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The Evolved Value Exchange of Advertising in 2021

There’s a critical gap in the value exchange of advertising between consumers, publishers, and advertisers.

  • Publishers get their pageviews, subscriptions, and support from consumers and ad revenues from advertisers.
  • Advertisers get their platform from publishers, and take their cut of the earnings – and data –  from consumers.
  • Consumers get their news and entertainment from publishers

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But what value are consumers actually getting from advertisers?

Some would argue that consumers enjoy free content thanks to advertisers —  but ask any consumer and they want more (and more importantly, they have easy access to ad blockers). Many consumers have simply opted out of ads. How can marketers provide new value to consumers to keep their attention?

Digital advertisers who can accurately reevaluate this proposition and offer real value will win. “Lose 10lbs in a week!” doesn’t cut it anymore. “5 Strategies for Building a Healthy and Sustainable Lifestyle” including resources to help and science to back it up —  now we’re getting closer. Ads are morphing into branded content, and branded content has a much higher bar: it must be compelling, informative or entertaining, and most of all it must align to the specific desires of the brand’s consumers. The modern mindset of the consumer is fraught: plagued by misinformation, they care more about reputation, trustworthiness, and social impact of a brand.

Here’s how smart advertisers are offering new levels of value to consumers.

The power of community 

Earlier this year, Reddit’s five-second Super Bowl ad became one of the game’s “most paused” moments. Their copy nailed it: “Powerful things happen when people rally around something they really care about.” Showing consumers why they should want to be a part of the brand is more effective than any product placement. Peloton could have been cynically written off as a reheated 80’s stationary bike, but by adding in access to an entire community of dedicated instructors, motivators, and other riders, they’ve created something that’s often described as a “movement.”

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A connection to a community of like-minded people is seen as an incredible value by consumers, especially in a time when people are feeling disconnected and solitary.

Incumbent brands focus on their legacy

Brands like Patagonia lead the way here, building on a legacy of environmentalism by taking up the fight against climate change. There are less expected brands taking similar approaches: S’well, which makes perhaps the world’s most ubiquitous water bottle, recently launched its first-ever global marketing campaign with a focus on their big mission: to rid the world of plastic bottles.

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The value to consumers is no longer just in the product or service

This balance has shifted irreversibly. Consumers have the luxury of choice like never before, meaning it’s harder than ever to differentiate. This is exactly where the definition of “value” is changing: the value consumers are asking for is not about timely targeting or price —  it’s about a long-term relationship they can feel good about. Consumers realize the power of the choice they’re making with their dollar and want to support brands that align not just with their immediate needs but also with their larger concerns and interests.

The pandemic has forced many brands to put their money where their mouth is: Carhartt, the American workwear maker with a deep legacy of its own, repurposed its US factories to create gowns and gloves for frontline workers and did a great job keeping people informed of its efforts —  which were truly in line with the brand’s history and its beliefs. It’s heartening to see companies are giving back in ways that are important to their consumer base, and using branded content as a way to showcase the work they feel matters.

Now form needs to follow function

The value that branded content needs to offer to consumers has changed. That means the way branded content looks — and consumers’ experience with it —  needs to change. If branded content is the way brands can offer value through education, entertainment and quality, it needs to feel truly seamless, non-interruptive and relevant. Advertising no longer exists outside the brand, as an appendage: as a frequent touchstone for the consumer, every piece of branded content needs to map back to the brand.

Advertising must regain its place in the value exchange by once again giving the consumer what they want: content that is compelling, informative, entertaining, and doesn’t interrupt or interfere with the experience they expect.

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