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Weekly Roundup #74 – Ad Blockers, AI Ethics & Election Adwords


Last week we looked at Britains digital future, Google’s mobile-first index and the role of digital technology in taking your brand global. This week we cover:


General Elections and Pay Per Click Strategies

Britain’s recent snap general election left all parties short on time for preparing their campaign strategies. However, despite the short time span, both Labour and the Conservatives decided to invest in search marketing in a bid to get their adverts positioned at the top of the search engine results.

As one might expect, the two parties used very different strategies to get their message out to voters who were searching for information. Labour spent less than the conservatives, opting for a more broad approach in order to reach ‘the many’. Bidding on over 500 keywords, Labour was able to generate a higher ratio of spend to impressions than the opposition, which resulted in them getting a better return on investment.

The ‘strong and stable’ approach of the Conservatives led them to spend more campaign funds on a much smaller number of keywords (around 100). This meant that they had a higher number of impressions, but did miss out on some key areas of debate that Labour was engaging with.

As the campaigns rolled on, both parties increased their spending on paid search bidding and focused on the opponents perceived weaknesses. Following a week of particularly heavy criticism over its pensions policies, the Conservatives rapidly invested more in getting higher in the search engine results pages.

The two strategies of the political parties are an interesting way to examine search marketing strategies, and to create insights into how businesses can improve their strategies. Although it is hard to say whose strategy did better overall, it is fair to conclude that the Conservatives did miss a number of opportunities by restricting their keywords. However, instead of bidding on 579 search terms, the Labour party could have had more success if they had spent larger amounts on a smaller number of terms that would have increased their click through rates.

The different pay per click strategies bring different benefits, and in order to decide which is best for your business, you must decided what you want to achieve. Another important factor when forming a PPC strategy is to understand your competitors behaviour, in doing so you will be able to make intelligent decisions and get the best return on investment.


Bot Technology: an Incredibly Powerful Paradigm Shift

Artificial Intelligence has been seamlessly and subtly included in many of our digital interactions. With 72% of US smartphone users utilising 6 apps on a daily basis, this has been a particular hotspot for AI, that has added voice assistance and chatbot technology for our convenience.

For businesses, including AI into your strategy is a must, particularly for those that are customer-centric. Within customer service AI technology means that call centres operate 24/7 for example, which creates a much faster and more reliable service for your consumers.

The technology itself is becoming more affordable, meaning that the barrier for entry is much lower, even some start-ups are adopting AI into their strategies. The technology is easy to implement and it doesn’t lend itself best to any particular sector – it is open to all. The variety of businesses that have recently and successfully used AI cover a broad spectrum.

The ‘Heston Bot’ on Skype promotes Heston Blumenthal’s recipes, and in a more subtle way it also promotes Waitrose. Designed to listen to your food-related queries and provide you with a solution or recipe, whilst also providing ideas and recommendations. The next step for the app would be to include a direct link to an ordering platform, which could be easily integrated.

Kia had a particularly effective chatbot strategy during the US Superbowl – using the chatbot to support their social media campaign. Handling 115,000 questions a week and providing customers with information about their new model, as well as directing people to their nearest dealership. The bots main role was to lead conversation, and it was seen to have performed fantastically – converting Facebook users into test drivers at local dealerships.

Global cosmetics retailer, Sephora has two app on the Facebook messenger platform that are designed to improve their user experience and engagement with the brand. One app handles the reservations for salon treatments in the US and the other is a colour matching bot that scans photos and provides lipstick matches. Using augmented reality and AI to match and provide shades instantly, the lipstick app has been a great tool for getting younger customers to engage with the brand.

Tommy Hilfiger has created a bot on the Facebook platform that selects items from their product range based on what the customer is shopping for. If the customer makes a purchase they are transferred to the mobile app and the shopping cart is automatically loaded with the purchase. The simple nature of the app has had positive feedback and demonstrates the demand for such services.

Companies that adopt AI and bot technology can expect to see greater conversion and improved customer retention. David Marcus of Facebook Messenger noted that,

“…it’s the beginning of a brand new era – there was web, then mobile, then apps and now bots. Its an incredibly powerful paradigm shift.”


The Role of ‘Perks’ in Fostering Brand Loyalty

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, brand loyalty is key and a recent UK survey suggests that perks may be the answer especially for younger consumers. The survey of 1,500 British consumers, conducted by Banking Refunds, found that 35% appreciate brands go the extra mile, and 23% claim that this leads to long term loyalty.

