User-first Advertising: A Picnic Manifesto

Matthew Goldhill
Founder & CEO
March 27, 2023

You're scrolling through your phone, trying to navigate a website, when suddenly everything comes to a grinding halt: the page loads slowly, the content bounces like a yo-yo; instead of reading that fascinating article, you’re hit with disruptive pop-ups and fear of the accidental click on that belly fat ad. Sound familiar? You're not alone.

In the race to capture consumers' attention and drive sales, brands and businesses are often so focused on pumping out high-volume ad campaigns, that they neglect a crucial ingredient for success: user experience.

But here's the thing - when people have a negative brand experience on mobile, they are 62% less likely to purchase from that brand in the future.

In a world where consumers are bombarded with endless ads, it's the brands that prioritise UX that will come out on top. The question for advertisers - how?

The opportunity with mobile 

Most adtech companies deliver ads on ‘premium’ mobile inventory, but that’s usually where it stops. What many advertisers don’t understand is that a) ‘premium’ doesn’t necessarily mean a good user experience; and b) it is possible to measure the user experience of a page before you even think about placing your ad on it.

At Picnic, we only deliver ads on mobile pages which have passed a rigorous set of real-time user experience tests. We start with our carefully curated premium publishers, then we filter for pages which score highly for responsiveness, load speed and stability, measured using Google Core Web Vital data. On top of that - the page must be low carbon-emitting and the ad slot itself must be highly viewable. What’s more, the ad format we then place on that page is built from the ground-up to integrate seamlessly within that user-first mobile environment.

This means a high-quality UX for mobile users, and a high-attention, results-driving ad environment for brands.

We understand the value of a good user experience. That’s why we have created a user-first manifesto which defines the core values that guide everything we do in order to deliver effective ad experiences for our brand partners. 

The Picnic User-First Manifesto

1. Quality

Like the leading social media platforms, we fundamentally believe in innovative, creative formats, and we know that the way to avoid banner blindness or digital fatigue is to keep them fresh. When we see new mobile experiences working elsewhere, we feed that into our ads. 

Over the past year, we have released five new ad formats and multiple add-on features to keep up with what’s new in mobile. Of course, this includes a popular short form video format called Clips, inspired by TikTok! 

By taking inspiration from social’s user-centric approach and applying that to other contexts - like the open mobile web - we as an industry can fully capitalise on mobile’s potential to influence better outcomes.

2. Performance

Recent research by Google shows us that the chance of page bounce increases by 32% when load time rises from one to three seconds; chance of bounce then increases by 90% when the page load time rises from one to five seconds. If a slow mobile experience drives customers away, a fast mobile experience can keep them engaged. 

We are extremely careful about where we serve our ads, and we use Google’s Core Web Vitals (CWV) algorithm - essentially a page experience health check - along with other page signals, to curate the best experience for users and in turn drive results for advertisers.

This really works: we have found that pages with high CWV scores deliver an average of 2,740 attentive seconds per 1,000 impressions on average, compared to just 514 for low-scoring CWV pages.

3. Integration

It is vital that advertising is truly integrated into the overall user experience. That means ads need to look right - a good fit for device size - have no grey space, and be viewable but not intrusive. 

Studies tell us that 34% of all mobile ads utilise the standard 300x250 MPU. Arguably, this is simply because it’s easy to use across different device types. Yet, at Picnic, experience has taught us that the 320x480 format, which we pioneered, is a mobile ad ‘Goldilocks’. In other words, it’s just right for the device it is viewed on: big enough to be legible and catch the eye, but not so large as to be intrusive or block content.

4. User Agency

We want users to own their experience of an ad. Digital advertising has long been guilty of tricking users into engagements, but that’s not our game.

We don’t drag users away from pages, con them into accidental clicks or block their browsing with full-page interstitials.

But we do offer appealing optional engagement such as polls or emoji reactions. And we do favour user-led navigation, with natural left- and right-swiping interactions which allow users to map their own experience without disruption.

5. Respect

Respect for the user underpins everything we do, from the quality and performance of our ads to the way we empower people to interact with them.

Respectful means sustainable too. We have a duty to be respectful of the user’s right to browse the web without unnecessary harm to the environment.

We carbon-compensate all campaigns as standard, breaking down emissions for all our clients, because we believe sustainability should be integral to the product - not an add-on. We are also working hard to produce less. Our user-first inventory has proven to emit an average of 64.8% fewer metric tonnes of carbon emissions per $1M of media spend than Social. This means you get the same slick and effective user ad experience, but at a fraction of the carbon cost. And we are involved in an abundance of new initiatives to support advertisers and users - in their net-zero missions.

Putting users first isn’t a compromise...

User-first is an approach that works best for everyone - including advertisers.

It leads to higher attention for brands - 482% higher levels of attention generated across Picnic’s marketplace compared to open web mobile banner ads. Higher attention also correlates with brand results. Take our recent campaign for EE - a 138% increase in users being ‘very likely’ to consider purchasing EE Full Fibre broadband post-ad-exposure.

User-first ads mean achieving results in a sustainable, conscious, feel-good way; they engage, rather than irritate the people they reach.

In order to pave the way for better outcomes for all, any good media plan should start with the user, first.


User-first Advertising: A Picnic Manifesto
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