The news that Google is investigating whether to include an ad blocker in its Chrome browser has brought the topic of ad blocking to the fore once more.
Ad blocking has been a growing issue for advertisers in recent years, with an eMarketer report on the topic suggesting that as many as 30% of US internet users could be using blockers by the end of 2018, up from 25% in 2016. In the UK, 16.6% of the population used ad blocking tools in 2016, with the number set to increase to over 22% in 2017.
And with the Wall Street Journal breaking the news that Google Chrome could be upgraded to filter out ads, 30% could prove to be a conservative estimate - Chrome is the most popular browser, accounting for an estimated 60% of the market share.
The WSJ article reports: “Unacceptable ad types would be those recently defined by the Coalition for Better Ads, an industry group that released a set of ad standards in March. According to those standards, ad formats such as pop-ups, auto-playing video ads with sound and ‘prestitial’ ads with countdown timers are deemed to be “beneath a threshold of consumer acceptability”.
However, it adds: “In one possible application Google is considering, it may choose to block all advertising that appears on sites with offending ads, instead of the individual offending ads themselves. In other words, site owners may be required to ensure all of their ads meet the standards, or could see all advertising across their sites blocked in Chrome.”
So, should the news send shockwaves through the worlds of publishing and advertising? Actually, probably not.
For one thing, the ads being blocked are – for the most part – a pain in the backside for users.
“Ad blocking is really a result of poor quality, irrelevant ads being allowed to be served in the first place,” notes Robin Davies, MD of operations at Conversant. “Without relevance to the user, ads aren’t fit for purpose - they annoy users, and that annoyance is ultimately associated with the advertiser.”
Andrew Bartlam, VP of EMEA, Instart Logic, adds: “Ad blockers exist for a reason – people use them to rid themselves of ads that they don't necessarily want to see. The technology came about due to the rise of socially irresponsible sites that "dumped" excessive ads onto users.”
Reasons for optimism
A further point to note is that while clarity would be required regarding what Google would classify as an “acceptable” or “unacceptable” ad, the introduction of its ad blocker would seize a lot of power away from third-party players that currently run ad whitelists.
This would potentially address concerns that ad blocking firms were creating a “modern-day protection racket”, by offering to whitelist organisations in return for payment.
Therefore, Davies envisages that Google’s mooted move could benefit the ad industry.
By limiting the audience of low quality, irrelevant ads, consumer confidence in digital advertising is likely to increase…and the return on investment of digital advertising to brands.
“While it will certainly be interesting to see who it is that’s determining which ads are deemed intrusive or not, in general, such a measure has the potential to be good news for advertisers and consumers alike,” he says. “By limiting the audience of low quality, irrelevant ads, consumer confidence in digital advertising is likely to increase…and the return on investment of digital advertising to brands.”
And if Google were to drive up ad blocking, evidence suggests that marketers remain optimistic about the impact it could have.
Findings from a recent Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) study suggest that marketers believe that ad blocking will pave the way for a new wave of creativity in their profession.
76% of respondents reported that they believe ad blocking will encourage future innovation, with only 38% reporting it could lead to a decline in online marketing.
Murray Chick, freeman at The Worshipful Company of Marketors, told MyCustomer last year: “There is no doubt that the advent of ad blocking is evidence that consumers are tired of uninspired approaches to online advertising. The very existence of ad blocking software is a huge issue in delivering commercial messages to consumer audiences. However, we may yet look back and see blocking as the biggest boon to advertising of the last 30 years: for consumers, for the creative advertising industry and, especially, for advertising clients.
“Switching away from advertising is not a new development – even before the internet, people were still switching channels on the TV, changing the radio station or even flicking through pages away from advertising that didn’t engage them. However, the industry was unable to pinpoint precisely when they were doing it.
“The sad truth is that a lot of advertising wastes clients’ money. But ad blocking hasn’t made that worse. In fact, it may even be the solution to tackling the problem.”
He continues: “One of ad blocking’s biggest advantages for advertisers is that we finally know when consumers are switching, or are switched, away from advertising. This is may be of small comfort to the poor client who has spent his money on wasted advertising, though at least a blocked ad can be pulled and waste limited. However, a more positive and exciting implication is that ad blocking can force us to create better and more effective advertising, provided we are willing to face and tackle the issues. It provides a new challenge to us as we become better informed on our approach, which should be met with optimism and creativity.
“The real challenge for the creative industries may be less to fight the challenges raised by blocking than to take advantage of the real possibilities it offers - before consumers do it for us.”