Connecting with unreachable audiences
Historically, Web 2.0 has been dominated by Big Tech and data collection. But change is happening. Today, Web 2.0 is becoming more private thanks to users blocking trackers, using VPNs, and generally taking action to limit their digital fingerprint. These users are tired of having their data harvested and used in the surveillance economy, and are taking control of their data.
This presents a challenge—and an opportunity—for advertisers. By blocking invasive ads, savvy users are “unreachable” through traditional ad channels. To survive, brands and advertisers need new strategies. The old methods of reaching users just won’t cut it.
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 Web 2.0’s 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-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 their consent. Unreachable audiences in this category are typically tech-savvy. They’re also often (though not always) interested in Web3 and crypto.
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.
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 Web 2.0 money 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 will succeed with unreachable audiences in the privacy-first future.
Strategies for connecting with unreachable audiences
The best strategies to reach unreachable audiences all entail rethinking the traditional ad model to put user privacy first. New strategies should be user-centric and focus on meeting users’ privacy expectations—building brand trust and loyalty in the process. Effective strategies for reaching privacy-conscious users should include:
- Zero- and first-party data
- Native advertising
- Privacy-preserving ads
Zero- and first-party data
Zero-party data comes directly from users via surveys, quizzes, forms, and questionnaires—instead of trying to glean the same information from third-party cookies or other privacy-violating means. And because zero-party data comes from a direct dialogue between brands and users or customers, it can help to establish trust and loyalty. Many brands include zero-party data requests in their sites and apps, and even unreachable users may opt to share it because:
- The data can directly improve their experience
- They like that brands are demonstrating honesty and transparency by asking
First-party data comes from direct interactions with a company’s own sites or apps. It includes things like time spent on page, clicks, device and browser info, and more—data that’s often gathered via cookies on a webpage. First-party data can be collected in a privacy-preserving way (though isn’t always). In many jurisdictions, sites are legally required to ask for user permission before using any sort of cookies that aren’t “strictly necessary” (thanks to legislation like Europe’s GDPR and California’s CCPA). These requests for permission come in the form of a “cookie consent form”—usually a pop-up when visiting a site.
While first-party data is better from a privacy perspective than third-party data, many members of unreachable audiences will still reject non-essential cookies regardless of if they’re first- or third-party. The Brave browser, for example, blocks everything other than “strictly necessary” cookies (that are necessary for a site to function), and the consent forms required to use non-essential ones. With the consent form blocked, it’s impossible for users to opt in to receiving more cookies than necessary. But if users do consent, then this type of data can be useful to brands.
People are increasingly using ad blockers, private search engines, and privacy browsers to block ads altogether. Brave, for example, blocks third-party ads by default on every page users visit. That’s search ads, on-page ads, even pre-roll video ads on sites like YouTube. There is, however, an opportunity for brands to leverage native advertising strategies that aren’t affected by traditional ad blockers.
Native advertising, or “sponsored content,” is integrated directly into a site, and doesn’t function like a normal ad unit. This type of content doesn’t rely on clickable images chock full of trackers and scripts to follow users across the Web. Instead, sponsored content is usually designed to be nearly indistinguishable from a site’s regular content. It’s intended to provide real value to audiences…and, of course, to inject a bit of marketing. Examples of native advertising include things like read-aloud ads in podcasts or videos, or sponsored articles. And instead of being delivered intrusively with a popup, native advertising is integrated directly into the content itself.
This native advertising is common to news and marketing sites, and is generally considered less intrusive to users than traditional ads because it’s not just about driving sales. And while sponsored content is highly integrated with a site, users often still need to choose to interact, which incentivizes advertisers to supply a real value-add. Brands that publish sponsored content also benefit from the trust users already have in the hosting site. If a popular news outlet publishes sponsored content, for example, audiences might be more likely to read it because they trust the news site.
Ads that preserve privacy are served anonymously to users who consent to view them. Brave Ads, for example, enable brands to carry out ad campaigns that reach otherwise unreachable audiences in a privacy-preserving way. It’s the world’s first privacy-preserving ad platform that puts users in control of their data. Through the Brave browser, users can choose which types of ads they want to see, if any. If they do opt in, they’re integrated into the digital ad economy and earn rewards for viewing ads.
Users who opt in to receive Brave Ads are the same people who are unreachable via traditional ad channels. They’re privacy seekers who use the Brave browser to block ads. They’re cord-cutters—80% don’t pay for cable or satellite TV. And they’re disconnectors—only 20% use Snapchat, TikTok, or Pinterest.
Instead of collecting data without user consent, Brave lets users choose if they want to receive ads, and rewards them for their participation. It’s honest, opt-in advertising without the trackers, cookies, and other creepy stuff that follows you across the Web. Brave’s ad units vary from full-page images that appear on new tabs in the browser, native ads in the Brave News feed, push notifications, and keyword-based search ads in Brave’s independent search engine, Brave Search.
Brave Ads are downloaded directly to the browser, and matched locally and anonymously with users who opt in to view them. No personal data makes it back to Brave’s servers (or even leaves the user’s device). From there, Brave is able to assess how much rewards to send to each user, but not which ads they’ve seen. The reporting that Brave Ads generate for advertisers is aggregate, and collected via privacy-respecting surveys that measure brand lift. Brands that advertise with Brave enjoy boosted perception among unreachable audiences for making the effort to advertise in a privacy-respecting way. It’s a win-win ad model geared for the privacy-first future.
Note: Brave Ads aren’t replacements for the on-page, third-party ads that Brave blocks. Instead, they’re small, unobtrusive ad units woven seamlessly into the browser itself.
Preparing for Web3: how the shift towards data sovereignty affects brands
The growing population of unreachable audiences isn’t all about Web3, but the two are closely related. Most of the world still runs on Web 2.0, and users are increasingly taking steps to control their data and protect their privacy in Web 2.0 platforms and software. But the world of Web3 has data sovereignty built in. And an “earning” component—people expect to be compensated for their attention and data. This evolution of the Web is shifting the expectations that users have of brands. People don’t just want to be “users,” they want to join communities that enable them to be active participants. With more users and customers opting for more data control and privacy, brands will find it harder and harder to advertise to this ever-growing population of unreachable users.
Brands that work with users during this shift (rather than against them) will boost brand awareness, trust, and loyalty. And this trust will support increased ad engagement, and open the door to unreachable audiences. Visit https://brave.com/brave-ads/ to get started with Brave Ads and build out your ad strategy for the privacy-first future.
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