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There’s been a lot of discussion about ad blocking technology since Apple announced the capabilities of iOS 9 in September. Ad blocking technology was a hot topic at the recent Advertising Week in New York, with some creatives predicting that this trend will be a good thing for the industry. Time will reveal the real impact of ad blocking in the digital publishing business, but the most optimistic analysts are claiming that these apps will “only” cost around $1 billion annually in lost revenue. Others predict that ad blocking could decimate the entire digital publishing industry, if not the “free internet” itself.

In my latest MediaPost article, I explore the ramifications of these technologies to marketers who are targeting teens. Gen Z customers are poised to be the first generation to completely avoid traditional advertising. Teens almost totally avoid print media, the one place where it’s practically impossible to avoid an ad. They watch TV content mostly on DVRs where they could skip the ads, or through a paid streaming service with little to no advertising. Of course, they increasingly consume content online, where these new apps promise the ability to block ads from publishers. Generation Z and millennials are part of the 200 million or so monthly active users of ad-block technology.

Print media, online banner ads, TV spots and radio spots are suddenly all off the table if you’re trying to market to teens. So how do you reach the customer of tomorrow who’s doing everything they can to avoid advertising?

Here are three ideas on how companies can market effectively to teens and thrive in the age of ad blockers:

  1. Create compelling content.

More than ever, marketers need to create advertising that’s so buzzworthy that teens seek it out. For example, last fall Subway developed a series of videos showing teens working at their restaurants, a campaign aimed at reaching a demo that didn’t historically visit them. Similarly, Coke Zero recently came out with an ad explaining how millennials could use Shazam to receive a free beverage at participating retailers.

To create ads that are interesting, inspirational or incredibly clever, companies need to consider co-creating content with the very audience they’re trying to reach: Gen Z and millennials. According to a 2015 Vision Critical study, 72 percent of Gen Z customers prefer brands that seek out their feedback, and 71 percent would love to participate in developing new product ideas for a company they really liked. Gen Z customers want to participate, and there’s an opportunity to engage with these young customers when creating content.

  1. Consider in-program content and placement.

More companies have employed product placements in the last decade, but the last season of America’s Got Talent took this practice to a whole new level. Judges drank from Dunkin Donuts cups and hung out in the Dunkin Lounge, where they chatted with contestants. To prevent their favorite contestant from going home, viewers had to call in during the Dunkin Save. There was also an “AGT Runs on Dunkin” recaps of key audition moments. Even if you zapped the commercials on a DVR, you’d still walk away from every episode thinking Dunkin, coffee and donuts.

More companies like Dunkin Donuts are looking to product placement as a viable alternative to advertising. For product placement to be effective, however, companies need to ensure that partnerships communicate their brand attributes and add to the entertainment value of the programs they sponsor. That’s why companies need to engage with their teen customers directly. Identifying not only the media content that teens consume but why those programs resonate with them is critical to getting product placement right.

  1. Develop a robust digital presence.

Your digital presence today needs to cover earned media, social media, websites and apps. A comprehensive digital presence creates opportunities for brands to interact with Gen Z and millennials organically, on a regular basis, without taking out ads. Complementing a strong social media presence with a social media advertising program might make sense for many companies given that social media ads appear natively in various networks and are practically immune to ad blocking technology.


The era of ad-blocking is officially here, and while it might seem like a scary and unfamiliar place, it’s one that all brands must soon learn to navigate.  The companies that focus on more compelling messages and that engage their customers in the process are set to thrive in the so-called #adblockalypse era.

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