How Internet users are demanding privacy and becoming unreachable

Every day, more and more Internet users are taking steps to protect their privacy, using ad blockers to block third-party ads and trackers, using VPNs to protect themselves from data collection, and generally taking action to limit their digital fingerprint. These users are tired of being tracked, having their data harvested, and being pawns in the surveillance economy…and they’re fighting back by taking control of their data.

But by blocking invasive ads, these savvy users are becoming “unreachable” through traditional advertising channels. This presents a challenge—and an opportunity—for advertisers. Because these users aren’t really unreachable—they’re just reachable on different channels. And ad platforms like Brave Ads.

Defining “unreachable” audiences in online advertising

In online advertising, an “unreachable” person is one who actively takes steps to protect their data and privacy online, and thus isn’t easily targeted by traditional ad channels. Some of them are seeking privacy, some just happen to use more modern platforms with less surface area for ads, and some are simply trying to cut down on their screen time. Whatever their motivations, unreachable audiences are generally unavailable via traditional brand and advertising channels.

Privacy-seekers

Privacy-conscious users are becoming unreachable by using tools like ad blockers, VPNs, private search engines, and privacy browsers like Brave. They don’t want to be tracked by Big Tech or targeted by advertisers without giving consent. Unreachable audiences in this category are typically tech-savvy. They’re also often (though not always) interested in Web3 and crypto—technologies that give users more control online.

Cord-cutters

Being unreachable can also include leaving certain platforms that don’t respect user privacy (like Facebook), and “cutting the cord” by ditching paid cable or satellite TV. One in three young households (with a head of household under the age of 35) has no cable or satellite TV, but 73% of them pay for streaming services like Netflix or Hulu. There are also “cord-nevers”—people who have never before paid for cable or satellite. In 2022, cord-nevers made up 10% of the Internet-using population (up from 8% in 2019). This trend is largely being led by Gen Z, which made up 8% of US cord-nevers in 2019, and 22% in 2022.

Conscious disconnectors

Aside from avoiding brands and platforms that don’t take privacy seriously, many people simply want to unplug. Data shows that, on average, most people interact with apps 88 times a day for a total of five hours. Many people feel the negative impact of this type of “app addiction” and are taking steps to reduce wasted time and disconnect from their devices. A 2019 survey indicated that over 14 months, 64% of tracked participants actually reduced their screen time from an average of five to four hours per day.

Add it up, and unreachable audiences are a big threat to the traditional online ad model. They have huge sway (Millennials in the US have more than $1 trillion in buying power alone), and they’re conscious about where they spend their time, money and—most importantly—their digital attention.

How to reach the unreachable: the importance of privacy

In reality, the term “unreachable” isn’t completely accurate. These people want to be in control of their data, and want brands to respect their privacy on the Web, but they’re still consumers who make online purchases. They just want to do so on their own terms.

Ironically, most of the research you’ll see about unreachable audiences comes from panicked marketers trying to come up with more tracking tools and cross-platform standards so they can still target users with ads. Many advertisers and Big Tech companies are fighting the shift toward a privacy-first Internet instead of embracing it. Or they’re introducing new features and tracking techniques that are branded as “private,” but in reality are anything but. (With the shift away from third-party cookies, for example, ad tech companies are turning to browser- and device-level fingerprinting instead.)

Tech-savvy users who want privacy, however, aren’t falling for these tactics. They’re staying one step ahead with their use of privacy tools.

The best way to reach the unreachable is to engage on their terms. Respect their privacy. Ask for consent when using cookies or trying to gather personal data. Take advantage of zero- and first-party data. Be clear about the information you’d like to collect and what you’ll do with it. And anonymize the data you do collect.

Brands that show a genuine commitment to privacy are the ones that will succeed with unreachable audiences in the privacy-first future. The old methods of reaching users just won’t cut it anymore. To survive this shift, brands and advertisers will need new strategies to keep up with these unreachable audiences. Learn more about these strategies, or try your first campaign with Brave Ads.

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