UX and Advertising: Friends or Foes?

Unspoken conflict has long existed between UX designers and marketers. The majority of consumers dislike advertisements, particularly intrusive ones like auto-playing videos, pop-ups, flashy banners, and annoying television advertisements. In other words, ads, have always been seen as a necessary evil that UX hates but business loves. How has this dynamic changed over time? Has the emergence of new content consumption mediums allowed UX & marketing teams to find a happy medium between user and business goals?

For a deeper appreciation of this tenuous relationship, it’s important to take a step back and understand how ads have evolved across four phases over the last 30 years.

1. The TV era

We’ve all watched advertisements while growing up in the 1990s on television and in theatres; at the time, there was no “Skip Ad” option, we had no choice over the types of ads we saw. Commercials were made specifically to be ads. They stoked consumer desire for lifestyle goods and gave the goods an aspirational allure. The goal was to turn viewers into customers. Ads put in such a way that the viewer had to keep watching to continue watching television.

The creation of ads was also controlled by Ad experts, they often had catchy jingles, striking or eye-catching visuals, persuasive language, they appealed to the emotions of the viewer, the design of the content itself was targeted to the audience. Consider this, home appliance ads often featured women since they were the decision makers and the users of those products.

2. The internet age

As websites and internet usage gained popularity, it became possible to market to specific users. While this was a tremendous opportunity for advertisers, it also resulted in the emergence of banner ads, pop-up ads, and auto-play video ads, which take up valuable website space. despite being relevant to us, these advertisements add to the visual clutter, are intrusive and distracting, and eventually interfere with the usability of the website.

Although the ability to place advertisements on websites is a fantastic opportunity, it also carries the responsibility of preserving our online experience. Yahoo relied on display adverts and had focused on navigation and access to a wide range of material and services, which was often distracting, which lead to their steady decline. In contrast, it’s competitor Google offered a clutter-free search engine experience.

Ads disrupting the UX creates an opportunity for an unlikely partnership for advertisers and UX experts to work together. To create ads that are unintrusive, yet noticeable and driven by data that offers a relevant and personalised experience for us.

3. Emergence of social media

The advent of social media enabled us to upload and share pictures, videos, and other relatable content. It changed the advertising industry, it become a limitless place to receive ads that are most relevant to us. Owing to its popularity, the number of active users increased and so did the average time spent online. It helps us discover products, brands, or anything we’re looking for. Additionally, it provides us a platform to interact directly with brands, particularly small businesses.

Algorithms play a major role in the way we use social media, it enables us to select the type of content we want to watch while also recommending relevant content. Subconsciously, we believe what we are watching is content, but what we are really watching is an advertisement, even though it doesn’t feel like a typical, sales-driven one.

4. The rise of influencer marketing

Social media also gave rise to content creators who became well-known by sharing relatable, relevant, and viral content. This encouraged people to produce more similar content, which in turn led to creators monetizing their work and promoting it as a skill, or simply put – sponsored content or influencer marketing, where advertisers sponsor specific content creators whose work reflected their brand message. This also brings the control of creating advertising content to everyone, not just ad experts. We also choose to follow a content creator or influencer, the follow button provides us a false sense of consent and makes us believe we have some control over the types of ads or content we’re consuming, but actually opens the door to highly targeted and relevant ads. We are more likely to convert from viewers to consumers when we encounter these targeted and relevant ads, meaning we are more likely to make a purchase, engage with the ad, or even both.

For a very long time, we saw commercials with celebrities trying to sell us items and make unreliable claims. As users, we may follow a particular influencer or content creator who could be talking about a Hyundai car. Hyundai could have sponsored that video, which technically makes it an ad. As a follower, I’m more likely to believe the information in that video than if it were presented to me in a television commercial with a well-known celebrity.

A New Alliance

As technology has evolved over the last 30 years, the lines between advertising and content consumption have been effectively blurred. In phase 4 of their evolution, ads have more goal alignment with UX than they have ever had before. User control on ads has increased dramatically and annoyance has reduced. There are still divergences that need to be smoothened out, but the time has come for a more unified design approach to UX & ads that can benefit marketers, users, and designers alike.

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