What does non-linear advertising mean?

The term non-linear has been cropping up in media for years.

We used to consume media in a linear fashion – we would start watching an appointment-to-view TV show and sit there until it finished, because there was ‘nothing else on’.

Likewise, we would purchase the day’s newspaper and read it over the course of the day.

The internet has disrupted this model and we now consume media in a non-linear fashion, finding what we want, when we want it (as browsers).

Non-linear advertising implies the same level of consumer choice – we are no longer beholden to advertising, we are not passive consumers, we are free to say ‘no’.

Our journeys of media consumption are complex and advertisers cannot be sure they can reach us in one place with the right message. Activity in one channel may affect other channels, and this effect can be hard to untangle.

Advertisers have to find ways to deliver advertising that consumers will actually choose. That means ads that are appealing and relevant to a customer, wherever they happen to be.

Non-linear advertising is therefore all about user-initiation, relevance and branding in the round – it’s only well-developed brand propositions that shine through in every format and in the face of increasing consumer expectations.


Examples of non-linear advertising

Given that non-linear advertising is a fairly broad term, there’s plenty we can fit into the definition. Here are a couple of examples.

Facebook ads

Facebook has neatly tied up the cross-device tracking issue, so that advertisers can target known customers on mobile, desktop, and tablet with ads that should be personal and relevant.

In theory this means ads that the user should want to click on and has already consented to receiving. In practice, of course, that’s not always the case – such is advertising.

Some would argue that native ads are still interruptive, however neatly they fit into our feed.

More generally, programmatic targeting could be said to be a form of non-linear advertising if the value exchange is evident to the customer – see O2’s ability to target customers who are due an upgrade.

iBeacons (in theory) 

Okay, iBeacons haven’t taken off yet as a means of mass marketing and advertising. But in theory, they target known app users and nudge them towards taking an action when they are in the vicinity.

Combining context and customer data means brands can design non-linear experiences.


Social video

Social media’s rise over the past 10 years has influenced video creative. Brands began to concentrate on creating short form video that is shareable online (funny, emotional etc).

Brands are now repackaging video for each different platform and consumers will often find and watch brand ads by choice.

Furthermore, social media has such market penetration that brands such as Nike can be bold enough to subvert the short-form trend, running a one-minute TV advert for its The Switch mini-feature, directing loyal/interested consumers online to discover the whole five-minute story.

New alternatives to display ads that demonstrate customer intent

This is what I chiefly wanted to write about. Monetisation solutions for publishers that want to get rid of display advertising and appease consumers who are turning to ad blockers in their droves.

Here are some examples.


There are doubtless other providers of similar products, but iadbox spoke at our recent Future of Digital Marketing conference, so I though I would flag up its solution.

An inbox is integrated into a publisher’s mobile site or app. The inbox carries content – this can be most popular content, competitions, surveys etc – some of which is monetised.

What this creates is a feature that the user wants to engage with and actively has to by tapping the inbox icon. This can then alleviate the UX burden of display advertising across the rest of the site.



Unlockd recently partnered with Tesco Mobile to enable customers to get £3 off their phone bill if they view content through the Tesco Mobile Xtras app.

The ads and offers will be geo-targeted and will be shown at certain times as consumers unlock their Android smartphones.

Matt Berriman, CEO and co-founder of Unlockd, believes Three’s alternative ad blocking plan (where mobile adverts will not count towards data allowances and will have to be relevant and safe) is a short term tactic and one that doesn’t give value to customers.

Telcos are after a slice of the mobile advertising revenues that they’ve created, but currently see little revenue from. Blocking or threatening to block ads is a topical way to get publishers and media companies to the negotiating table.

But the reality is that ad blocking does not offer the value exchange that consumers or telcos are really both seeking. Blocking ads makes a clear statement of intent, but it won’t help to have any impact on a telco’s revenues or bottom line.

Meanwhile, consumers, who have traditionally accepted ads where they perceive a clear value exchange (such as TV and radio) are clearly showing that for the mobile channel, the value exchange model isn’t quite there yet. 

This is why we’re seeing significant interest from telcos moving towards a different model – embracing ads and content and offering consumers a clear commercial value exchange.


People.io isn’t for publishers to use, but it does offer an in for advertisers who want to see customer intent.

It’s a standalone platform that allows consumers to earn credits by sharing their information and engaging with personalised content. The aim is to give consumers control over what advertising they interact with.

Credits can be exchanged for offers, subscriptions, new products or charitable donations. You can read more in our Start Me Up profile.


I hope that’s been in some way useful. If you want to read more on the future of advertising, check out the following posts: