Publishers and advertisers faced a shock last year when Google announced a built-in ad blocker was coming to its popular Chrome browser.
The feature, developed with the Coalition for Better Ads and set to roll out on 15 February, will automatically block desktop and mobile advertising that’s considered intrusive to user experience. This includes auto-play videos with sound, full-page ads, pop-ups, ads that force you to sit through a countdown before viewing the content, and more. If even one single ad on a site doesn’t meet the new standards, all ads (yes, even those powered by Google) on the site will be blocked.
While publishers and advertisers initially feared that Google’s move would lead to a drastic reduction in the number of ad impressions available to reach their consumers, the reality is that fewer and fewer of those users were seeing their ads in the first place. PageFair reports that third-party ad-blocker use grew 30% in 2016, including a significant increase in mobile blocking.
Despite the increase in ad avoidance, however, many web consumers do understand that advertising keeps them from paying out of pocket for the content they access for free every day. PageFair’s 2017 report indicated that 77% of US ad-blocker users say they’re not opposed to all ads — just the annoying ones.
So, the problem isn’t the people blocking ads. The problem is the ads themselves. And by forcing the industry to clean up its act, Google could also very well be helping to save it.
Annoying ad formats are fast and cheap
Even before Google forced their hand, advertisers still struggled to adapt to reach consumers in an increasingly saturated — and distracted — space. To cut through the clutter advertisers have been forced to be “the loudest one in the room.”
An autoplay video ad accomplishes just that. Annoying ad formats are fast, cheap and readily available. Why spend time crafting thoughtful branded content, or a witty social strategy, when another advertiser is just going to buy a pop up ad on the same page that forces the user to close their entire browser to get it out of the way?
With the media landscape fragmented across multiple screens and platforms, the clutter can be hard to cut through. Even still, most have not reconsidered outdated strategies. There’s little point in reinventing the wheel if an autoplay ad is the much simpler, cheaper, and best-established option.
But this is no way for the industry to proceed. It’s how we got into this bad-ad problem in the first place. And now advertisers and publishers are left with no choice but to change.
For advertisers, the problem goes much deeper than just “banner blindness.” Google and the Coalition for Better Ads conducted research with 25,000 internet users to come up with the above-mentioned blacklisted ad types, and “annoyance” and “distraction” were the worst offenses. Is that really the impression a site or a brand wants to leave on a user? And is it even an impression — beyond your KPIs, those empty vanity metrics— at all?
But high-quality content publishers will win the race
Advertisers and publishers should first seek to respect users’ time and experience. Not only does it increase the likelihood that users will stick around in the first place, but it opens the doors of trust, and creates space for useful and relevant messaging outside the leaderboard box.
In recent years, publishers have learned that chasing clicks and pumping up pageviews simply isn’t sustainable. Many repositioned themselves with a focus on creating high-quality, trustworthy content with the intention of building and sustaining more engaged and loyal audiences. And now these publishers are set to reap the benefits of Google’s new initiative, as low-quality and intrusive inventory is left in the dust.
Advertisers could benefit from a similar approach, not only because of Google’s new standards, but by staking a claim in the ever-growing content space. Recent research from Zenith suggests that North American media consumption was expected to increase by 1.8% in 2017 — a feat considering that content consumption was already at an all-time high.
Admittedly, the absolute number of consumers engaged through a content campaign might appear smaller, compared to the vanity impression metrics gathered through cheap traffic tactics. However, with better access to highly engaged (and increasingly savvy) audiences that respond well to content, advertisers have an opportunity to gain new credibility and build new trust with their audiences.
The IAB suggests similar approaches to improving the digital advertising experience. They encourage advertisers to know their audience, focus on relationships instead of just transactions, and take risks, using technology and data in innovative and creative ways.
Google recommends engaging users with direct, and — needless to say — unobtrusive messaging. Keep it concise and honest and, above all, always prioritize a positive browsing experience.
If Google’s bold move forces the industry to clean up its act, it could change the online experience forever. Ad blocking could very well become unnecessary altogether. In the long run, it could have better implications than advertisers or publishers ever anticipated.
Google’s ad-block play just might be the major shakeup the digital media and online advertising ecosystem needs. The industry shouldn’t be bracing for impact, but embracing the move as a sustainable — or at the very least, an attempted — way forward.
Jerrid Grimm, Co-founder, Pressboard