29% expect brands to offer them perks for repeated customer, and 36% said that personalised or tailored perks, such as discounts on commonly purchased items, or benefits on birthdays make them feel ‘special’. Carl Miller, Managing Director of Banking Refunds noted that, “Everybody loves a perk, and there is no better feeling than getting a freebie. Our research suggests that they are a great way for brands to cultivate brand loyalty especially with younger consumers, which in turn could drive more revenue.”

Interestingly, the appreciation of perks and discounts does not translate to those aged over 65. 35% of this age bracket claimed that freebies and perks were not effective at building brand loyalty. Only 12% of that age bracket did think that it was an effective strategy to get repeat custom, which compares to the 37% of 18-30 year olds. Miller added,

“Our findings highlight the importance of any benefits needing to be tailored to the wants and needs of the consumers… Millennials believe perks are effective in establishing a connection with a brand, and it can be strongly suggested that brands with a younger core demographic are likely to gain the most from investing in perks to drive revenue or acquisition.”


Re-engaging With Ad-Blockers

As the majority of content creators fund their work through advertising, it means that they would like to have ads that are compelling, useful and engaging to their audience. In reality, ads are often intrusive, annoying. They blare music unexpectedly, or force you to wait 10 seconds before they can access the page content.

Advertising strategies such as these have motivated swathes of users to install ad blockers, which is bad news for the content creators, journalists, web developers and videographers who depend on ads as their funding stream. The Coalition for Better Ads has recently announced the Better Ads Standards, which provides clear, data-driven guidance for the industry, showing how ads can be improved.

The Ad Experience Report helps publishers to see how the Better Ads Standards will improve their own websites. Providing screenshots and videos of bad ad experiences in order to make clear what should be amended. Funding Choices provides publishers with a way to communicate with visitors who have installed an ad blocker – a customised message invites them to either enable the ads on that specific site or pay for a pass that will remove all ads on the site through the new Google Contributor. Marc Boswell, SVP, Sales Operations & Client Services at Business Insider noted that,

“Funding Choices allows us to have a conversation with visitors using ad blockers on how our business works, and provide them with a choice to whitelist or contribute to our newsroom. We’ve found that people are generally open to whitelisting once they understand how content gets created.”

Currently available in North America, the UK, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, Funding Choices will be rolled out around the globe later in the year. The Coalition is also working with Google Chrome, who plan to stop showing ads (including those owned or served by Google) that are not compliant with the Better Ads Standards, starting in early 2018.

These changes will ensure that all content creators can continue with a sustainable way of funding their work with online advertising – the Coalition and the Better Ads Standards are creating an environment that is better for users but also better for the broader ads ecosystem.


The Ethics of AI

Ethics of artificial intelligence

Understanding human behaviour has been the focus of the advertising industry for many decades, so it is no wonder that artificial intelligence (AI) is an appealing tool in moving closer to this goal. AI systems transform huge quantities of data that is often complex and ambiguous into insights that are valuable for businesses.

There are nearly 2 billion Facebook users across the globe, 200 billion tweets a year and 40,000+ Google searches every second, which is on top of location-data provided by mobile phones, transactional data from credit cards and adjacent data sets such as the news and weather. Once fed into an advanced algorithm, these masses of data can be turned into comprehensible sequences that will understand the motivations of almost every consumer.

With information comes power, and AI brings with it some troubling ethical considerations. The vast amounts of data that advertisers will hold for each consumer will be far more intimate than ever before. They will understand the most personal motivations and vulnerabilities, and could therefore move from persuading consumers to purchase into the realm of behaviour control.

Regulations should be put in place to ensure that the use of AI remains legal and ethical, and to ensure transparency and inspire trust in the advertisers. Creating a system in which the consumer is more of a parter in his or her marketing would be an ethical way to approach the use of AI, rather than the consumer being the unwitting target of highly personalised advertising.

Such a system would have three primary aspects – data, algorithms and consumer choice. As AI is fuelled by data, which is in turn used to train algorithms and to sustain the system. If the data is biased or incorrect then that will be reflected in the decisions made by the AI system.

To turn raw data into insights the AI uses algorithms, which are designed and developed humans. It should therefore be possible to explain the decisions that an AI makes and for what reasons. Although ‘algorithmic transparency’ is unrealistic in this context (because the algorithm is the most valuable part of any AI), there should be some information that would improve the levels of trust towards the AI and the company that employs it.

Consumer choice with regards to advertising involves informing consumers of the techniques that are being used to market products to them. The informed consumer should then have the choice to opt in or out of each campaign. These steps would put in place guidelines so that AI can be used respectfully and ethically in the world of advertising.


Further Reading:

Artificial Intelligence and SEO

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Sebastian Paszek

Marketing manager

Controlling the chaos of the digital landscape, Sebastian is a multiplatform executive, project manager and photographer.