Digital ads today are getting in the way and popular opinion is slowly voting them off the proverbial island.

Will the cookiepocalypse be the final straw to break the camel’s back?

In a recent podcast episode of Banking on Digital Growth, James Robert Lay answered this question from Michael:

“What's your opinion on digital ads today? Are they worthwhile or is the market too saturated now?”

Maybe ads will never go away entirely, but James Robert believes they are becoming less and less effective. It’s not a new belief, but he sees the scene changing rapidly with the newest series of announcements from Google.

Email and organic SEO: second Golden Age

Financial institutions should shift focus from digital advertising to email marketing to grow ownership of the audience.

5 Reasons Ads are Dying

James Robert has been saying it for three years now: digital ads are dying.

There are far more effective uses of your money. Here are five reasons he sees ads as existing on borrowed time.

Saturated Market

The first problem, and one that’s been an issue for quite some time, is that ads are being placed in a very saturated market. People are tired of interruptive marketing.

Cold calls aren’t working like they once did.

Billboards and magazine ads are less effective.

In the same way, digital ads are going by the wayside. People are inundated with information and unlikely to be moved by an ad that isn’t tailored to their needs or experience.

In a saturated market, brands have to work really hard to stand out and provide that value. The next four reasons James Robert gives, make competing in a saturated ad market even more complicated.

Government Changes and Regulations

Privacy and security are becoming big issues. The government has been increasing regulations in an attempt to control personal data and provide consumers with privacy.

James Robert gives the example of how the Department of Housing and Urban Development charged Facebook with housing discrimination in 2019 because of housing ads that were filtered to exclude specific groups.

Facebook, Google, Amazon—even the biggest brands have to play to the tune of the government’s fiddle.

Their profits are tied to ad revenue and their platform restrictions are going to follow suit. But, this can make it very difficult for financial institutions to target the people most likely to need their services. Often, the wide-sweeping ad restrictions put in place by major platforms, like Facebook and Google, are more controlling than the letter of the law in an attempt to protect the platform from charges or fines.

This isn’t to protect the user or brand creating the ad, but the platform.

It’s making it harder to connect with people on a genuine level because you are continually trying to work around strange rules that result in ads being denied or not targeting specific audiences.

Ad Blockers

These have been causing waves for years. Ad blockers are frequently put in place by users that are tired of feeling attacked and interrupted as they browse.

In 2019, around 25.8% of users were blocking ads on their devices.

And that number is expected to keep growing.

A growing number of internet ads has saturated the market and resulted in users feeling overwhelmed. The biggest reason cited for adblocking is making it easier to navigate by reducing banners.

Google Policy Changes

When it comes to Google ads and search, things are changing dramatically in ways that make digital ads less appealing for brands.

Google noted:

“In an effort to improve inclusivity for users disproportionately affected by societal biases; housing, employment, and credit products or services can no longer be targeted to audiences based on gender, age, parental status, marital status, or ZIP code.”

In an effort to avoid discriminatory practices and protect privacy, Google is also making it very hard for to personalize ads through targeting. Knowing the marital or parental status, for example, helps financial institutions target users most likely to need a new home loan or start a college fund.

Google is also trying to improve the user experience to keep people using its highly popular search engine. The company continually changes its search algorithm in charge of choosing rankings in an attempt to better align the resulting query matches to what users are looking for.

People don’t like how ads disrupt their navigating, often causing pages to load late.

Google recently announced that they will be penalizing sites in 2021 that are slow to load or have visual stability issues. That means that pages containing ads that slow down the page load or cause sudden layout adjustments will be dinged for SEO.


Another major change is the overall attitude of cookies used for tracking information across sites. Safari was the first search engine to stop allowing cookie storage. Google now has plans to follow suit. The death of cookies (or the Cookiepocalypse) means ads will be even less effective than ever before.

Cookies are how your brand saves information about visitors on your website. More importantly, cookies used to allow you to save information about what visitors were doing on other websites and for much longer periods of time.

Getting a feel for how users were behaving across various platforms and sites has helped banks and credit unions target visitors with more personalized ads. Without that information, ads will be back to much more generic messages.

Digital ads are dying.

There are far better methods to reach your audience that will promote your financial institution in a better light and increase conversions.

Instead: Help First, Sell Second

This is simply a continuation of ending the old, narcissistic sales model of pushing products.

Today’s users are too leery of brand-centric sales. When they feel sales pitch first, they pull back to evaluate. Banks and credit unions will get much further with today’s customers by offering a relationship before the sale (that continues after the sale). This will require a shift in approach.

  • Collaboration with users to offer better value.
  • Ownership of your audience, like building email lists.
  • Evergreen Content that offers value and lasts.

Direction Must Come From the Top

When it comes to making these major changes, dedication is needed from top stakeholders.

James Robert says, “This will only happen when a commitment from the top empowers marketing teams to create space and time to build those digital assets, those audiences, those communities that their financial brand owns.”

Change won’t happen overnight. Building up those digital assets, audiences and communities takes time. Leaders have to commit to the process because they truly believe that there is a much brighter light at the end of the tunnel as they move away from older forms of advertising.

Even though many financial institutions are outsourcing their digital advertising and marketing, they may not be able to count on their marketing teams advising this change.

Are you managing your ad accounts internally or are you sourcing them to a third party?

There is a level of risk for many small to midsize asset financial brands who are relying on third-party digital ad agencies to manage the implementation of ad strategies, because as those ad rules will continue to change.

The big question here is:

Will the digital ad agencies provide recommendations on the next best steps forward? Or are they going to just simply await the orders from their financial brand clients?

Financial institution leaders need to see this shift and make the commitment needed for change.