Is There Room for New Ad Standards? There Better Be

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Rumors are that Google is putting an ad blocking feature in Chrome, and publishers are understandably concerned. Still, many say the feature will be less of an ad blocker and more of an ad filter. With this intent to filter out bad ads -- rather than block them, regardless of quality -- it seems the problem is out-of-date ad standards, not the not the ads themselves.

Responsible ad filtering

Traditional ad-blocking companies show no regard for publisher wellbeing. They essentially blackmail publishers, depriving them of revenue by blocking ads unless publishers pay them not to. But ad blockers that instead filter ads based on quality could be good for publishers.

Google has worked with the Coalition for Better Ads to determine which kinds of ads should not be displayed. An independent organization, the Coalition aims to improve user experience, while ensuring that publishers make a living.

The Coalition's initial Better Ads Standards give equal consideration to user and publisher concerns. Ads that are significantly disruptive or obstruct the page view -- such as pop-ups, autoplaying outstream video ads with sound, and large, sticky ads that follow the user's page scroll -- fall below the group's standards. Meanwhile, classic banner ads and other nonintrusive formats conform to the guidelines.

By adhering to the Coalition's advertising standards, responsible ad-blocking technology could help enforce a culture of better ads. Google's expected new Chrome feature won't put publishers out of business, but it will pressure them to clean up their act.

There's long been room for better ad standards. If Google sets a precedent by making an ad blocker a default feature in its browser, it will be increasingly imperative that publishers adopt these new guidelines.

User-focused formats

Publishers are already coming up with creative, user-friendly ways to display ads. AOL offers free Verizon data to users who click on their ads. It's also experimenting with an ad format that integrates ads into video -- without disturbing the user. These ads display as a small watermark in the corner of the video screen, and then display full-screen when the video is paused.

Social media, though, leads the way when it comes to user-friendly ads. Snapchat incorporates ads into entertaining selfie filters that people send to their friends; Taco Bell created a popular filter that morphed users' heads into its signature hard-shell tacos.

Facebook Live and Instagram Stories also provide user-friendly advertising formats. Facebook, which has reformatted its app to encourage consumers to make live videos, displays video ads alongside the videos users create. Instagram Stories, a feature that allows users to share photos in a slideshow format, similarly intersperses ads among user-generated content. These advertisements can be so successful that consumers want to view them, and they serve as models for making ads part of user entertainment.

Keeping ad blockers in check

Setting nondisruptive ads apart from intrusive ones is essential for user- and publisher-friendly advertising. While ad filters that follow the Better Ads Standards could help the publishing industry, publishers should continue to be wary of ad blockers that set their own rules.

That doesn't mean publishers will be at the mercy of ad blockers, though. Publishers can use ad-recovery services, which counteract ad blockers by redisplaying blocked ads. If these services opt to work side-by-side with responsible ad filters like Google's, they can enforce improved ad standards and ensure that ad blockers don't take unfair advantage of publishers.

Chrome's anticipated ad blocker won't be as ruthless as some fear, and it may very well pave the way toward higher ad standards. As advertisers adjust to the new ad standards of Google and others, they'll clean up their ads with creative, user-focused design. And if that's the case, both publishers and site visitors will surely benefit from the better online experience.

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