Is PR the ultimate ad-blocker cheat?

The opening episode of the first series of Mad Men sees protagonist Don Draper facing a professional dilemma. How do you market cigarettes to a population that is increasing aware of their health risk? Fast forward 50 years and switch Madison Avenue for Cupertino, California and you’ll find creative directors stuck with a new conundrum. How do you communicate branded messages to an audience that have been empowered to turn them off?

Since its inception, digital media has been funded by second-party corporations rather than at the point of consumption. Other than a select few “pay-for” content providers, consumers are able to view a plethora of content at their will thanks to a market in which their data is worth more than their money. A flawed business model, people like Ethan Zuckerman have argued, and he may well be right.

Apple’s new ad blocker has caused concern in the $31.9bn mobile ad market. Advertising, the so-called “default business model on the web”, faces being wiped out by mobile users who have grown tired of disruptive marketing. Whilst some commentators have blamed the move on a long-term feud with Google, which is the largest single player in the global digital advertising business, others have shifted the blame on the outdatedness of mobile advertising.

Speaking in the Guardian, Constantine Kamaras, chairman of the board of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Europe, says: “The broader problem is, in many ways, that in some cases digital advertising has not put at the forefront the fundamental truth that the user experience is paramount.

“And no advertising that does not respect the user experience, be it in terms of content, in terms of design and creative, or in terms of device functionality is going to work. It’s bad advertising.”

The irony of Apple’s ad blocker is that it is being introduced when demand for content is at an all-time high, particularly on mobile. So for creative directors, the question is not how to skirt by the new controls, but how they can infiltrate controls with good content, which makes PR the ultimate ad-blocker cheat.

At the centre of any good PR campaign is non-disruptive, engaging content that has its audience at heart. In the same way Google’s Panda algorithm "slapped" companies that disregarded these requirements by keyword advertising, link building and content farming, Apple is also implementing controls to protect the end user.

And who can blame it? Mobile browsing is a highly personal experience, and the one thing more powerful than ”cookies” is “choice“. So no matter how much you know about a user’s browsing history, you can’t replace the effect of a consumer actively clicking and engaging with content.

PR doesn’t disrupt, and in many ways does what Apple’s ad blocker has been designed to do; place the control into the hands of the consumer. The future of communicating branded messages on mobile is in generating engaging content, and PR is already in the driving seat.

Article written by Jack Peat, head of digital at agency 72Point, and originally published on

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