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POV: The Coalition for Better Ads

Background:

This week, The Coalition for Better Ads released initial Better Ads Standards for desktop and mobile web. The new standards are based on comprehensive research in which consumers comparatively ranked different ad experiences presented to them while they read online articles.  The views are reflective of 25,000 consumers based in North America and Europe.  

Details and Implications:

The main purpose of the study was to identify the factors that contribute most to users installing ad blockers on their devices. The standards therefore define the six desktop web ad experiences and twelve mobile web ad experiences, which were identified as catalysts for ad blocker installations. 

On desktop: pop-up ads, auto-play video ads with sound, prestitial ads with countdown and large sticky ads were called out.

On mobile: pop-up ads, prestitial ads, ads with density greater than 30%, flashing animated ads, auto-play video ads with sound, poststitial ads with countdown, full-screen scrollover ads and large sticky ads were identified.

It’s not terribly surprising that mobile web is by some measure guiltier of degrading the user experience.  After all, desktop rode that wave 15 years ago, when the use of third party desktop plugins proliferated and pop ups and unders where the bane of the user experience.  Back then, banner advertising creative specifications were considerably smaller in scale and over time consumers’ reaction to them waned, with click through rates plummeting and publishers and advertisers scrabbling to come up with something more impactful.  Rising star formats like billboards and double MPUs are now more common standard sizes, where 600 x 250 (600 pixels in length; 250 pixels in width) dwarves the old-fashioned banner ad measuring 468 x 60. Based on the research we clearly still have a lot to learn.

Advertising within mobile is a relatively new phenomenon – liquidity came first within mobile apps as mobile web faced challenges around cookie tracking, publishers needing to invest in developing web optimised content and the relative availability of real estate for ads. Now every content publisher has a mobile optimised site and with the advent of the smart phone a better, if not perfect, environment to show an ad. 

However, with users shifting to mobile there is a decline in desktop advertising revenue (due in part to fewer ads per user session and the resulting reduction in available inventory) which can encourage the use of so called high impact advertising including flashing animations, auto-play videos with sound on and prestitial and poststitial ads accompanying news stories, often interrupting the user experience. 

Global ad blocking grew by 30% over 2016, driven by increasing usage of blockers on both desktop and mobile.  According to industry studies, 20% of users across different age groups using them, with penetration of ad blocking software highest in Asia. 

Summary

It’s clear that whilst content is not free, more respect needs to be shown to the user experience.  Brands need to become more creative in how they communicate their messages and publishers have a part to play in that by working with brands to come up with solutions that achieve results for both parties.  Clever, targeted and relevant ads that are valued highly enable brands to communicate more meaningfully with their target audience and the user can re-engage with quality ad-supported content.