The ‘Ads Affair’: quiz marketing and the evolution of online advertising

The ‘Ads Affair’: quiz marketing and the evolution of online advertising

From Mad Men execs to beautiful billboards, advertising has come a long way. Online advertising is dominant in the digital age, and it’s gotten a lot sneakier. Obnoxious pop-ups with flashing lights have evolved into ultra-subtle messages and trackers, cleverly buried within social media feeds and beside blog entries.

With the recent privacy changes by Apple and Google, running successful online ads has become extremely difficult. Your online advertising strategy needs to continuously evolve, as consumers are now much more aware of advertising tracking and data protection issues.

Let’s take a look at how the digital advertising sector has adjusted and changed in the face of public scrutiny.

The start of online advertising

When HotWired began selling banner ad space on its website in 1994, it was the first digital ad on the internet. AT&T took advantage of the potential for brand exposure, paying $30,000 for a three-month ad that received a 44% click-through rate. That’s 73,300% better than the tiny current average click-through rate of 0.06%.

This annoying banner may be seen in all of its blinking animated GIF glitz below:

the first online banner ad

Now skip ahead to the present day; the annual online advertising market is valued at $325 billion. One of the main reasons for the rapid growth of digital ads was that firms discovered early on that this marketing channel could be easily tailored to ever-more targeted user groups.  

As the online advertising industry scaled, sophisticated data tools were created to programmatically analyze and optimize ad campaigns.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and a growing number of remote workers, internet marketing is evolving away from ‘shouting’ at potential customers (with ever-more ‘in your face’ ads) towards encouraging voluntary engagement with compelling native content.

Brands are shifting from a shouting at approach to an opt-in model

Both parties benefit from this relationship: businesses gain vital data, and customers get value from online quiz results, white papers, or product recommendations. This form of open, direct value exchange is the only way to sustain long-term marketing operations, especially as consumer distrust of digital ads has grown.

Online marketing: from desktop to the rise of mobile

From 2006 or so, the rise of social media and Mobile Advertiser IDs (MAID) meant companies could track smartphone users across devices and browsers.

mobile ads on the rise

Facebook broke new ground, experimenting with how to deliver ads to people. Instead of bombarding users with more and more ads, it decided to show fewer, less obtrusive (and more integrated) ads that slotted seamlessly into users’ news feeds, making them appear to be a natural part of a user’s social following.

YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram all jumped on the bandwagon, developing their own online marketing platforms.

hubspot statistic on cross device tracking

Surprisingly, 91% of respondents in a recent survey felt that online advertising is now more invasive than it was two or three years ago.

Marketers can extend the concept of user-first marketing in new and creative ways in the future, such as contests, webinars, and other genuinely natural interactions.

worries about data privacy are growing

Worries about data privacy are growing

Governments and consumers are putting pressure on brands, advertisers, and social media networks.

On the government side, the EU’s GDPR was just the beginning of a slew of new privacy laws, including California’s CCPA, Canada’s PIPEDA, and others.

world data map

Consumers are likewise getting more concerned about their privacy. This is illustrated by the rapid proliferation of ad blockers (now up to 42.7% of internet users worldwide) and privacy-focused browsers like Duck Duck Go and Brave.

A tidal shift in online advertising has already started — and the pace of change is only going to accelerate:

  • Social media darling TikTok gives their users the ability to block personal information being used to target ads with their ‘personalized ads’ feature.
  • Instagram has followed suit, letting their community opt out of being shown targeted advertisements.
  • Apple sent shock waves through the industry with their 14.5 iOS update — instead of an ‘opt-out’ model, Apple requires to use ‘opt-in’ tracking. To date, 94% of US iOS users are no longer being tracked.
  • Google is also getting on the bandwagon, blocking the device ID of users who opt-out of tracking.

Crazy, right? What’s an online marketer to do?

In these new times, brands will need to shift to a fully transparent model — a user-led, opt-in system where consumers specifically choose to give their data.

It’s not only more ethical, opt-in marketing is also more effective.

The key to ethical advertising: get voluntary consent

Turning to native ‘opt-in’ content such as online quizzes and interactive content is a smart choice in this environment. These voluntary experiences let marketers get deeper, more insightful data about user preferences than tracking clicks and IP addresses.

‘Opt-in’ marketing: a rosy quiz-powered future

It’s clear that online advertising is shifting from a ‘shout at’ or ‘sneakily track’ model to one where consumers are in control.

But brands still need to collect and gather data insights about potential customers. Tracking won’t go away — it will become more transparent and consumer-led.

Interactive content such as online quizzes has become increasingly popular. They’re easy to create and highly effective, with 35-45% opt-in rates. And with modern quiz makers, there is no need for costly coders or agencies. Any marketer can quickly create their own content.

Research has shown that 82 percent of consumers will actively participate in quizzes they found in their newsfeed. 

That’s a powerful reason for brands to turn to quiz-powered marketing funnels.

Why are online quizzes so effective?

Quizzes catch potential customers’ attention — they’re ‘quick hit’ interactivity that turns passive browsers into actively engaged users:

  • Putting their knowledge to the test (“Can you spot the diet myths from the diet facts?”)
  • Receiving product recommendations tailored to their needs (“What electric bicycle should you buy?”)
  • Getting an analysis or diagnosis (“What’s holding you back from your goals?”)

This question-and-answer dialogue is a more natural user experience and is far less disruptive than annoying ads or sneaky trackers. 

conversation irl

Quiz marketing funnels benefit both brands and customers

Leveraging online quizzes is a good example of how everyone wins with native advertising and interactive content. Interested people choose to engage with the content, and choose yet again if they want to provide their data. 

At the end of the experience, they get something in return — it could be quiz results, a custom .pdf report, or a special targeted offer.

In return, brands benefit from a deeper, higher-quality pool of data from genuinely engaged potential customers. This ethically sourced information can be used for powering their follow-up drip email campaigns, special offers, and more.

Compare this sort of rich, qualitative information with the purely quantitative data (IP addresses, web search history, basic demographics) that are collected by the cookies and trackers in traditional online advertising.

Check out the infographic below to see how a quiz-centered marketing funnel works, from engaging the user to collecting data and powering follow-up drip email campaigns.

How does a quiz marketing funnel work?

Freely-given personal data is a powerful alternative to an online advertising sector reeling from privacy regulations and increased customer skepticism. 

The inimitable Don Draper of Mad Men said it best about dealing with change, “Make it simple, but significant.”

Mad Man quote

Companies will need to do the same, boldly shifting from collecting data from an unwilling public to embrace consumer-driven “opt-in” marketing. 

In the coming years, expect smart brands to increasingly leverage native content with built-in data collection — like online quizzes, calculators, surveys, and more.


Guest post by Boris Pfeiffer, Founder and CEO of Riddle