Incentivised Ads: We’ll Take Your Money, But Not Your Message

The latest development in the Adblock War sees a British mobile carrier bribing customers to view ads with financial incentives. But will this strategy have any meaningful impact?

We’ve already brought you up to speed on the latest initiatives being tried by content sites to get users to view ads. Sites like Forbes and Wired tried to cajole readers with the stick of content blocking, while Tesco Mobile are opting for the carrot. In exchange for installing an app called “Tesco Xtra” and allowing ad content to be served to their phones, customers will receive £3 off their monthly phone bill.

It’s not hard to see why Tesco are willing to take the hit. Mobile advertising is the fastest growing market, with global ad spend predicted to rise above £70 billion this year alone (source: eMarketer). Unlike personal computers, smartphones are with us everywhere we go, allowing advertisers to reach us at all times – even on the toilet.

This isn’t the first initiative of its kind; “incentivised advertising” is a rising trend in the digital ad world, and has previously been used by companies within mobile games, where in exchange for completing an action viewers are rewarded with virtual currency or EXP. Other campaigns offer discount cards for major retail stores. However, Tesco’s gambit is the most blatant, literally offering customers a couple of quid for their attention.

This represents a dramatic change in the relationship between audience and advertiser. Whereas before advertisers assumed people would passively accept content being forced upon them, the rise of AdBlock has some industry players resorting to bribing the millennial audience. In exchange, we’re supposed to re-accept targeted ads into our user experience.

Advertising companies are sure to benefit from this, boasting higher numbers of views and engagement. But will the clients paying them see a noticeable change? Who’s to say that younger users won’t simply open the ad and close it again, fulfilling their obligation just for the sake of the incentive without taking anything in?

Incentivised advertising fails to address the real issues behind engaging with under-35s. Rather than adapt to the changing expectations of audiences – that content should be entertaining, informative, original and socially relevant – it offers a short-term surge in numbers for the same old ads we were blocking and ignoring in the first place.

It’s the equivalent of a politician bribing people to vote for them rather than convincing the electorate with a genuine message, only in this case our votes aren’t even guaranteed; we could just as easily take the money and “forget” to show up on polling day without any repercussions.

At NUBI Natives, we forego these shortcuts in order to create a more lasting relationship through native content campaigns. Yes, it’s harder than simply paying people for views they used to give you for free, but surveys such as this report by NewsCred point out that millennials are more likely to share content that’s useful and interesting.

Plans like Tesco Mobile’s will certainly be attractive to advertisers still mired in the old “us vs them” mindset against ad blockers, but in the end it’ll end up benefitting the companies selling ad space more than the companies buying it.