The Winston Group is a strategy and research firm dedicated to making ideas matter.

The Future of Ads

by David Winston

On Wednesday, Mary Meeker, a venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, released her highly acclaimed annual report on Internet trends and technology. One of the findings of this year’s report was that people are trending toward mobile devices faster than ad dollars are keeping up. From the Washington Post coverage of the presentation, “Meeker sees mobile advertising growing another $22 billion in the United States because the time consumers spend on mobile devices — 25 percent — is more than double the share of ad dollars the platform receives. However, a major concern is the 420 million smartphone users who utilize ad-blocking technology.” If people are shifting toward mobile devices but with large numbers using ad blockers, ads of the future will not only have to be more adept at transitioning to mobile devices and away from traditional platforms, but the content will have to be more compelling.

To inform how ads might be more compelling, we looked at which sources are most influential in shaping political views, from research we conducted for the Ripon Society earlier this year.  Not unexpectedly, news media sources were not among the most influential sources on a person’s political views. By far, voters overall and across party cited their own experience as the largest influence on their political views (69%). Family (36%) and education (34%) fell into a second tier of most important influences, followed then by the media (29%).

Given the current media and campaign environment, these results indicate that ads of the future intended to shape views about a candidate or issue will have to be credible and informative enough for people to see the personal impact and how the content can become part of personal and family discussions. This may sound difficult, but it can be done, as exemplified by a recent exchange in a focus group in a competitive Congressional district. In that discussion, we heard a college-educated, independent female (a key voter group for this year’s midterms) describe her reaction to the provisions of the tax plan – not messaging – simply the basic provisions of the plan. After seeing the provisions of the plan and how it could impact her personally, her response was “I’m going to go home and have a drink with my husband and tell him about this stuff because I think it’s fascinating. This has been so interesting.

With the right kind of content that voters find personally relevant and informative, ads can provide content and information that can become part of personal discussions that voters are having, and those kinds of ads can have a much greater impact. The ideal reaction to an ad of any kind would be that a voter discusses it at home with family and concludes that “this has been so interesting.”