Google Cuts Ties With Ad Tech Firm Over Ad-Block 'Surprise'

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Sridhar Ramaswamy, senior VP of ads and commerce at Google.
Sridhar Ramaswamy, senior VP of ads and commerce at Google. Credit: Google

Google will end its business relationship with ComboTag, the ad buying platform that teamed up with AdBlock Plus, according to Google's head of ads.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, senior VP of ads and commerce at Google, said the company was taken totally by surprise when AdBlock Plus and ComboTag announced on Monday that they would offer an ad exchange that served web ads to ad-blocking consumers.

"It's an uncomfortable development for us," Mr. Ramaswamy said of the fact that AdBlock Plus was "moving from being an ad-blocking company to being a driver of ads."

Mr. Ramaswamy spoke to reporters about Adblock Plus before he gave a presentation on Wednesday at the Dmexco conference in Cologne, Germany. Google was announcing new tools for app-install ad campaigns to help marketers create more lifetime value from users who install apps.

Google also has new YouTube formats that could drive more marketing goals from video ads, Mr. Ramaswamy said in his presentation. YouTube will let advertisers include calls-to-action that send people to a website or register them for mailing lists right in their video ads.

"Advertisers can get the benefit of brand advertising while having an effective way to get consumers to actually take action," Mr. Ramaswamy said.

Mr. Ramaswamy's clear denunciation of AdBlock Plus and ComboTag came after the two companies announced a new ad exchange that would place "acceptable" ads in front of Adblock Plus users. (Consumers would still have the option to set the software to block all ads, even those deemed "acceptable" or sold by Adblock Plus.)

The partnership also claimed that Google and AppNexus, another major Internet ad platform, would be involved with the ad-block ad exchange. Agency holding company giant WPP has a stake AppNexus.

AppNexus was also quick to distance itself from the effort.

AdBlock Plus has a strained relationship with the industry. It is seen by some to be encouraging ad-blocking only so it can then charge large publishers to participate in its "Acceptable Ads" program, which allows through ads that fit its specifications for unobtrusiveness and other factors.

AdBlock Plus claims 100 million-plus users, a cohort of Internet consumers that advertisers would like to reach.

For its part, Google thinks the industry needs to come up with ad standards that offer a compromise with internet users.

"We think ad-blocking usage is driven by a disconnect between what the ad industry thinks is an acceptable ad standard and what consumers find acceptable," Mr. Ramaswamy said. "The only way to solve this is by working together defining standards based on objective data."

Too many publishers are concerned with short-term revenue objectives and could turn off users with their ads, Mr. Ramaswamy said.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said WPP held an investment in ComboTag; it does not.

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