Ad Groups Say Ad Blocking Should Be Based on Industry Consensus

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article was headlined "Ad Groups Say Google Shouldn't Play Judge and Jury for 'Annoying' Ads" and said marketing groups' letter to the Coalition for Better Ads opposed any ad blocking by browser companies, such as Google, that isn't voluntary for publishers. Although the letter says any ad-blocking program should be voluntary, it doesn't mean for publishers: Publishers that don't "volunteer" to follow industry-consensus guidelines would see ads blocked under the scenario the groups advocate. Google's plan to filter "annoying" ads in Chrome based on industry guidelines fits with that scenario.

Three of the biggest marketing trade bodies on Thursday sent an open letter to the Coalition for Better Ads essentially arguing that companies shouldn't play judge, jury and executioner when it comes to blocking annoying ads.

The letter from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies says they are "united" in the effort to remove the ads now marring the online experience. But it does say programs to "diminish unacceptable user experiences must be based on industry-wide self regulation, and not left to individual browser companies or other delivery technology companies to implement according to their own interpretations and assessment processes."

Google said in June that its popular Chrome browser will soon come preinstalled with technology to block unpopular ad formats, based on research by the Coalition for Better Ads last fall to determine which ad units undermine consumers' internet experience and, by extension, push people into the arms of ad blockers. (Founding members of the Coalition include both Google and the trade groups that wrote the new letter.)

The research among some 25,000 people, part of an effort to develop a "Better Ads Standard," subsequently identified popup ads, autoplay videos with sound and too many simultaneous ads as some of the least-welcome ad experiences online.

In June, Google came out and said Chrome would soon automatically "filter" out the most annoying ads that publishers try to serve. In August, it sent emails to publishers including Forbes, the Los Angeles Times, The Independent, TV Guide and the Chicago Tribune warning that their websites didn't meet the Better Ads Standard.

Microsoft joined the Coalition for Better Ads last month, but hasn't said its Edge browser will join Chrome in filtering annoying ads.

The letter seems designed to discourage potential ad blockers from adopting regimes that don't comport with the Coalition's standard.

"Restrictive regulatory systems imposed by fiat, particularly by platforms with tremendous market power over brands, agencies, the creative process, retailing, and the publishing infrastructure, will impose unmanageable costs on these and other constituents," the letter says. It continues:

It will force all news, entertainment, services, marketing, company strategy - indeed, all public communications and much private communications - through multiple sluice gates, each owned and operated by a different technology giant.

We already are seeing such chaos develop, with Apple recently imposing its own heavy-handed cookie standards that risk disrupting the valuable advertising ecosystem that funds much of today's digital content and services. This private, walled-garden approach to Internet advertising and content regulation is untenable. Imposition of these fragmented 'regulatory' regimes by dominant platforms will force consolidation among the makers and marketers of media, and of the goods and services on which the media depend for support, and which in turn rely on the media for access to consumer markets.

Google called the group's letter good news.

"We are excited to see the IAB, ANA and 4A's propose a tactical solution for browser companies who want to support the Better Ad Standards and improve the ad experience for users across the web," it said in a statement to Ad Age. "We will continue to work with the Coalition for Better Ads to determine how Chrome will support the Standard."

You can read the letter sent Thursday in full here.

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