You could be excused this week for not noticing one of the biggest changes in internet browsing technology in recent times.
Google’s Adblockalypse finally came into effect on 15th February, automatically blocking – or “filtering” – ads which they deem bad for the user experience on its browser, Chrome. The chances are you use Chrome across one of your devices already; StatCounter estimates it’s active on around 60% of all devices.
The prevalence of the browser means that the new filtering software, now applied automatically, should have a significant effect on all areas of the digital advertising ecosystem, all the way from the publisher hosting and benefitting from ad revenue, through to what the end user now sees on the page.
It’s likely, however, that you may not have seen a huge difference in your own browser experience recently. If you’re one of the 22.1% of the UK population who currently use an ad blocker (IAB/YouGov), then this certainly isn’t a replacement for that tool.
Instead, Chrome’s filtering software, despite initial concern from publishers, is actually fairly lenient. The Coalition for Better Ads (CBA) was setup primarily to clean up the dirge of terrible digital adverts that offered a bad user experience or ate up unnecessary data or bandwidth across devices.
There are only a measly 12 ads that are currently identified as ‘bad’, which Chrome will now filter out automatically, although it must be stated that the research into which ads are the most ‘bad’ for users was conducted by Google itself and doesn’t in fact include some of their largest inventory pools, such as YouTube pre-roll.
Some of the recent controversy has been centred on the research undertaken and whether this is just one additional unfair advantage in Google’s ever-increasing dominance of the digital ad space. With so many users already running the Chrome browser as their default, publishers will have to listen and adhere to the CBA rules or risk missing out on ad revenue. Google has already announced that ads won’t be immediately blocked, but publishers will have up to 30 days to rectify placements before being filtered out.
There remains some discomfort around the reasons why YouTube pre-roll in particular hasn’t been included in the research which led to the 12 formats being banned.
Autoplay video ads with sound and prestitials loading before content, for example, are now banned, which aren’t hugely unrelated to YouTube’s Trueview formats. It’s totally understandable that publishers should be concerned that changes will have a small effect – if any – on Google’s own advertising products whilst a large effect on theirs, especially if research hasn’t been undertaken independently. The CBA was formed to be able to give a voice to players on all sides, and although a big voice, Google wouldn’t be able to push through an agenda by itself.
Whatever the outcome for publishers, though, agencies and advertisers should concern themselves more with the hope that this is a first step rather than a resolution. It’s clear to anyone that the web still has ads that are far from ideal. It’s also obvious, especially across mobile, that many formats are bad for the user experience and show a lack of creativity.
Chrome’s adblock may, however, have come at exactly the right time. With GDPR around the corner, publishers and ad tech vendors are suddenly having to revisit all elements of digital advertising, including the data they can use for targeting, the information held on a user and now the actual creative they can deliver. We’re not far from a full display revamp which can only be positive for the industry.
Let’s finally focus on the quality experience that digital can deliver and clean up all aspects of creative delivery, not just what Google tells us to.