Your advertising is invisible to a substantial segment of your audience. Intuitively, you know they’re tuning out, but you need more than intuition to re-establish connections. The solution for reaching an audience that ignores or pays little attention to your advertising is really twofold. First, you need to gain a better understanding of your audience; and second, you must use technology that can determine how best to reach them – where and when they’re most open to your message.


A 2007 study published by Microsoft in conjunction with MillwardBrown-Greenfield revealed a number of important insights that may shed some light on the way your audience receives – or, more accurately, doesn’t receive – your message. The survey found that 17-to-35-year-olds represented the most advertising-averse group of consumers. Although this age-group has always been among the most difficult to reach, the survey revealed some interesting insights into the perspective of the segment Microsoft refers to as the "ad-averse":

  • Eleven percent of them agree with the statement, "I generally do what I can to avoid advertising."
  • Thirty-three percent of them agree with the statement, "I never really pay attention to advertising."
  • Twenty-seven percent of them agree with the statement, "Advertising is not relevant to me."


Participants in the Ad-Averse survey tended to be very active, filling their time with socializing, shopping, music, outdoor pursuits and other personal passions rather than spending time online. Members of this group are likely to be averse to advertising because they tend to be more discriminating about how they spend their free time. Ad-adverse consumers define themselves by what they do outside of work or school, maintaining a large network of friends and "experts" to help them navigate their worlds. Generally, members of this group trust their own opinions first and foremost, and pay less attention to generic "buzz" or hype amongst their peers.


In today’s media-driven world, people can choose among hundreds of platforms and content sources. Ad-averse targets tend toward technology-driven choices. When asked whether they’d rather give up their computer or television in their individual free time, respondents almost always chose to give up their televisions and keep their computers.

The portability afforded by laptops and wireless connectivity embeds the online experience much more squarely in the leisure context. Of the ad-averse 17-to-35-year-olds surveyed, 12 percent watch less than one hour of TV a week compared to 3 percent of non-avoiders. This may be due to the subjects’ age, since younger respondents are generally more technology-savvy and active. In general, the ad-averse preferred the control their computer experience provided to the more passive television experience. And they were even less likely to employ ad-avoiding measures such as TiVo, believing that "time shifting" might just encourage them to watch more television.

Similarly, ad-averse TV watchers appear to make that medium occupy more of the companionship territory that radio once dominated – either as a purely visual (muted) or audio backdrop to other activities. These respondents "tune" in and out if a particular news item or segment catches their attention. Increasing levels of multitasking may also make commercial breaks more welcome among this group, since it gives them time to be productive and get other things done.

There appeared to be some concern among ad-averse respondents that both TV and the Internet are "stealing away" their time. Many use unplugged or more self-managed activities – such as reading books, doing crosswords or playing board games, Sudoku or guitar – to help them unwind in a more conscious way.

Music is also a big part of the lives of the ad-averse. Research participants were creative about crafting their own personal music experiences via downloading, compiling personal mixes and sharing with friends. Respondents relied on radio largely when commuting or traveling, but they frequently switched channels and mixed in their own music. There was also a sense that of all media advertising, radio advertising in particular had "gotten out of control." Significantly, more of the ad-averse (24.7 percent) listen to less than an hour of radio per week than those who were not among the ad-averse (14.6 percent).

The time and depth of magazine interaction are limited, but the content is more freely browsed for potential inspiration than other media. The participants in the study noted that the higher level of creativity and quality attributed to magazine advertising sometimes makes it impossible to distinguish from editorial content. Magazines were also recognized as a means to keep ahead in terms of events, fashion and music, despite the less immediate nature of the content when compared to online or daily press. Although in practice almost 84 percent of the ad-averse were able to spare less than two hours a week for magazines, there was less differentiation in this area with the non-ad-averse (74 percent), suggesting that it’s less about the advertising and more about the scarcity of these more open-ended occasions.


The wide array of media choices available today enables ad-averse consumers to select and consume content from several channels in order to meet their particular needs for a given situation or point in time. They know what they’re looking for, what they can expect and exactly where and how to get it. The more discriminating and controlled ways in which they adapt media content to their lifestyles and needs influence the way they assess brands and advertising.


The ad-averse group defined advertising in a variety of ways – from being useful and "creative" sources of information about "what is new" to being an "interruption" and (inevitably) a more Machiavellian "ploy" or way to "lure" people into buying something they don’t need, or to influence their behavior (and "always with a catch").

There may be little new in these particular attitudes; however, further differentiation is apparent based on specific motivations and attitudes underpinning the group’s resistance to advertising and brand messages. The study revealed two types of ad-adverse consumers, the "can’t be bothered" group and those with a "be good or be gone" mentality.

