How emerging tech can solve ad desensitization

Advertising has lost sight of a very basic concept: The pleasure principle.

In the “golden days,” the 1960s and 1970s, colorful creative in a full-page spread was enough to create buzz — and that’s not just Mad Men nostalgia talking. With the advent of the Internet, new technology had the power to make advertising more poignant; instead, the worst-case scenario happened.

Brands, desperate to quantify efforts, settled for meaningless metrics like impressions and click-through rates. Within a blink of an eye, advertisers began flooding the Internet with ads shoved into every available pixel of space, serving 5.3 trillion ads in a single year, with little regard for user experience, creative quality and, most importantly, achieving any modicum of the pleasure principle (comScore).

Instead, users have become desensitized, developing “banner blindness,” and are mostly antagonistic toward advertising, with 70 percent of mobile users blocking ads or planning to do so.

Taking back the power to delight consumers and stimulate their senses will be difficult, if people even attempt it. The easiest, most obvious answer is to decrease frequency and placements: Stop focusing on impressions and evolve advertising objectives toward more valuable brand metrics like recall and sentiment.

However, hundreds of companies have created a complex ad ecosystem to cash in on “tonnage” ad spend that’s reaching nearly $60 billion in the United States alone. None of those companies will take the advice “advertise less” lying down. So, it’s time to get creative with timing and technology to liven up the senses once more in the next few years.

Brands can provide some tender, loving touch

Technology has enhanced touch sensations since the first haptic feature on a video game controller, but advertisers rarely capitalize on it. Granted, the technology isn’t for desktop advertising, but it’s a whole different story for newer platforms like mobile, wearables, VR and other connected devices brands will soon focus on.

Technology is enriching our daily lives and can enrich advertising, too.

At this point, haptics on mobile are a pre-conditioned stimulus for users — everyone instinctively feels a spark of excitement and reaches for their phone when they feel a vibration. If marketers harnessed that conditioning in a creative and selective way (and not just in branded push notifications), it would be a powerful thing. And as Apple works on a greater variety of vibrations and opens up functionalities for 3D touch, the possibilities will become endless. Advertisers need to pay attention.

Wake up and smell the olfactory technology

No, this isn’t a joke (although 12 years ago it was). Of course, retailers and magazines have been using scent marketing in the physical world for years, and there are plenty of well-known examples of luxury scented car rooms and pheromones in trendy clothing stores.

The question is how this technology could translate to digital advertising in some way. It may seem far-fetched, but it’s important to figure out. After all, scent is the strongest sense influencing memory recall and emotions. Emotions, in turn, drive 80 percent of decision making (Antonio Damasio, Professor of Neuroscience, University of Southern California).

There may not be a chance for mobile adoption of scent-marketing technology for years to come, but connected devices may provide new opportunities for it. Just imagine a refrigerator tantalizing you with food scents, or future breeds of smart TVs delivering the scent of the tropics during a travel commercial.

Advertisers need to pay attention.

Another burgeoning area where there’s opportunity for scent technology is in virtual reality. More immersive experiences than ever, coupled with entirely new hardware being brought to market, means there is potential for built-in scent marketing.

Sights and sounds can get the scientific treatment, too

Captivating users once more with video and audio will be the trickiest undertaking. The problem with advertising isn’t the just the creative, after all; delivery is the bigger problem. Brands need to start focusing now on how to get in on emerging technologies such as virtual reality, where the content market will reach $5.8 billion by 2025, or more established ones like 360 video, which capitalizes on interactivity for more engagement.

Overall, though, the effort to stimulate users with sound and vision in existing digital mediums will be more nuanced and gradual. Creative and delivery must get more scientific to enhance their efforts. For example, intelligence from eye tracking and advanced biometric measurement to see how users respond gives a better sense of their subconscious reactions to ads, which, again, is the largest part of decision-making.

Another key to making your audio/visual more appealing to users is to match it to content design trends influenced by technology. This principle applies to the creative, the timing and the ad container: They all should acknowledge and align with the consumer journey and be truly “native” and additive to whatever content environment they’re in.

The tech industry is innovating on a near constant basis, and we’re on the cusp of many technologies that will change life as we know it. So, it only makes sense that we allow those technologies to change advertising as we know it — and this time, for the better. Technology is enriching our daily lives and can enrich advertising, too.