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27 April 2017

The Chrome Adblocker Story Wasn’t Strictly True, But It Still Sent A Message To Ad Land

Written by: Tristan Sanders, Head of Performance at Edelman

News, Technology

The rumours that Google was looking to include an adblocker integrated into its latest version of Chrome turned out to be just that: rumours. It was never, as some speculated, going to turn Chrome into a gatekeeper for ads, filtering out all placements other than those served on its own network, GDN. Nevertheless, the story came about for a reason, one that throws down the gauntlet to the whole of the online ad industry: up your game.

This is especially interesting to me as anything that affects traditional online advertising in this way places an ever-greater emphasis on Earned Media. My role at Edelman will be to deliver performance-driven Paid Media campaigns that amplify and kick-start the syndication of high-quality content that represents real value to consumers and brands alike. Integrated adblockers will, in my view, help achieve this.

The core issue here is one with which we are all familiar: more and more users of Chrome are taking advantage of the plethora of extensions available that block ads. Users do this because they irritate people. They irritate people because…

  • The ads aren’t relevant – the mechanisms that attempt to ensure that those ads served are “relevant” or even “useful” are tricky to develop when the measure of success is “eyeballs”
  • The ads are annoying – the best way to deliver standout is interruption

Google could shut adblocking down in an instant by removing this capability from its browser, used by roughly 50% of internet users in the US, but it never has. As such, whilst not actively encouraging blocking, Google has been party to the practice for some time now. Along with Facebook and Microsoft, it’s a founder member of the Coalition for Better Ads that recently published a list of ad units that it would like to see done away with, formats that it claimed were most likely to cause users to download adblockers.

Given the increasing pre-eminence of the Google/Facebook axis of online ad spend (one source cited the increasing duopoly now accounted for 99% of all online ad-spend growth in 2016), it is at least refreshing to see Google (and the other members of the Coalition) reignite the debate around how the industry can improve the ads its serves. It’s beneficial to all parties to find how the public can become more enfranchised in the presence of ad units around their content so as to feel less compelled to resort to blocking. Google has been at the forefront of this for years – the quality measures that reward success are at the core of their business model: the user’s opportunity to skip and the advertiser’s 30 second pay threshold for InStream in YouTube and Quality Score for Search ads before that. Facebook, Twitter et al have copied these models with great effect in more recent times – “Programmatic” goes some of the way to addressing this for display ads, but, in my view, not enough so long as the primary buying metric remains impressions. Indeed, the online display world has summarily failed to address the quality of its ads for far too long – it’s the root cause of its current growth malaise.

So what are the alternatives? A conscientious move towards CPE (that translates into an effective CPM) would be a start. But the reality is that there needs to be a concerted effort to move towards models that reward the advertisers for good products and good ads that don’t just disrupt, one that encourages media owners to develop quality content and forge relationships with ad exchanges that reward good-performing ads. It’s this that will assuage the compulsion to block, whatever application it is that’s doing the blocking.

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