Expect advertising to colonize even more digital spaces in 2019

It’s a well known fact that we pay for free apps and online services with our data, but the endgame of that is that we get targeted ads. But most people find ads off-putting, targeted or not, so it’s no surprise that we flock to free, or really cheap, services that don’t show ads. Unfortunately, there’s a well established trend of broken promises when it comes to popular apps and services, especially when it comes to the blue empire, Facebook, and its vassals. But of course, Google gets in on it too.

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The pattern? Offer a great ad-free (or with minimal ads) service, build up a customer base and loyalty, and then start injecting ads once the userbase is loyal. Remember when Instagram started getting its first ads? Or when Google walked back on its promise to never run banner ads? Facebook Messenger last year? Now it’s the turn of the uber-popular WhatsApp, which is slated to start showing ads in 2019. As if the betrayal of user trust when it comes to privacy wasn’t a good enough reason to switch.

Online services will also cripple some popular functionality that can detract from the advertising. For example, this is why the YouTube app doesn’t allow background play.

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You have to pay for YouTube Premium for an ad-free experience. / © Prosyscom Tech News

A personal prediction: while we’ve all become accustomed to using free web services in return for ads, as the push towards ever higher revenue growth becomes more intense, I to see ad-free subscription services like Netflix hike prices, then introduce a ‘discount’ service that runs ads on top of the fee.

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Some of you may be seeing ads on this very page, since we, like most other online magazines, monetize through advertising. In reaction to the overwhelming amount of ads on the web, many of us use some kind of adblocker browser plugin. In response, many sites, will prompt you to whitelist, or even block content if you don’t. Other, previously, ad-supported sites have have thrown up paywalls. Of course, most people like paying even less than intrusive ads. So what about supposedly non-intrusive ones?

Native advertising, custom content, sponsored content, advertorials. Essentially paid content made up to look just like the normal kind of information an outlet presents, you’ll have seen this here at Prosyscom Tech News and on other sites. While at least with us, this content is relatively rare, and partnerships explicitly mentioned in the text. But the balance is important.

No one wants our favorite media outlets to close through lack of funds, but if too much of the content is sponsored by outside interests, editorial authority suffers. So the usefulness of content marking or native ads on digital media is limited by a hard cap…too much of it, and the outlet loses the traction it needs to sell that space in the first place.

Games

The games industry in 2018 was characterized by the microtransaction-heavy economic model common in free-to-play mobile games manifesting even in $60+ AAA PC and console titles. Naturally, there was consumer backlash and controversy over this and gambling style loot box items.

But at the end of 2018 Capcom tried a different tack that also seemed to be lifted from the free-to-play market. The venerable company inserted ads into Street Fighter V, on loading screens, backgrounds and character costumes, including some egregious instances such as Indian fighter Dhalsim having ads on his necklace of shrunken skulls, in-lore those of village children who died in a plague. The ads are optional but work reward players with a pittance of an already-stingy in-game currency. But bear in mind, the game sold for $60 without even including paid DLC!

Gaming as recreation and also as a spectator entertainment is more popular than ever so it’s no surprise that brands are looking for ways to generate revenue from this attention. I spoke to Anzu.io, a startup that offers in-game advertising both in high end games and virtual reality experiences. In their demo, a virtual shooter arena displayed billboards for products that blended in seamlessly with the environment, and in the future, games displaying this kind of ad can be updated, ad content changed for new promotions, or even targeted to the user. In essence, the ads would be ‘live’.

In theory, such ads would also be inserted with a view to verisimilitude of the game world…i.e. more appropriate in a sports game than a historical adventure story. In theory. But, as the Capcom example has shown, brands will always be willing to cross the line of good taste if it means potential revenue.

Virtual and augmented reality

Virtual reality is advancing as home entertainment but is also increasingly used in industry and for commercial purposes. And you bet there’s going to be advertising in virtual space. Much like with video games, the ‘worlds’ of VR have room for their own kinds of billboards.

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What’s different here is that, rather than tracking your movements across the web, companies involved with VR/AR headsets will track your position and gaze. Ads can be targeted and evaluated according to the actual eyeball time they get from the user, as such, the data gleaned from virtual reality or mixed reality may be particularly valuable to market researchers. Especially, as I’ve seen, when combined with brain scans.

Recently, when I got some time with the Magic Leap One, I discussed with a developer the potential of the ‘Internet 3D’, a new way of sharing digital information using AR/VR space, natural vision and body movements. As magical as this does sound, it made me think of the time it took the internet we know today to become saturated with advertising since it’s inception. The Internet 3D won’t be too different. In fact, I’d say that brands are already champing at the bit to get that virtual real estate, it’s the technology that isn’t moving fast enough for them.

Will there be a tipping point?

There’s always a tension when it comes to advertising. For the most part, we don’t want to see it., and generally prefer the user experience of ad-free services, or install adblock software for our browsing. Ultimately, it’s a sleight of hand that relies on you paying attention to something you want, and then redirecting it to something else.

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But in return for free access to services, most of us are willing to accept ads or, hand over our data for ad targeting, even if we continue to rebel/evade this onus in different ways. It’s kind of an arms race, but as the drive towards ever expanding growth from ad revenue leads to less and less non-commercialized space around us, will this resistance eventually reach a full-on mass backlash?

How do you see the future of digital advertising next year? Is it reaching it limits?

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