From Unilever's chief marketing officer Keith Weed telling the industry to “Drain the Swamp!”, via the Cambridge Analytica scandal, to the rise of ad blockers, 2018 has been the year online advertising quality entered every discussion – from publishers and ad tech vendors to agencies, marketers and even consumers.
As part of a targeted response, that also includes the wider adoption of crucial viewability and brand safety tracking standards, the marketing industry is uniting behind a common effort to improve advertising quality, led by the IAB, under the banner of the Coalition for Better Ads.
Since its inception in 2016, the CBA has successfully identified the four types of desktop web ads and eight types of mobile web ads that rank lowest across a range of user experience factors and that are most highly correlated to the adoption of ad blockers, thus falling below the threshold of consumer acceptability.
Formats such as auto-playing video ads with sound, pop-ups, flashing animated ads, large sticky ads and those take up more than 30% of the screen are all considered "least preferred" among consumers.
Based on this research, the CBA is now working to certify publishers, browsers and ad tech companies that help stop these disruptive ad practices. Google has also rolled out an update to their Chrome browser that automatically blocks unsuitable ads, and has integrated tools within its widely used publisher ad stack to drive CBA standards. While the CBA has not officially launched in Asia, the global nature of the consumer internet and marketing technology means these standards are already widely impacting advertising in the region.
The new standards are great first steps. However, the CBA currently only covers desktop and mobile web. Given that consumers spend more time in-app than any other online channel - at least 50% of consumer online time is spent in-app across Asia - it’s significant that the CBA is now expanding its remit to examine and address the quality of in-app advertising.
Here at AdColony, we have joined the CBA this month to help drive these emerging in-app standards. We’re also looking forward to leveraging insights gained on in-app advertising across other online channels, and we think it's extremely important that both brands and publishers start leaning more heavily into ad formats that work - and that consumers prefer.
One big opportunity we see is around user-initiated video, in which consumers choose to watch a video ad, typically in exchange for some sort of value - access to gated content or in-app currency are two great examples.
Latest data from Millward Brown shows that user-initiated video is the most accepted ad format across all age groups, with 68% of consumers finding it to be acceptable advertising, compared to as low as 20% acceptability for other commonly used ad formats.
User-initiated video is new to many marketers raised in a web-first world, and it can be surprising to see consumers so broadly positive about the format in comparison to other online advertising. The key is the opt-in experience, with permission sought for every ad shown, meaning consumers are clear they won’t get an ad if they don’t want one. But importantly user-initiated advertising also makes explicit, in a respectful and transparent way, the value exchange inherent to all advertising - “watch this ad to get this thing you want” - and therefore gives consumers an opportunity to think, and a reason to say “yes” to ads.
Brands love user-initiated video as studies show the positive consumer experience translates to higher brand uplift than standard formats. They also enjoy 98% viewability rates tracked using providers such as IAS or Moat, and 85% and higher video completion rates. Permission based advertising works.
As marketers, we live in interesting times. Consumers have become wary of online advertising and tracking. They increasingly turn to ad blockers to create a manageable online experience, and spend large chunks of time in ecosystems with the option to pay for an ad-free experience, such as Netflix or Spotify. Fundamentally, consumers reject being traded as a commodity by the big online advertising platforms. They want control. These are seismic shifts in the landscape.
From publishers to ad tech companies, agencies and advertisers, when consumers have undesirable or negative experiences online, everyone is impacted. In 2018, it is no longer best practice, or even necessary, to treat consumers to a poor online advertising experience. From reduction in ad clutter, better ad formats, to new techniques such as user-initiated ads, the industry is evolving to meet ever smarter consumers.
The Coalition for Better Ads is about the advertising industry moving towards a respectful and transparent conversation with consumers, and that’s something all of us should welcome - both as marketers and as consumers ourselves.
Tom Simpson is the vice president of programmatic in Asia Pacific at AdColony.