Is Autoplay Block the New Ad Block? Disruptive Digital Marketing Strikes Again

Ever been blasted by an annoying autoplay video on a website? You’re not alone in your frustration.

Incensed by disruptive, annoying digital marketing techniques, users are fighting back. Ad blockers were the first step. Now, new browser options will allow people to block autoplay video content, too.

That’s good news for users who are sick of annoying, disruptive ads. But for brands that rely on disruptive techniques (and for publishers who rely on autoplay ad revenue), the rise of autoplay block will be a tough pill to swallow.

So why do digital marketers insist on annoying potential customers with autoplay video content, and is there an alternative?

A History of Annoyance

Marketers have long sought ways to break through the digital clutter. Pop-up ads used to seriously cramp our web-surfing style by forcing us to divert our browsing pattern—at least until browsers offered the option to block them entirely. Display ads disrupted our ability to absorb content, until ad blockers came into vogue. These days, nearly 20 percent of US users deploy an ad blocker, according to Business Insider, a figure that’s cutting off one marketing pathway to customers as well as throttling publisher revenue.

Autoplay video has all the hallmarks of its disruptive predecessors. It’s annoying, distracting, and irritating. And, unfortunately for users, it’s everywhere.

Autoplay video wasn’t always the video marketing norm, however. Facebook, ever the trendsetter, started autoplaying videos in users’ news feeds back in 2013 and normalized the practice. Other sites followed suit. “Since Facebook made autoplay video acceptable again, publishers have jumped on the bandwagon. It’s widespread,” said Eric Franchi, a digital media and marketing angel investor and co-founder of the ad-tech firm Undertone, in Adweek.

Unlike our visceral reaction to, say, an annoying pop-up ad, the use of autoplay on Facebook didn’t receive widespread derision. Perhaps that’s because on Facebook, content we want to see—video from friends, family, or publishers we follow—is intermixed with video content we didn’t ask to see, like sponsored posts.

It’s also possible that autoplay video content piques our interest in a unique psychological way. Humans are curious by nature, and showing us a split second of autoplay video as we wander through our news feed is often enough to hijack our thought process and distract us from whatever we were originally thinking or doing, tempting us to watch longer and capture a new nugget of information.

Now, Facebook has taken things a step further by making autoplay videos play with sound by default. If videos without sound captured our attention, imagine how effectively distracting videos with sound will be.

Autoplay Revolt?

Of course, not everyone is happy with the autoplay video revolution. When you’re reading a news article and suddenly a video blasts sound from a player buried in a sidebar, it’s infuriating. I’ve even had problems figuring out where the sound is coming from on a website, particularly if I have multiple tabs open.

Survey data show plenty of people share my frustration. Nearly 80 percent of users report reacting negatively to autoplay ads, according to a Hubspot survey.

autoplay perceptions digital marketing Hubspot report

What’s more, four out of five consumers report that they’ve closed a browser or left a website because of an autoplay ad or a pop-up—defeating the purpose of the ad entirely.

Hubspot autoplay closed page

As a result, the tech giants are swooping in. Apple offers an autoplay block feature on its latest Safari browser. According to TechCrunch, the option allows users to keep autoplay videos paused until you elect to unpause them.

Google has made changes to its browser, Chrome, to similarly block annoying ads. The latest version will only allow autoplay videos if the user has shown interest in the clip by clicking or tapping somewhere on the site during the browsing session, according to The Verge. “This will allow autoplay to occur when users want media to play, and respect users’ wishes when they don’t,” the company said in a statement.

Like ad blockers, the trend toward autoplay could leave disruptive-ad-dependent brands reeling.

A Better Alternative

Autoplay video is reviled by users, forcing many of them to leave a website rather than play the ad. Other users may listen to just a second or two of the video before browsing elsewhere, crippling that video’s effectiveness. And now, browser changes will make it easy for users to opt out of disruptive autoplay ads.

It’s clear marketers need to reduce—even eliminate—their reliance on disruptive video marketing. To get people’s attention, marketers don’t have to annoy or abuse. They just need to offer the type of content consumers want in the format they want it in.

Native advertising—which refers to sponsored or branded content that looks and feels like the content around it—offers one alternative. Less disruptive and more effective, native advertising has major plusses for marketers looking for new ways to reach their target audience. Using thought leaders and influencers to expand your content reach is another viable option.

Generally speaking, focusing on delivering great content in an appealing way should be the goal. Digital marketing isn’t about wrenching eyeballs away with the most annoying ad possible. Content marketing and native advertising offer more effective alternatives.

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Featured image attribution: Sticker Mule

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