Ad blockers are pushing creativity back up the agenda

The recent launch of the native Chrome ad-blocker means that its time to rethink ad formats and make consumers fall in love with creativity again, argues Alex Rahaman, CEO of ad-tech firm, NEXD.

In February, Google released its native ad-blocker for its Chrome browser.   It blocks all ‘non-compliant ads’ in a move designed to strengthen the user experience when it comes to online browsing.

The tool, which is actually more of an ad filter, removes ads deemed to be most disruptive to the user experience as defined by the Better Ads Standards, a cross-industry group aimed at improving the quality of online ads. Ads that are outside its parameters include auto-play videos with sound, full-page ads, pop-ups, ads that force you to sit through a countdown before viewing the content for example. Furthermore, if one single ad on a site doesn’t meet the new standards, all ads on the site will be blocked.

Google’s argument is straightforward, the user experience is increasingly hobbled by disruptive, elaborate and often data hungry ad formats and Chrome users don’t like it. That’s significant because Chrome dominates the desktop and mobile browser market.  According to Statcounter research Chrome accounts for nearly 66 per cent of the desktop and 50 per cent of the mobile browser market.

Google’s argument is straightforward, the user experience is increasingly hobbled by disruptive, elaborate and often data hungry ad formats and Chrome users don’t like it.

 

Whilst consumers understand that advertising keeps them from paying for the content they access for free, they are still inclined to install an ad blocker, even though the use of them breaks down the established advertising value-exchange – digital content and services for ad views and clicks.

Improving ad formats

According to a recent PageFair report around 11 per cent of internet users relied on ad blockers to avoid digital advertising altogether in 2017.

For publishers, it’s a complex problem.  On one hand, there is an understandable fear that Google’s move will lead to a fatal reduction in the number of ad impressions (and revenue). At the same time publishers need to observe good practice when it comes to user experience, albeit now defined by a self-appointed arbiter, Google.

What’s interesting about the PageFair report is that it also indicated that 77 per cent of users say they’re not opposed to all ads — just the ones that annoy them. Google’s Chrome move is a response to this anti-advertising sentiment. The company claims that its policies in this regard are geared towards improving user experiences with ads (not websites), reducing the need for universal ad blockers, and in theory, publishers will benefit since better ads will reduce the need for third-party blockers that screen all ads (not just the annoying ones).

…achieving any meaningful cut through means delivering the most shouty ad like an auto-play video. Annoying ad formats are winning because they are cheap and grab attention.

The media landscape is also fragmented across multiple screens and for advertisers, many of whom face increasingly constrained budgets, achieving any meaningful cut through means delivering the most shouty ad like an auto-play video. Annoying ad formats are winning because they are cheap and grab attention.

It follows that the problem isn’t the fact that consumers are blocking ads, it’s the ad formats themselves. For Google this means ad tech companies developing new formats, with media agencies and publishers procuring ad experiences that offer the user some sort of value.

Falling in love with ads again

The point that is perhaps lost on the Chrome ad filter is that ads can be beautiful, well executed and immersive, even long, experiences. The PageFair report indicates that consumers are all for it. This means that advertisers and publishers need to focus on more meaningful engagement metrics rather than impressions.  And the best way to engage consumers is to go back to what made advertising so compelling in the first place – creativity.  Beautiful ads that appeal to the senses rather than shouting at consumers whilst they look the other way.

The point that is perhaps lost on the Chrome ad filter is that ads can be beautiful, well executed and immersive, even long, experiences.

 

In terms of a value-exchange, the value being given to the consumer is much less a direct benefit rather it is the immersion, attention and engagement itself that is supplying the value. But there’s a problem of perception – beautiful ads are expensive, often require good bandwidth and bloat pages.

Web GL vs HTML5

However, now, WebGL, an existing software from the gaming sector, has been redeployed for ad tech and is gaining traction. WebGL builds ad experiences on the Graphical Processor Unit (GPU) of the smartphone or laptop, turning the traditional HTML approach of using the CPU (Central Processing Unit) on its head.

Its main advantage is that it enables a much leaner and accelerated use of graphics and image processing at levels that are up to 10 times lighter than similar executions in HTML5.  Ads are lighter and they are also more graphically intense, allowing more fluid use of images in combination with the native tilt and swipe functions of the smartphone.  The advertising image can be spun through 360 degrees with the swipe of a finger for example.

In short, the GPU approach provides the platform to build consumer interactivity and that means engagement.  And it does it in a way that enhances the user experience rather than bloating a page or forcing unwanted ad exposure on the consumer.

What remains is an experience that increases the value of engagement for publishers, media agencies and brands alike.  Indeed, many in the value-chain are investing time and effort in repositioning themselves with a focus on creating high-quality ads because it builds trust and loyalty with audiences. Google has expedited this process, as low-quality and intrusive inventory is no longer at the table.

Everyone wins.

Alex Rahaman, CEO, NEXD

 

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