Ad Blocking, Virtual Reality, Dark Social: What brands need to know for 2016

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Ad Blocking, VR and Dark Social for 2016

The pace of change in media is accelerating and the stakes are higher than ever. Don’t look back, instead focus smartly on the year ahead. Here are 3 top trends and issues to keep in mind as the calendar rolls into 2016.

Block that ad

One of the most disruptive technologies to hit the media landscape since the mass migration to digital platforms, ad blocking will redefine the marketing and advertising industry in 2016.

According to one recent survey by Digital Content Next, one-third of Internet users said they’re ‘very likely’ to install an ad-blocker within the next three months. This is no ordinary challenge; this is a tsunami. Ad blocking will affect advertising significantly and undercut the revenue of digital publishers as the technology gets easier to install and adjust. The short of it is that the consumer doesn’t want your damn ads.

The consumer doesn't want your damn ads.

However, for brands and marketers willing to clean house and invest in creating content that audiences don’t want to block, ad blocking could be an opportunity. Consumers respond well to quality content. Those who get ahead of the pack in doing so will have the best chance to thrive.

VR — back to the future

Virtual reality has been around for quite some time, but has never really achieved widespread popularity. Expect this to change in 2016.

Why? Last year, Facebook completed its purchase of Oculus, the leading maker of virtual reality headsets that have been a hit with gamers. Facebook’s move gave Oculus more exposure than ever. Now, an increasing number of content providers are moving in.

The New York Times has embraced virtual reality within its news graphics department and has used it to present the news in a new way. For example, readers can get a 360-degree view of memorials created in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris last month, together with voices of the mourners and a narrated explanation.

Meanwhile, the technology continues to filter into the mainstream in other ways. Netflix has created a virtual reality app, and is promoting it as a new way to watch movies. The app was made for the Samsung Gear VR headset, which was developed together with Oculus. Samsung Gear VR is now sold in T-Mobile stores for $99, and is compatible with at least four of Samsung’s mobile phones.

These new takes on reality will hold is not just for the tech-savvy audiences. These takes on reality are ready for mainstream consumption.

The unreachables in Dark Social

Data and analytics have limits.

We know that consumers don’t communicate with brands the same way they communicate with their friends. They share experiences, thoughts and preferences with friends over email, text or other chat services, and there’s no way to pull data from this very rich environment known as “dark social.”

Programmatic marketers RadiumOne estimates that 69 percent of all sharing takes place through dark social channels. Venture capitalist and widely respected securities analyst Mary Meeker estimated that pure-play mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp, WeChat, and Snapchat make up 6 out of 10 of the most-used apps globally.

An item shared one-to-one on dark social often carries more weight than a share on a social media network to all of a person’s friends. What’s a marketer to do if they’re being left out of the most influential conversations, especially when there’s more pressure to prove ROI? According to a research report by Venture Beat, brands plan to increase spending on marketing analytics by 73 percent over the next three years.

BuzzFeed has made it easy to share its stories via a WhatsApp sharing button. The Guardian recently hosted a real-time WhatsApp chat during the December 14 Republican debate in the U.S. It’s a matter of time before brands pile in because the buzz around these channels has surged as WhatsApp active user base has risen to 900 million.

Messaging apps are an untapped pool for greater brand involvement. However, consumers want to share stuff with their friends and not you, Dear Marketer.

Dark social is too big to ignore. Brands must continue experimenting with these channels and learn where and how the consumer is willing to let them in.


All of these developments, taken together, represent an endgame of sorts for consumers – abetted by opportunistic tech entrepreneurs – who have made clear that they won’t waste another 10 seconds waiting for your marketing message to end.

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