When the Whip Comes Down

SEMA News—March 2018


When the Whip Comes Down

How Google’s Coming Ad Blocker Will Regulate Your Advertising on the Web

Googlers like these are putting the finishing touches on an ad blocker that Google will build into its Chrome browser in 2018.

In a move to stop the online ad market from imploding, Google will roll out its own ad blocker in early 2018, designed to neutralize annoying, intrusive advertising on the web. The new Google strategy will significantly impact any business that advertises on an internet website. In a phrase: Unless you play nice with your web advertising, Google is going to shut you down in 2018.

Essentially, the Chrome browser—which is used by a majority of web surfers—will block the display of any ad Google deems to be “in the face” of web surfers. That includes the annoying pop-up ads we all detest, the loud video ads that play automatically and uninvited when you visit a website, and the giant ads that hang in front of web content—demanding to be viewed before content can be accessed.

“It’s far too common that people encounter annoying, intrusive ads on the web—like the kind that blare music unexpectedly or force you to wait 10 seconds before you can see the content on the page,” said Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s senior vice president for ads and commerce. As most web surfers and advertisers know, Ramaswarmy’s words carry gargantuan weight.

Google Chrome is by far the most popular browser on the web, used by 59% of desktop PC web surfers and 57% of tablet/mobile users, according to NetMarketShare (www.tinyurl.com/netmarketshare-com-browser). So when Google says that things are going to change—well, things are going to change.

Google’s new hard line makes complete sense when you consider that Google is entirely dependent on web advertising for the lion’s share of its revenue stream—advertising that is increasingly being blocked by third-party ad blockers. Such add-ons, which plug into popular web browsers, were mostly geeks-only tools just a few years ago. But 40% of U.S. web surfers are using ad blockers these days, according to a 2017 survey by AdBlock Plus and Global Web Index (http://insight.globalwebindex.net/mobile-ad-blocking-2017?)

It’s the kind of statistic that triggers a collective gulp at companies such as Google as well as at other online advertising giants across the web.

Seeing the writing on the wall a few years ago, many of those goliaths banded together to form the Coalition for Better Ads (www.betterads.org), an organization with the sole mission of finding a solution to the growing ad-blocking problem. Google’s ad blocker, which censors some ads but allows others to display, is a direct outgrowth of that movement.

Members of the coalition include the Direct Marketing Association, NewsMedia Alliance, Reuters and Microsoft.

“At Microsoft, we believe in supporting and collaborating with the online advertising industry to develop standards that make the digital ecosystem function better for consumers,” said Rik van der Kooi, corporate vice president of Microsoft Search Advertising.

Eager to bring out a tool that looks more like it’s designed by consensus than driven by proprietary interests, Google’s ad blocker uses the ad standards developed by the coalition to decide which ads get a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Fortunately, those standards can be accessed by anyone in getting into compliance quickly at the “Coalition for Better Ads: Best Practices Guide” (www.doubleclickbygoogle.com/articles/creating-better-ad-experiences).

If you do any advertising on the web at all, you’re going to want to study those best practices very closely to ensure that your company avoids Google’s crosshairs beginning early in 2018. As you might suspect, the standards simply promote common-sense insights about what ads consumers generally find offensive on the web.

While many businesses unaware of the coming change are in for a rude awakening with Google’s ad blocker in 2018, Google is quick to add that its tool will not block legitimate, well-designed ads.

“Chrome’s ad filter is designed to work as a business-friendly alternative, letting reasonable ads through but blocking the worst offenders,” Ramaswamy said.

Plus, businesses that start seeing their ads disappearing in the Google Chrome browser will be able to consult an Ad Experience Report from Google, which will give them advice on how to turn around the ads that Google is blocking.

Unlike many add-ons to Google Chrome, the new ad blocker will be automatically activated as soon as Chrome is installed or updated, beginning in early 2018. That’s another indication of just how serious Google is about ridding the web of the scourge of offensive advertising. The ad blocker is also designed to automatically activate early next year on all the major genres of devices that use Google Chrome, including desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. (Users will need to physically turn off the ad blocker in Google Chrome if they want to surf without the defense.)

Of course, while many businesses welcome the concept of Google’s ad blocker, many also worry that the algorithm could be easily tweaked to favor Google ad properties over those of Google’s competitors. But with so many U.S. web surfers completely blocking ads while cruising websites right now, most of those same businesses would most likely agree that something had to be done.

“We hope these initial standards will be a wakeup call to brands, retailers, agencies, publishers and their technology suppliers, and that they will retire the ad formats that research proves annoy and abuse consumers,” said Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of IAB. “If they don’t, ad blocking will rise, advertising will decline, and the marketplace of ideas and information that supports open societies and liberal economies will slide into oblivion.”

Commenting on the study the coalition conducted to come up with the new ad standards, Bob Liodice, CEO of the Association of National Advertisers, said that tens of thousands of consumers have made their opinions clear through this robust research.

“Consumers in North America and Europe have similar views on online ad experiences that they find annoying and disruptive,” Liodice said. “All online ad industry constituents should take a hard look at the findings. They provide valuable insights for the development of consumer-friendly ad campaigns.” 

Joe Dysart is an internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.





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