Through the Spyglass


Surviving in a World Without Ads: What Brands Need to Do to Stand Out

Google Contributor is experimenting with allowing readers to pay websites to avoid ads. For example, if there is a website you regularly visit, you would be able to pay to not see any ads on that website. Both Google and the website of choice would receive the money you pay.

It’s yet to be seen how popular this service will be, however, it represents an underlying assumption that readers don’t like ads. This is debatable because some ads really do provide value, hence the profitability of the industry. But many ads are frustrating to users. Take the pop-up ones, for instance. While effective, many readers are bothered by the interruption.

Image Credit: Lori Stalteri Image Credit: Lori Stalteri

So let’s time travel for a moment into a future where there are no ads. Readers are paying subscription fees in order to avoid them. Publishers and service providers like Google are instead receiving money directly from their reader. How can brands survive in this environment? Is all hope lost for any advertising except word-of-mouth? Not quite.

In an alternate universe where there were no ads, whether on search engines or banner displays, brands could still stand out through quality content. And there are three environments where this would matter most.

Owned Media

I’ve talked about owned, earned, and paid media before. Owned content is anything the brand has complete control over. Its website, email campaigns, and managed social media efforts (what the brand itself posts on Facebook, for instance) become even more important in a world without ads. When people find great content, they are more likely to subscribe to email newsletters and bookmark the website to come back regularly. In a world without ads, the brand’s content needs to compel users without pushing them, and instead pull them or draw them in. This content is also necessary in order to boost organic brand exposure, which leads me to earned media.

Earned Media

Earned media essentially means that your content is so great, other people are voluntarily referencing it and sending their fans to you. This is word-of-mouth advertising online. If you post a blog and someone reads it, likes it, and links to it from her website, this is earned exposure. Similarly, if someone posts a link to your site from his social media account, that is earned exposure. If someone writes an entire article about you, that’s even more substantial. You get the idea. Earned media is another type of media that becomes invaluable in a world without direct paid advertising.

Sponsored Media

Lastly, when your exposure needs a boost but you cannot pay for a banner ad, then sponsored content will rule. By partnering with publishers, brands can develop great content that adds value to readers and also happens to be associated with their brand. In some cases, the brand produces the content and in other cases the publisher does, but it’s paid for by the brand. This is called sponsored content or sometimes native advertising. Many publishers have moved this direction, including Huffington Post, Mashable, and The Atlantic.

In conclusion, if the world were to move in the direction of no online ads, other means of promoting brands would still be possible and could still be very effective. So what can brands do now to be prepared should this alternate reality come to pass? Invest now in excellent content, and start forming relationships with publishers. Providing content that readers enjoy will benefit your brand whether or not ads are available in the long run.