What’s On

Ad filtering on browsers: A wake-up call for the industry

Digital’s dawn is finally here as it is all set to overtake television in global share of ad spend in 2018, according to various industry forecasts. However, while digital has been growing, this year has also seen the conversation for digital move towards demands for more accountability and transparency in the medium from brand owners. Brand safety and measurement issues with media owner came to forefront earlier in the year as some brands found their ads on YouTube next to extremist content and causing them to pull out of Google altogether.

Following these developments and aiming to improve the standards of advertising, Coalition for Better Ads, an industry body, released the Better Ads Standards in March 2017, for desktop and mobile web that reflect consumer advertising preferences. The initial Better Ads Standards are based on comprehensive research in which consumers comparatively ranked different ad experiences presented to them while they read online articles. More than 25,000 consumers rated 104 ad experiences for desktop web and mobile web.

Speaking to Digital Market Asia, Stephan Loerke, CEO of World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), said, “We are alarmed by the level of customer frustration with online advertising. In the longer term, this is putting at risk the quality of advertising’s reach to consumers and the effectiveness of the medium.”

The war on bad ads
The Coalition’s research results defined initial Better Ads Standards that identify the ad experiences that fall beneath a threshold of consumer acceptability. What defines ‘bad ads’? Namely ads that interrupt, distract or clutter, according to the Coalition.

In June 2017, Google announced that it has joined the Coalition for Better Ads and that the new updates for its browser Chrome will filter out any ads which do not follow these Standards. This essentially means that Google, which is the largest media giant globally, will not allow ‘bad ads’ to load by 2018.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, Senior VP, Ads and Commerce, Google explained in an official blog post, “Chrome has always focused on giving you the best possible experience browsing the web. For example, it prevents pop-ups in new tabs based on the fact that they are annoying. In dialogue with the Coalition and other industry groups, we plan to have Chrome stop showing ads (including those owned or served by Google) on websites that are not compliant with the Better Ads Standards starting in early 2018.”

Apple also announced at its WWDC conference in June that it will not allow sites to track people’s online browsing and ads to follow them across sites. It will also disable the autoplay mode in video ads. Craig Federighi, SVP of Software Engineering, Apple said at the event, “This is not about blocking ads. The web behaves as it always did. But your privacy is protected.”

Mozilla also followed suit for its Forefox Focus browser and recently announced that it would also prevent third party tracking elements that affect users privacy. Speaking to Digital Market Asia, Barbara Bermes, Product Manager for Firefox Mobile at Mozilla explained the reason behind the decision to Digital Market Asia, “Mozilla would like to build an Internet that respects users, puts them in control, and creates and maintains trust. Too many users have lost trust and lack meaningful controls over their digital lives. This loss of trust has impacted the ecosystem – sometimes negatively. Content blockers offer a way to rebuild that trust by empowering users. At the same time, it is important that these tools are used to create a healthy, open ecosystem that supports commercial activity, instead of being used to lock down the Web or to discriminate against certain industries or content. We made Firefox Focus because we believe content blockers need to be transparent in the standards we use about what gets blocked. We want this product to encourage a discussion about users and content providers.”

Is blocking the best way forward?
Pablo Gomez, Regional Media Director, NASEAP, Kantar Millward Brown certainly thinks so and said, “Ad blockers are a great issue for advertising industry, but we need to understand that consumers are actually sending us a clear message: “we don’t want to see intrusive formats in advertising.”

Image courtesy: DoubleClick by Google

Krishnan Menon, COO, Wunderman Asia-Pacific said, “There is a dual dynamic at play. While people are actively blocking ads, they are just as actively searching for and viewing content that interests them. This is the key learning for brands. They need to stop producing these interruptions and instead become what consumers are interested in. Brands need to stop interrupting and start engaging.”

According to a survey by Google in 2016, 74 per cent of mobile users find ads that interrupt access to content (like pop ups) either extremely or very annoying. Mr Gomez added, “In the future this is going to be even more challenging: based on the Millward Brown’s AdReaction study, younger people – Gen Z- are more negative than previous the generations to invasive digital advertising. So, Chrome and Apple, are actually doing the right thing by blocking some type of formats that are not following a minimum standard, and that are annoying for consumers. This is a lot better than blockers that filter all advertising and will help to increase both the advertising experience and the quality of creatives – because it’s creativity, and not invasive formats will be the only way to gain attention.”

Anna Chan, Regional Managing Director of Amnet Asia, said, “While it may sound like the beginning of a downfall for the digital advertising industry as advertisers begin to wonder if their ads will reach anyone at all, I believe that this will only lead to greater experiences and in turn drive better results. An ad that annoys a user will be ineffective anyway, so even if we reach that particular person, we are unlikely to convert or even engage them.”

The research by Coalition for Better Ads showed that 85 per cent of mobile users said they found anchor ads (that stick to the bottom of your screen as you scroll) only just a little annoying or not annoying at all.

Mark Miller, Head of Planning, Wunderman Asia-Pacific said, “Google and Apple are addressing customer concerns for privacy and relevancy, which won’t be going away any time soon. Rather than viewing this as a negative, it provides opportunities for advertisers and ad-tech companies to work with brands to develop standards that respect consumers’ privacy while also providing relevant, personalised and engaging ads.”

What does it mean for publishers and ad-tech players?
Fifty per cent of users surveyed in the Coalition of Better Ads research said they would not revisit or recommend a page that had a pop up ad. Mr Loerke emphasises that the publishers need to revaluate their ads inventory. “What this means for publishers is we need to be cleaning up, getting rid of those ad formats which do much more harm than they do good. We are convinced that it is in the self-interest of the industry to have a player like Google taking the Better Ads Standards very seriously and considering to drop those ad formats.

Image Courtesy: DoubleClick by Google

Ms Chan said, “Publishers who ignore the user experience are likely to be more affected especially if they are largely reliant on advertising for revenue rather than subscriptions. In the long run, the drop in revenue could also impact the publishers by reducing their ability to sustain content. In a PageFair white paper released in April this year, this is termed the ‘adblock paradox’ whereby an adblock user benefits in the short term by avoiding advertising but reduces the quality and variety of content available to them over the longer term.”

Content is of the utmost importance for a consumer and publishers should focus on that said, Manoj Mansukhani, MD, Wunderman International New Delhi. “The trends clearly show that consumers are actively blocking ads because they have become an interruption to the reason they are on the site. Publishers and brands must find ways to be more relevant to the consumer in a way to engage with him rather than interrupt them,” he said.

Ad tech players also need to take up responsibility to ensure these standards are met, as it will lead to a better web experience for all. Mr Gomez added, “Fixing these issues should be a priority. Non-human traffic, viewability, brand safety, etc. are all serious issues. But we should not forget that all of those metrics are really just hygiene issues. The sooner we fix them the sooner we will start talking about what really matters: how is the advertising affecting my brand and market performance? In other words, we can then move the conversation forward to how to make better creativity, how to build a brand, how to engage with consumers – and shift away from our current focus on whether the audience is a robot or a person. It’s the equivalent of going to Cannes and just talking about the accuracy of the TV audiometers or how to calculate a GRP, instead of celebrating the power of creativity!”

Shubhi Tandon

Shubhi Tandon is the Assistant Editor at Digital Market Asia. Fascinated by the evolving digital media industry, she has focussed on tracking developments in the Asia Pacific market since 2014.