Around a month ago, Google released its built-in ad filter for Chrome, which blocks ads that are widely considered the most disruptive, while allowing more innocuous ones to show. This could cause major changes in the digital ad market, especially for Google’s platforms, such as search and display ads, as well as YouTube ads.
Given the context of ad blocker usage today, the move is widely considered a strategic one that could benefit the digital ad market in general and Google in particular. With a built-in ad filter on one of the world’s leading browsers, people may be less inclined to buy more stringent software. This would allow publishers, especially Google, to make steady money off their more discreet ads—rather than losing them all to another program.
More importantly, it shows that Google is willing to listen to users’ preferences.
In 2016 there were over 615 million devices running ad blockers of some sort, with growth especially strong among mobile devices, according to a study by PageFair. In addition to browser extensions, users can now get dedicated ad blockers through mobile apps or VPN services. With interruption as the second highest motivator for ad blocking (29%, just behind 30% for security), Google’s concession could be the key to building goodwill.
While YouTube’s video ads may emerge largely unscathed, there’s still much that can be learned from how Google and ad publishers are reframing the terms of engagement. What was once a fight against ad blockers is now a battle against bad ads.
When Ads Go Bad
When should you consider an ad bad? For users, obviously, it’s when it detracts from their online experience. The most widely hated ads are non-skippable video ads and auto-play ads with audio. You know, the ones some advertisers call “high-impact” as a euphemism.
But consider it this way. If users hate your ads, they’re not going to like you any better. So any ad that drives users away—”high-impact” or otherwise—is something that brands and publishers should consider a bad ad too.
Furthermore, experience has shown that you get more out of listening to your customers than trying to fight them. While some websites have tried ad block walls—features that hid content from users until they removed or disabled their ad blockers—customers have proved stubborn.
When faced with an ad block wall, 74% users would rather leave than disabled their ad blocker. And considering that 90% of users have been faced with such a situation, this isn’t merely a hypothetical scenario.
Conversely, users are willing to compromise: 77% of ad block users surveyed indicated that they found some ad formats to be permissible. Skippable ads are likely to tip the balance in advertisers’ favor: research from Treads showed that 79% of consumers would consider disabling an ad blocker if they had the option to skip or close ads.
The takeaway, ultimately, is that pitched battle with the audience does publishers no good. For brands, it could very well do lasting harm. The best way forward would seem to be close to the options Google has chosen, which is finding the middle ground.
The question we’re left with is this: how can video ads better satisfy users’ preferences?
Interruption is the main culprit in dissatisfied viewers, so the various solutions have attempted to address it in different ways.
- Some solutions focus on content adjustments. These have more to do with the conceptualization and execution of ads on the creative front.
- Other approaches have attempted to tackle platform issues. These have more to do with the technology used in calling and displaying ads.
In terms of content, many analysts say that a move to native content is a good idea. The Treads research shows while 48% of users consider pre-roll ads intrusive, only around 23% said the same of native video ads.
For those looking to reach audiences specific to YouTube, however, that’s not much of an alternative. And that is where influencer marketing steps in. Having influencers on YouTube—or other video platforms—benefits you in two ways.
The first is the standard set of benefits you get from influencer marketing. You gain access to a captive, targeted market; your brand is recommended to them by someone who knows how best to reach them, and you get the endorsement of someone they trust. If you partner with a discerning influencer, then you can rest assured that your ads are likely to mesh with their audience.
The second benefit is that by having your ads integrated directly into the video, you get around the problems of the intrusive pre-roll and jarring mid-roll formats. On top of the abruptness of such ads, they usually involve sudden alterations in quality or gaps in loading. Ads that are part of a video will play more smoothly, creating less of a disruption.
The jarring break in pre- or mid-roll ads is something that video platform Brightcove has been trying to tackle more directly. Through a method called “Lift,” they’ve attempted to solve two problems at once: the disruption and quality issues that come from having a video play in the middle of another one; and the signals that allow ad blockers to stop video ads, to begin with.
Lift changes the way requests are made so that ad blockers can’t detect it and also so that the resulting video ads play seamlessly when they enter the main video. Coupled with more conscientiously crafted ads, this should allow for a much smoother experience. If video ads are seen as relevant, they may come to be seen as an augmentation of the experience— much like how full-page spreads are intrinsic to glossy magazines and billboards define the landscape of major metropoles.
Questing for Quality
When it comes to ads being part of the experience, of course, it’s hard to beat the SuperBowl: the ads that make their way there are a spectacle unto themselves. But this wouldn’t be possible without stringent quality assurance processes from the brands, their agencies, and the event organizers.
If there’s anything advertisers should take away from recent developments, it’s that customers will always welcome quality products while pushing back against tactless cash grabs. Only bad ads require an interruption to make up for their lack of substance. Quality ads, when deployed to the right audiences, will always have enough appeal to stand on their own. Take a chance on these ads and customers will take a chance on you.
Being an artist, movie buff and a media enthusiast, content writing is my career train. I am a proud alumni of Symbiosis Institute of Media Communication (Pune) and currently working for Vidooly.