Google has attracted a steady stream of criticism since last Thursday’s launch of its new Chrome-based adblocker: from media commentators, consumer groups and consumers themselves. Some rough analysis of that criticism can be narrowed down to two major themes, in the eyes of many commentators. Let’s look at those accusations and judge whether they actually stand up.
It’s just not adblocking
Firstly, the purists are upset that instead of blocking all ads the new service merely filters those that Google and its partners in the Coalition for Better Ads (CBA) – a group of the largest publishers, agency networks, advertisers and platforms – deem to be bad or intrusive.
It is true that a data monetisation business like Google is never going to actively promote ways for you to turn off their revenue stream. But to be fair to the CBA, the major consumer-reported issue with ads is intrusiveness and slowing of loading speeds, which should be helped with filtering in place.
The fox is in charge of the henhouse
The other most prevalent criticism is that Google and its partners are deciding what constitutes a bad advertising experience. And that means waving through formats that remain core to their business, but may still annoy the end user.
Admittedly, some obvious candidates for annoying ad formats, like the dreaded video pre-roll, have escaped the attention of the CBA. But in the main, the most annoying and intrusive formats do seem to have been catered for.
The fact that it’s so easy to debunk the two central arguments against the efforts of the CBA and Google tells you the real issue is of distrust and probably a deep dislike of not just the platforms but of advertising itself. The problem the CBA, and probably all of us in the industry, need to solve is not just one of formats and intrusiveness but of reminding people why it might be a good thing advertising exists in the first place.
Here are three positive messages we could use to regain some trust:
Make good advertising
You can call it ‘content’, but the latest Nike film is most definitely an ad, and its being talked about far outside its target audience. It proves that no matter how much the output of our industry is questioned and sometimes vilified, it has the power to enter culture, spark discussion and who knows – make a difference.
Create more transparency
Whilst the world of media murkiness is getting some long-needed disruption – witness the rise of blockchain media agency Truth and the trials announced between Unilever and IBM using blockchain for similar ends – no-one has yet to create similar disruption on the consumer-side of the equation. There is some movement in the start-up space to give consumers awareness of the data collected from them and reward them for that, but it needs a Google or a CBA-wide initiative to give this traction.
Point out that advertising helps create plurality
It isn’t too much of a stretch so say that the open web is under threat – from closed social platforms to stand-alone apps and closed messaging environments. The general cleaning up the major publisher platforms undertaken as part of the Google initiative will help, but we need to remind consumers that if they don’t want to pay for news and they don’t want the social networks to control the flow of it; advertising is necessary.
Despite the criticism, I believe the Google and CBA approach has some merit. And while not a complete solution, it is at least a step forward for those who care about advertising as a creative medium.
Lawrence Weber is managing partner for Karmarama and director of Innovation Social