How to tackle ad waste, one impression at a time

Matthew Goldhill
Founder & CEO
November 27, 2023

Ads have long been the bread and butter of the open web. They provide the funding mechanism through which we consume digital content, and play a major role in driving engagement with our favourite brands. 

But as we all become more and more accustomed to being bombarded with ads, we also get better at filtering out what we don’t want to see. In short, we’re less tolerant of advertising that does not add to our experience. 

The result? According to a recent ANA report, revealed at Cannes Lions earlier this year, advertisers are wasting 23% of programmatic dollars through ineffective ad placements. 

What’s more, YouGov & Picnic’s annual User Experience survey - conducted online among 2006 UK adults during October 2023 - has highlighted the main consumer bugbears that undermine advertising efforts and ultimately lead to wasted ad spend. 

‘Too many ads’ creates visual overkill 

A huge 86% of those surveyed remarked that too much advertising on a webpage makes them feel overwhelmed and more likely to ignore ads completely. Clearly, there is only so much the human brain can process visually without a detrimental effect on their level of engagement. 

Consequently, campaigns that strive to maximise visibility through high ad density may be pushing away the very audiences they hope to attract. 

Annoying ads are harming brand reputation

On a number of levels, the YouGov/Picnic survey demonstrated that brands are likely to be harming their own public image by delivering a bad user experience via their advertising. 70% of respondents said they find digital ads annoying, while 72% feel that such ads negatively affect their perception of the brand behind them.

In fact, ads perceived as intrusive or annoying were considered by 71% as reason enough not to purchase from a brand in the future. 

So it seems the old adage that ‘all publicity is good publicity’ doesn’t ring true when it comes to digital advertising strategies.

Glitches in the UX are damaging too

Perhaps the most telling findings from the survey were those identifying aspects of UX that respondents found the most irritating on the ad-funded web, with ‘blocked screen content’ cited as one of the most annoying UX issues, followed by slow load speeds, accidental clicks, and unstable page content. We can all relate to the frustration of scrolling down only to realise we’ve been directed to a wholly unrelated page from unwittingly clicking on a half-hidden box. 

The ad waste conundrum - an opportunity for advertisers 

To demonstrate campaign success, the advertising industry has always chased scale and performance metrics, such as CTR and impressions. But what might look like positive engagements on first sight are not necessarily what they seem. Not everything that is ‘viewable’ is necessarily viewed; not everything that is viewed is engaged with; and, crucially, not all clicks are intentional.

As it stands, the industry is encouraging huge levels of ad waste by failing to focus on genuine user experience and intent. And yet, given that the majority of respondents (56%) agree that they enjoy reading free content from reputable publishers, and over a third (39%) say they like discovering new products and brands on the open web, the model remains fundamentally sound. Digital advertising will retain its intrinsic value, if executed efficiently and with a focus on a quality user experience.

For advertisers seeking to improve their UX, some of the key aspects to consider are: 

  • Ad density: According to the Coalition for Better Ads, anything over 30% density is considered detrimental to UX, so it’s important to partner with an agency who can filter marketplaces for ad density
  • Attention: In recent years, attention has become a bit of a buzzword. However, when used properly, the data can be useful for proving the effectiveness of an advertising campaign. Therefore, it’s important to adopt a multi-faceted approach to attention, focusing on both eye-tracking data and placement-level data. 
  • Page load speed, visual stability and processability: Ensuring fast-loading and stable pages, containing content that is easily digestible leads to fewer wasted impressions and higher engagement
  • Sustainability: By reducing ad waste, advertisers can also rest in the knowledge they are driving down emissions. A good place to start is to aim for a threshold equal to or lower than Scope3’s Green Media Product (GMP) standard 

Looking towards a more enjoyable, sustainable future of advertising

As user expectations evolve, brands must focus on working with, rather than against, consumers’ browsing habits and preferences. If media planners can shift their approach towards prioritising ad solutions that resolve UX issues on the web, the advertising industry can drastically reduce the amount of ineffective, wasted and even damaging ad spend.

This would not only be better for the environment, but would also help to drive more meaningful engagement and higher returns for brands. 

And the best part? We can all enjoy the internet again.

Also published in
Martech Outlook


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How to tackle ad waste, one impression at a time
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