Advertising to the Ad Block Geeks

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A panel at Millennial 20/20 discussed how brands are reaching geeks, even as geeks are writing ad blocking scripts.

Geeks and nerds used to occupy a highly marginalized social segment. They were so other, and so persecuted, that Hollywood used to love imagining a world where nerds got their revenge.

These people run the world now.

So, it's not surprising that, even at the Millennial 20/20 Summit, a conference devoted entirely to reaching today's empowered young consumers, geeks and nerds had whole panels pondering their position in modern marketing.

One panel, titled “The Rise of the Millennial Geek,” explored the ways marketers can and are reaching this audience segment; a segment notorious for their disdain for ads.

“[Geeks'] use of ad blockers is absolutely through the roof. They're not even just dodging your ads all over the internet. They're actually writing scripts to block more ads. They don't want to see your stuff.” Laurel Hodge, director of creative strategy at Imgur, said on stage. “We call these people the lost boys.”

These consumers need not remain lost. Marketers can reach them. While the bulk of the panel detailed ways marketers engage with geeks on Imgur, the strategies behind those campaigns was the real takeaway.

In order to break through and reach the powerful geek audience, marketers need to understand what a geek is today, and why they are so influential. In Hodge's words, geeks are hard to reach cultural trendsetters who learn about things before most, influence others, and are very difficult to reach. When they are reached, however, they have a very high standard for ads, and no compunction about punishing brands that fall short of those standards.

“Geeks expect the advertising to be just as good as the organic content that is on the website,” Hodge said. “It has to be entertainment as advertising content. Something that really relates to the generation, as opposed to just telling them information,” said Jillian Kramer, VP of research at YPulse, who was also on the panel.

Crucially, brands must remember that geeks are huge supporters of, and participants in, online communities like forums and message boards. They think more of brands that participate in these communities. Hodge said that geeks are more likely to be in online communities rather than Facebook and Twitter, and even rely on these communities more than their friends.

The good news is that these types of consumers don't mind brands participating in their communities. They celebrate it, even. As long as brands are authentically participating.

“You have to be talking to them on each platform as if you were a part of it everyday,” Kramer said. But she urged brands to not treat each platform or community the same way. “What makes sense on Imgur might not make sense on other platforms.”

The panel encouraged brands to explore sponsorships, however. According to YPulse data, 60% of geeks see sponsored content as the next generation of advertising, and are more receptive toward sponsorships and the like. “They really actually celebrate [sponsorships] because it makes more sense to them. These are influencers that they see in their everyday life, and are interacting with in their online communities,” Kramer said.

The panel did not do a deep dive on the best practices for engaging this consumer segment. It couldn't hope to, really. There is little in the way of convention regarding geeks and nerds, so taking a formulaic approach to engaging with them isn't only ineffective, it could end up barring brands from the conversation entirely.

For these types of consumers — and the panel was sure to address this — marketers need to be integrated in their midst. That means marketers need a solid strategy.

“It means thinking about marketing in a new context, because, believe it or not, 60% of millennials at this conference are geeks… We have to think about how to include them,” Kramer said.  “Recognize that they are the ones posting reviews online, and that they have these passion points, and find relevance to their passions. Whether or not it's streaming services, those movies that they're really interested in, or the extracurriculars that aren't really being recognized in the mainstream.”

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