.

The learning outcome for PR pros is that brands should focus on building lifestyles, rather than simply looking for material that is blatantly about increasing sales.

Good content marketing is about creating something is actually entertaining and newsworthy, and today’s media consumers are becoming much more fussy about what they consume.

Check out’s upcoming course on brand storytelling.