Why We Almost Universally Ignore Ads, And Why Marketers Keep Foisting Them On Us, Anyway

Like so many things, there are two sides to this story, a seeming paradox that begs for an explanation. We’ll try to break down a) why ads don’t generally work and are a waste of money, and also b) why trillion-dollar-valuation companies got wealthy selling ad space, and ads were helpful for many companies’ growth strategies.

The data are clear: ads suck

  • PPC click-through rates are about 5-in-a-thousand (that’s a weighted average of display, which is 2-in-a-thousand, and search, which is 2-in-a-hundred). Oh – and this is when the 15,000 Ph.D.’s at Google have done their best to match a product or service to you – using search terms and behavioral analytics.
  • Meanwhile, the average click-through rate for organic links is something like 20%, depending. Orders of magnitude more click on non-sales copy
  • The overwhelming majority of clicks on the Internet are organic.
  • Blogs have compiled a list of marketing tactics that consumers hate. They’re all paid placements, or ads.  
  • There’s a massive disconnect between what marketers believe is welcomed by consumers, and what is actually welcomed by consumers. 

Nobody likes ads.

The jury is in. We have our own statistics on it, gleaned from around the Internet. 

More people are flat-earthers, or like eating bark. 

And your own life confirms this. Forbes estimates that, in a given day, a denizen of a Western country will be shown 10,000 ads. Yikes. You click maybe 2. 

Also: businesses claim PPC is effective and brings in leads

Both are true, ads suck and they are also useful and effective.

Here’s how: Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, and Programmatic networks have the power to show your ad to millions of people. These ads are targeted toward a given demographic, and still, about 2 times in 1,000, people click the ad. That’s the average for Google Display anyhow. Seems like a terrible success rate. However, if a few million people see the ad, that can amount to thousands of clicks. 

The Internet never forgets, but also Internet users have no memory (another paradox).

Those 2.99 million people who didn’t click your ad, who don’t want what you’re offering, aren’t going to remember you, most of the time. So there’s 

Ads work and don’t work at the same time. They are selfish and shitty and helpful at the same time. But despite this paradox, to foist them on people when you – a marketer – yourself don’t like them (99.5% of the time they’re unwanted, despite geniuses using cutting-edge learning algorithms to match them to your need), is hypocritical. You’re breaking the Golden Rule.

That said, you can combine your ads with content offers, so that you’re offering rather than asking or informing. Below are some reasons why people hate ads. 

  • Consumers know ads are bullshit. Companies will sell to anybody. They just want money; they want the most money. We just expect sales copy in ads to be dishonest. 
  • Even companies that try to be humble or honest – if it’s sales copy they’re pushing – are not. 
  • Consumers and vendors are each one-way blind. Consumers don’t see the world as vendors do, and vice-versa. Vendors never consider there are hundreds of other companies competing for the attention of a given consumer. Vendors (marketers) don’t realize they’re part of a process that floods consumers with ads. They just think it’s their one harmless ad. But hundreds or thousands of companies doing this is overwhelming.
  • Even if an ad is properly matched, the timing seldom coincides with where the consumer is, in the Buyer Journey. They may be answering a specific question, and you come in with your banner ad for digital services, and the timing is wrong. 
  • Consumers know the consideration we offer – money – has universal value, and the consideration the vendor is offering is contextual. It may have value – if it works and is the best option – or it may not. 
  • Consumers are more invested in the solution of their problem than any vendor will, or can, be. 
  • Vendors don’t realize the process isn’t pointed at transacting; it’s pointed at transacting on the consumer’s terms, after research and consideration. 

The same factors that keep vendors serving up unwanted ads prevent them from producing content that would expiate the need for such ads: seller-centricity. Egocentricity. Thinking that the consumer’s seeming intersecting interest with your solution invites you to interrupt them. 

We admit: we run paid placements for clients. And they can work synergistically with organic and SEO and content-based channels and strategies. Typically any organic platform (Google, Facebook) that you’re also paying tends to treat you a little nicer, and float your organic content to more places. 

But if you have to do paid, combine your ‘interruption’ marketing with an offer. You’ll get much higher click-through rates, and feel less hypocritical, interrupting people when you yourself (a marketer) hate seeing ads. We can all handle an interruption to be given something.