Approaching Digital Marketing in the Era of Adblock

In 2017, PageFair reported that worldwide usage of ad-blocking programs had increased by a staggering 30% over the previous year. Over 600 million devices around the world are equipped with ad-blocking software — 380 million smartphones or tablets and 236 million desktop devices. Most of the Qchain team, myself included, have ad-blockers installed on our browsers. (We’re partial to uBlock Origin.)

Back in August, we decided to pivot Qchain’s marketplace product away from display advertising, dropping our intentions to incorporate ad exchange functionality and to compete with Google Adsense. The decision was informed partly by a question of taste: Display ads were not compelling to us on an emotional level, and none of us could name a single person who had willingly interacted with one. Public attitudes towards digital advertising were shifting — something we also saw manifested in the rise of ad-blocking software usage.

Consumers are increasingly turned off by traditional advertising: Display ads, expensive billboards, and memorable TV spots don’t carry the same clout as they did before the rise of social media. The social web has heightened and expanded the avenues that brands can use to interact with their users — and so, we found ourselves becoming more interested in improving the experience of forms of advertising people were truly engaging with. The audiences we knew and spoke with tended to connect with three key types of marketing:

  1. Branded Content
    Advertisers pay digital publishers to create custom content: videos, written articles, podcasts, and other forms of storytelling that are native to the publishers’ sites. 
    Example: The New York Times’ “Paid Posts,” such as this story about female inmates, sponsored by the Netflix TV show, Orange is the New Black.
  2. Influencer Marketing
    Advertisers will pay users with high followings for endorsements on their social channels, tapping into the influence that these individuals have over their fanbases.
    Example: A famous lifestyle blogger posting a photo to their Instagram that includes a health product, or a popular Twitch streamer drinking a particular beverage during a livestream.
  3. Sponsorships
    Advertisers offer financial support to an individual, event, or activity in exchange for visibility.
    Example: A sportswear brand sponsors an athlete, who will then wear that brand’s products while competing.

To us, the unifying theme of these three areas was a sense of authenticity — forms of advertising that tended to be more informative, personally relevant, and “real.” Moreover, they all placed less emphasis on less savory industry practices, like data mining, fingerprinting, and predatory targeting. Internally, we coined “Authentic Marketing” as an umbrella term to describe these groups — and we shifted Qchain’s marketplace product to focus on them.

Through our marketplace platform, content creators and advertisers will be able to transact with ease and flexibility. Content creators (from digital outlets to individual bloggers) will have a wide range of branded content solutions they’re able to build, whether it’s written features, podcasts, short films, or something new entirely. Influencers, meanwhile, will be able to place listings for vocal endorsements during streams or social posts across a variety of social channels. And similarly, talent agents seeking sponsorships for their clients will also be able to place listings on the platform.

To facilitate the creation of the content itself, we are building document and collaboration tools that allow content creators to manage their projects post-sale. Our goal is to seamlessly integrate the process of purchasing content and the process of creating content — making our platform the only tool you need to run a content campaign, start-to-finish. Currently, no such platform currently exists, on or off blockchain.

The market confirms our decision. Advertisers are allocating larger and larger budgets to branded content, and audience attention is increasing accordingly. The demand for native advertising has tripled since 2015 and is continuing to rise at an unprecedented rate. The influencer market is expected to increase to at least 5 billion dollars by 2020. And global sponsorship spending is expected to exceed 65 billion dollars in 2018, continuing a steady upward trend over the previous decade.

The people behind Qchain do not live and breathe advertising. Rather, we view the industry as a condition necessitated by the economic system we live in. We are, however, deeply invested in notions of public consent, choice, and truth. It’s time to make advertising fairer and more decent for consumers everywhere. We want to make the experience of receiving adverts better, more authentic, and less exploitative — and yes, perhaps even fun — for viewers.