Publishers Must Pay to 'Volunteer' for Better Ads Standard

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Credit: Coalition for Better Ads; Composite by Ad Age

Getting rid of the web's most annoying ads is coming at a cost—for publishers.

The Coalition for Better Ads says its program to reshape the web will kick off in January, when it will begin certifying publishers that abide by its standards and approving browser makers to enforce compliance.

The coalition, a consortium of ad trade groups and companies from Facebook to Procter & Gamble, has targeted ads that its research deems "annoying," including videos that play automatically and with the sound on, popups and quickly flashing ads. Publishers that volunteer for the coalition's Better Ads Experience Program, pledging not to run such ads, will be notified of any potential violations and have a chance to address them.

Coalition coordinator Stu Ingis has said that Google's Chrome browser will block non-volunteers' ads over infractions without the same level of due process that participating publishers will enjoy. (Update: After publication of this article, Google said it intends to treat volunteers and non-participating publishers similarly, calling members of each group in violation only if their "annoying" ads reach certain thresholds and giving them 30 days to remedy the situation. Coalition guidelines don't currently address how non-volunteers will be handled.)

Volunteering turns out to come at a price. "While the details are still being finalized, we expect fees for certified companies to be in the range of $5,000 for larger companies with a sliding scale and potentially free for very small publishers," a spokesman for the Coalition told Ad Age. "We will aim to make the program accessible and easy for a broad range of publishers to participate."

The $5,000 sliding scale would only go down, not up.

"The Coalition will release more details in January," the spokesman added. "We anticipate fees will be reasonable and accommodate participation of entities ranging from small to large companies."

A number of publishers contacted for comment declined to do so on the record, citing a disinclination to alienate Google.

When you factor in the entire internet, including brand websites like Betty Crocker—which was put on notice by Google back in August—the Coalition is set to reap massive "volunteer" dollars from publishers. The cost comes on top of any revenue publishers will forgo as they stop selling certain ad units that marketers might like.

Even premium publishers that don't run so-called annoying ads may consider volunteering to avoid the chance that false positives that cause site-wide ad blackouts on Chrome.

The voluntary fees come in addition to new, even steeper costs confronting online publishers. Publishers need to fork over roughly $20,000 to join the Trustworthy Accountability Group's "Certified Against Fraud" initiative, and potentially have to set aside more than $1 million to become GDPR compliant.

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