Can’t Be Bothered

Having no interest in advertising (and thus a less dynamic relationship with brands and communications), the "can’t be bothered" group avoids or dismisses advertising. It is therefore harder to get this group’s attention or to provoke their excitement unless talking about one of their interests or passions. More likely to be female and/or have children, these people exhibit limited interest in paying attention to advertising – they just want it to "go away." They are wary of being "influenced" and are less focused on the process of shopping, though they will spend money on quality items connected with their passions – for example, road bikes, hiking equipment or musical instruments.

Be Good or Be Gone

At the other end of the aversion scale were respondents who more actively filter and adapt media to suit their needs and interests. Often these were the younger males who were more engaged across various entertainment platforms and technologies, and excelled at working these to their advantage. Although they didn’t consider themselves "consumers," they were interested in new products and services and placed emphasis on finding deals. This latter group used ad-avoiding technologies like TiVo/DVRs, pop-up blockers and satellite radio, and actually spent money to avoid advertising. These measures reflect a higher motivation toward content and therefore less tolerance for interruptions. Hence, it also means a more extreme and activist approach to advertising. These respondents were, however, open to relevant or creative messages but vitriolic in their response to "bad" advertising.

Given these profiles, it’s clear that connecting with the ad-averse is tricky. But there a number of steps you can take as an advertiser that will help you achieve greater success engaging these audience members.

If you believe the audience you’re trying to reach includes the ad-averse, a healthy first step is accepting that no matter what you do, you’ll only connect with some of them some of the time. It’s also clear that just as the ad-averse are spending less time watching television, listening to the radio and reading print publications, they’re spending more time communicating, learning and being entertained through a variety of digital media. This means that you can still reach them by understanding how they like to spend their time and which of the various media they consume – even if their media choices are varied and only utilized to a small degree.


With this information in hand, you can target your ad-averse audience across their favorite digital media. The number of channels and opportunities is staggering, but if you find that your audience consumes a fair amount of specific digital media, you’re well positioned to reach them. If they visit websites, play video games, use mobile devices, belong to online communities or watch on-demand video programs, you can put just the right message in front of them. And, obviously, you can improve your audience’s receptiveness to that message by carefully tying the message to particular activities they’re involved in or to the medium they’re using.

The ad-averse are a dynamic bunch – which means your advertising needs to be dynamic as well. The "be good or be gone" group is likely to give you the opportunity to entertain, impress and engage them. But to win them over, your ads have to be relevant, creative and captivating. Rich media technologies like Java and Flash (if used to their full potential) are well suited for engaging this audience.

In the past, advertisers found it hard to justify using a broader spectrum of media and more compelling creative formats because they couldn’t measure their effectiveness. The standard model for calculating the return on investments in digital media has historically calculated ROI in a way that didn’t figure in the benefits of dynamic, interactive formats or cross-channel media plans. But these barriers are coming down, and the changes represent a significant opportunity for advertisers.

Today, a new measurement standard is emerging that finally enables advertisers to evaluate each engagement across multiple digital media and through multiple formats such as rich media and video. Called Engagement Mapping, the model enables marketers to learn how consumers interact with advertising wherever, whenever they engage. By evaluating the impact of each touch point, marketers can hone their message delivery tactics and enjoy greater success in reaching audiences that are otherwise more difficult to connect with.


In light of these significant audience ad-aversion attitudes and behaviors, it’s more important than ever for advertisers to understand their audiences. How do they spend their time? Which channels can be used in what combination to best reach them (since they’re spending less and less time with any single medium)? And will they give you a chance if your ads are more creative and engaging? To help answer these questions, you can get the complete Microsoft study on the attitudes and habits of the ad-averse at

The steps you can take today to get the attention of the ad-averse include the following:

1. Investigate the adoption of new media channels for your messages. As you incorporate richer ad formats and additional media channels, take care to accurately calculate your ROI. The extra efforts you make to connect with the ad-averse will likely make a difference, but the precision of your reporting will play a key role in identifying the more specific areas in which you’re making progress. 2. Adopt ad-serving technology that can help you make sense of multiple channels. When you broaden your spectrum of options through a single ad-serving platform, you consolidate your digital advertising efforts. This important step will help you plan and execute campaigns with greater simplicity even as your campaigns grow more complex. And by utilizing a single ad platform, your success can be measured across the spectrum of digital channels. 3. Make sure your measurement tools enable you to evaluate the impact of every touch point across your broad mix of digital channels and formats.

You can connect with the ad-averse – but you may have to rethink your media plan first. If your audience has moved on to new channels, so too should you. Your message should only show up if, when and where it’s something your newly understood audience cares about. To catch their attention, you may also need to rethink your creative, and design engaging, rich-media and video ads that make them want to take a look – without feeling tricked or suspicious.

-Microsoft Advertising Research Group Starcom MediaVest Group