Coalition for Better Ads Might Not Be the Solution Marketers Were Hoping For

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The Coalition for Better Ads released research today that will likely surprise no one: Consumers do not like autoplay video ads with sound, pop-up ads and ads that quickly flash, change colors.

Those are the core findings of the CBA's research. They're also part of a broader push to define the Better Ads Standard, which is an effort geared toward informing marketers and publishers which ads are most likely to drive consumer adoption of ad-blocking software.

The Coalition paid some 25,000 participants in the U.S. and Europe to rate 104 different ad experiences on desktop and mobile to reach its conclusion. Future work, the CBA said, will focus on performing similar studies in different parts of the world until at least 2018; if consumers in Europe find pop-up ads annoying, will consumers in Africa find them equally annoying too?

The organization's sluggish pace to answer such pedestrian questions highlights the long road ahead for both marketers and publishers.

Globally, consumers are adopting ad blockers at a rapid pace: Desktop has grown 400% since January 2013 to 220 million in 2016, according to the latest figures from Adobe, and nearly 9 million mobile users in the U.S. and Europe run ad-blocking software.

Formed in September of last year, the CBA is loaded with influential players from all parts of the digital advertising ecosystem. Companies like Google, Unilever, GroupM and The Washington Post make up the alliance that is the Coalition for Better Ads.

Many may remember hearing about the CBA when it first debuted at Dmexco in Cologne, Germany. A few days prior to the organization's reveal, Adblock Plus announced it was getting into the business of selling ads, a move that left both publishers and marketers dumbfounded. Sridhar Ramaswamy, senior VP of ads and commerce at Google, sold a refreshing outlook to attendees by leveraging the CBA, hinting it could potentially fix the mess that is digital advertising.

Yet more than six months later, the Coalition is sharing results that have been common knowledge to marketers for years. The group is also ignoring the fact that members like the Interactive Advertising Bureau have already performed similar research.

Chuck Curran, counsel to the Coalition and attorney at Venable, said it's important to determine which ads perform poorly, but on a global scale.

"We're announcing these results for North America and Europe because of the surprisingly tight correlations we're seeing," Mr. Curran said. "Advertisers, ad tech publishers -- everyone -- can now use this information."

When asked if there was an ad that performed poorly in North America, but well in Europe, Mr. Curran declined to give an example.

Membership for the Coalition, which starts at $20,000, has surged since the organization debuted, a spokesman said.

Venable represented the Digital Advertising Alliance and helped deploy what's known today as the AdChoices initiative (which was described, perhaps accurately, as "debatably toothless" by AdExchanger), Mr. Curran said.

Working with agencies, ad tech companies and publishers hasn't proved to be challenging, Mr. Curran said, dismissing any notion that there might be too many cooks in the kitchen.

Performing such research will allow the Coalition to create a static ranking, or a "master view on what's more annoying and what's less annoying," Mr. Curran said. "It is from there you can then define better ad standards in the sense of identifying what are the experiences that are the most annoying, most distracting, and of those, which are most likely to drive a consumer to use an ad blocker."

"That's really where we're focused: in those experiences that fall behind and below that threshold before consumer acceptability," he added.

Coalition for Better Ads findings:

  • On desktop, consumers told the Coalition they do not like pop-up ads, autoplay video ads with sound, prestitial ads that have a countdown timer, such as those found on and large sticky ads that consume more than 30% of the screen.

  • On mobile, everything included on desktop, plus prestitial ads, full-screen scrollover ads, flashing animated ads and ads that consume a lot of mobile real estate.

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