What Are Better Ads Standards?

Better Ads Standards are an initiative for promoting “acceptable” ad experiences for users, while discouraging disruptive ads. The overall goal, as stated, has been to keep the spread of ad blocking tools at bay, by assuring the ads in the ecosystem are not so annoying they drive users to start using ad blockers.

Does the question of a threshold for what kind of ads are acceptable or unacceptable sound wildly subjective? Sure thing, by pretty much any stretch, and as such the Coalition for Better Ads has pointed out their methodology, which involved presenting over 25,000 users in North America and Europe with 55 different desktop and 49 mobile ad experiences.

The name “Coalition for Better Ads” might sound a little shadowy, but its list of members checks out. In it, we have major publishers, advertisers, agencies, tech vendors, and advisory groups from both the buy and sell side. Big names include Facebook, Google (more on this one in a second), Thomson Reuters, Procter & Gamble, GroupM, the IAB and the 4As, just for a start. There are also a slew of international affiliates.

User experience has been top-of-mind for the digital industry, seemingly gaining in interest in the past year or so. One of the reasons Better Ads has been so sticky in the headlines is that Google has been quick to endorse the standards. In a blog post, Google SVP, Ads and Commerce Sridhar Ramaswamy has pointed out that the Coalition’s findings correlate with, or perhaps influenced directly, the company’s decision that Chrome will not display the sorts of ads deemed “unacceptable” by the study’s findings, as of early 2018. Basically, Google is saying Chrome will use an ad blocking or filtering mechanism to keep certain ad formats off the page.

There have been a lot of murmurs about Google’s real intention here, because Google has considerable skin in this game. Some have suggested the company could use the widespread day-to-day usage of the Chrome browser to squeeze its competitors in the ad space and continue dominating the market along with Facebook (also on the Coalition, natch). More to the point: Google might be trying to limit the distribution of innovative new ad units.

At the same time, Google’s announced it’s launching a function in Chrome called Funding Choices, which will allow publishers to send a customized message to users with ad blocking software enabled in the  browser. In short, it lets publishers ask the user to whitelist their site through any messaging or any circumstances the publisher chooses. Funding Choices is in beta. How it will work for the user remains to be seen, although people who have used Chrome’s pop-up manager may have opinions.

So, from where the publisher stands, Better Ads Standards, Google’s support of them, and Chrome’s upcoming ad filtering feature are more or less all part of the same story. To be clear, the formats the study determined were overly disruptive to the user include autoplay video with sound on desktop and mobile (those that required a click to turn sound on passed muster), prestitials with countdowns and mobile postitials with countdowns (prestitials that can be dismissed immediately are okay), large sticky ads on desktop and mobile, mobile ads with a density of greater than 30%, ads with flashing backgrounds (animated ads that don’t flash are okay), and full-screen scrollovers in mobile that take up more than 30% of the page (not to be confused with in-line ads that appear during the scroll).