A roman warrior behind his shield
Google Chrome adds native ad-blocking. PHOTO: Shutterstock

In February 2018, Google will put into effect the Better Ads Experience Program, which was established in the middle of last year. As a result, there will be a number of changes in the way we consume ads. However, the most immediate and possibly the most profound effect will be that as of next month, Google Chrome users will be given a native ad blocker. The objective, according to a blog post from Google in the middle of December, is to improve the online experience of the billions of people that use the web, and specifically those that use the Chrome browser.

In 2017, according to NetMarketShare, which tracks usage share of web technologies,  Chrome was the most widely used browser in the world and accounted for 58. 83 percent of the global market share (to the end of November), a long way ahead of its nearest rival Firefox, which accounted for 13.13 percent of web browsing.

Why Users Block Ads

This means that with the introduction of an ad blocker into Chrome, nearly two thirds of those that use the web will be able to block advertisements and unwanted content easily and efficiently. Do web users really want such a feature? The State of Mobile Ad-Blocking in 2017 report based on research by GlobalWebIndex(GWI) says yes. Each year, GWI interviews over 350,000 internet users as part of its core research program asking them questions about their lives, lifestyles and digital behaviors. There were a number of significant findings based on the research, but in respect of the Chrome ad blocker, there are two findings that are worth noting.

• Ad-frustration is the primary driver behind current ad blocking uptake in the U.S. Ad-block users are most likely to state that ads are intrusive, they are irrelevant, or that there are simply too many of them.

 • There is plenty of evidence indicating an underlying demand for mobile ad-blocking tools, and as such there is likely to be a substantial addressable market should awareness of these tools increase. The research found that one in three smartphone owners say that they see too many ads when browsing the mobile internet and a large section of this group are currently unaware of mobile ad-blocking.

It also showed that only half of internet device owners in the U.S. are even aware that they can block ads on their mobile device (Those who have not blocked ads on a mobile, more than six in 10, state that they did not know that it was possible to do so).

Coalition For Better Ads

But let’s take a step back. In June 2017, Google announced that it was joining the Coalition for Better Ads (CBA) and  would offer support for the Better Ads Standards drawn-up by the CBA. The CBA, according to its website, is a coalition of international trade associations “involved in online media [that aims] to improve consumers’ experience with online advertising." Research by the CBA shows that while most web users are not against ads per se, a number of “experiences” like full-page ad interstitials (an advertisement that appears while a chosen website or page is downloading), ads that unexpectedly play sound, and/or flashing ads are unwelcome.

The Better Ads Standards, which for the moment, have been developed for the desktop and mobile web environments in Europe and North America, identified the following types of ad experiences as negatively impacting web experiences.

Desktop

  • Pop-up ads,
  • Auto-play video ads with sound
  • Prestitial ads with countdown
  • Large sticky ads.

Mobile 

  • Pop-up ads, prestitial ads
  • Ads with density greater than 30%
  • Flashing animated ads
  • Auto-play video ads with sound
  • Poststitial ads with countdown
  • Full-screen scrollover ads
  • Large sticky ads

Google’s Response

Google through Chrome aims to tackle that this year. In a post about the new ad blocker it said," “In dialog with the Coalition and other industry groups, we plan to have Chrome stop showing ads (including those owned or served by Google) on websites that are not compliant with the Better Ads Standards starting in early 2018.”

In the middle of December, CBA announced the details of its Better Ads Experience Program and the new Framework, which will certify web publishers that agree not to use the most disruptive ads identified in the Standards and will accredit browsers and advertising technology companies that will assess publishers’ compliance with the Standards. Google will introduce its new ad blocker and other measures on February 15, 2018. Google adds, "Starting on February 15, in line with the Coalition's guidelines, Chrome will remove all ads from sites that have a "failing" status in the Ad Experience Report for more than 30 days.” If compliance issues arise, certified companies will be notified and have an opportunity to address violations or to pursue review by an independent dispute resolution mechanism available through the program.

Industry Reactions

Chaitanya Chandrasekar is CEO of Redwood City, Calif.-based QuanticMind, which provides an intelligent and scalable platform used to enable marketers better connect with their audiences. According to him, the new blocker for Chrome will drastically affect digital advertisers who run ads online, notably large-scale advertisers with multimillion-dollar budgets. Citing Google’s goal of filtering out ads that are “annoying and irrelevant”, he says the ad blocker could result in a massive loss of advertising revenues. “Google has suggested this will lead to a better user experience, but it may also lead to significant advertising spend going to waste as advertisers spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars crafting new ad creative for their products and services that never even get loaded into the browser windows of their target audience,” says Chandrasekar.

Chandrasekar says, diligent advertisers from across the globe have already been preparing for this change, so in a perfect world, nobody’s multi-million ad campaign should be be affected. "We’ll have to wait and see whether there ends up being any high-profile casualties," says Chandrasekar. In a larger sense, this change arguably puts more control over ad specifications in the hands of Google. 

Ultimately, one of the most important goals for any advertiser is relevance. When you send the right message to the right person at the right time, they’ll listen. But when you don’t, you run the risk of being filtered out, especially by Chrome’s new ad filter. “Advertisers will need to ensure they’re 100% compliant with these updated specifications or face very costly consequences,” he added.

From ad blockers, to regulations around sponsored content, consumers are making it very clear that they're sick of the constant onslaught of bad advertising, says Toronto, Ontario digital marketing consultant Marc Nashaat. He points out that while Google’s move is welcome, it’s also strategic given how much Google depends upon online advertising revenues. “I think it should be made clear that this is a move on Google's part to combat ad blocking. By addressing some of the complaints that drive ad blocking adoption, Google hopes to persuade the internet that ads don't have to be annoying, which ultimately means more revenue for Google,” he says.

He also argues that for many industries and websites these changes won't have a huge impact. “We'll likely see a drop in opt-in rates that websites employing these tactics generate, but the paradigm shift ultimately forces advertisers to create more compelling and delightful ad-experiences." It's worth noting that at present there are some loopholes or circumstances under which pop-ups (for example) can take place. Exit pop up ads that occur after a user has ceased active engagement with content are not currently included in the guidelines.

One Philadelphia logo design and branding specialist, Nicholas M Saporito, pointed out that for most content creators, the ad-based model has been in decline for quite some time and the implementation of Chrome's new ad filter is just going to help delegitimize it further. “Those of us who have survived have moved on from ads and are now monetizing our content in other ways, like selling products, services, and racking up affiliate commissions. As long as Google doesn't strip our ability to do that, we should be alright,” he said.  

According to Alessio De Luca, Digital Transformation Manager at Italy-based Florence Consulting Group, an IT and Digital Transformation Consulting company, despite the concern expressed by many marketing professionals about the blocker, its introduction will have limited impact on respected brands. “I think it will have a very limited effect on brands. The most digital-savvy users already have some form of ad-blocking Chrome add-on in place,” he pointed out.

She goes on to add that what these ad blockers are doing is limiting "interruption marketing," but this kind of advertising has lost its value long time ago. The only ads that still carry a substantial ROI are probably remarketing ads. They are useful but annoying to a lot of users. "Good brands with a solid, diversified marketing mix won't feel any real disruption,” says DeLuca.

It is still too early to predict what will happen, except that if Google is adding an ad blocker in Chrome, than it is likely that other browsers are likely to follow suit.