Facebook loses steam, Vice gets sold: Bold calls for 2018

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After a turbulent 2017 for media and marketing, 2018 looks to be one where publishers face up to lowered expectations and reckon with platform disappointments. Here are some bold predictions that could play out in the year ahead: Continue reading “Facebook loses steam, Vice gets sold: Bold calls for 2018”

The Coming War: Browsers Against Advertising Pollution

by Frederic Filloux

An internet user testing an advertising flow at a secret Google facility in Mountain View (Photo: Nasa Commons)

Next year, will see a major offensive from Google and Apple against the worse parts of the advertising world. It will be tricky for Google, bound to appear as judge and jury. Expect many casualties. But the entire ecosystem will benefit from these initiatives.

To put it bluntly, the ad community has less than a year to clean up its mess before browsers take matters in their own hands.

Early 2018, Chrome and Safari, which together achieve a 68% worldwide market share for browsers, will deploy major features aimed at restoring a decent user experience.

Last week at its WWDC 17′ Developer Conference, Apple announced that the next version of Safari will let users block auto-play video (technical details from Apple here). The move will eliminate a major annoyance: you scroll through a page and suddenly a promotional video starts at full volume. We all hate this, but intermediaries continue to sell the feature, extolling maximum visibility — and monetization. Always hungry for short-term revenue, and indifferent to user frustration, many publishers jumped at the autoplay opportunity.

The other big announcement last week is Apple’s plan to block advertisers’ ability to track users from one site to another (details here). Called retargeting, the tracking feature is a powerful booster for advertisers. As an example, you search the web for a pair of running shoes, spending time on various e-tailer sites. This creates a kind of footprint, no pun, and, for several weeks, almost anywhere you go, you’re bombarded by ads for sneakers — even if you actually did buy a pair — because the system has no way to know if and when you completed the transaction. This is one of the most potent boost for ad blockers.

As for Google, leveraging its dominant ad market position, the company is beefing up its efforts to clean up the ad ecosystem with two initiatives: the integration of an ad filtering system, and the deployment of a new system called Funding Choices, which is an iteration of the Contributors program. Both are experimental ways to compensate publishers for the loss of ad revenue stemming from the deployment of ad blockers — a great idea that suffered from a shaky implementation (I will detail these features in a coming Monday Note).

Google’s determination to clean up the advertising ecosystem is of critical importance for the future of the company and, consequently, for the revenue stream of publishers.

Let’s consider this stunning figure:

80% of ad networks applying to join Google’s advertising platform DFP are rejected because they present a risk of fraud.

To put it differently, if tomorrow Google removed all the safeguards that protect the 30 billion ads it serves daily, its giant ad network would be swamped by a flood of fraudulent ads, literally in a matter of minutes.

Users (and regulators) tend to forget that Google monitors everything on the internet and strives to protect its integrity. I remember a few years ago, a large website I was supervising in France was cut-off from the web by Google for several hours. Its anti-fraud system had detected one suspicious file, located in a remote sub-directory of a server operated by a third party ad-supplier we had never heard off.

Google knows better than anyone else the true state of the internet. And it’s ugly.

That’s why one of its top priorities is cleaning up the open web. (Facebook, operating in a walled-garden environment, has to deal with multiple concerns, but not this one.)

To that very purpose, Google joined — some say initiated — the Coalition for Better Ads, a large group of advertisers, media buyers, and publishers, committed to improving the ads ecosystem. Ironically, the CBA also included the Internet Advertising Bureau, whose job was supposed to warrant the integrity of the system (the IAB, created in 1996, had some time to think about the problem…).

Recently, after a couple of years of research (mostly done by Google) the CBA came up with its recommendation: a set of formats deemed to be bad, according to a panel of 25,000 consumers. (Download the gallery here.)

For Google, the logical next step is to enforce this widely accepted recommendation. Hence the deployment of an ad blocker that will be included in Chrome early next year. It will be aimed at blocking ads that don’t abide by the CBA good behavior recommendations.

Even if it has a clear path, Google is walking a thin line here. From a public relation perspective, the move will be tricky to manage as Google will inevitably be seen as judge and jury.

Already, scores of pundits whine that Google is leveraging his position to filter ads in order to reinforce its dominance. They conveniently omit that the Coalition for Better Ads corrals dozen of members, including Facebook, most media buyers as well as scores of large publishers.

My thesis is we are just at the beginning of a massive cleansing of the advertising ecosystem that will have far-reaching consequences:

• Scores of players in the ad-tech business will take a severe hit. Those who built businesses, sometimes large ones, at the expense of the user experience are on a deathwatch. It is definitely time to short some ad-tech stocks. I made my own list (I don’t play the stock market), make yours.

• In the same fashion as users installed ad blockers by the millions, many will vote with their mice. As NYU Stern’s marketing professor Scott Galloway recently said: “Advertising had become a tax that the poor and the technological illiterate pay.” Adding: “Technology is allowing us to opt out of advertising.” Twelve months from now, wether it will be a default setting or a feature activated by a single click, everyone will be able to get rid of ad pollution.

• In the next eighteen months, browsers will compete to include features aimed at delivering better and faster navigation on both desktop and mobile.

• We’ll see scores of publishers finally settling for the most reliable part of the news publishing business model and proposing ad-free subscriptions.

In the next Monday Note, I will look at the impact for publishers of “Funding Choice”, another initiative announced last week by Google as a remedy to the ad pollution.

frederic.filloux@mondaynote.com


The Coming War: Browsers Against Advertising Pollution was originally published in Monday Note on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Building a better web for everyone

The vast majority of online content creators fund their work with advertising. That means they want the ads that run on their sites to be compelling, useful and engaging ones that people actually want to see and interact with. But the reality is, it’s far too common that people encounter annoying, intrusive ads on the web—like the kind that blare music unexpectedly, or force you to wait 10 seconds before you can see the content on the page. These frustrating experiences can lead some people to block all ads—taking a big toll on the content creators, journalists, web developers and videographers who depend on ads to fund their content creation.

We believe online ads should be better. That’s why we joined the Coalition for Better Ads, an industry group dedicated to improving online ads. The group’s recently announced Better Ads Standards provide clear, public, data-driven guidance for how the industry can improve ads for consumers, and today I’d like to share how we plan to support it.

New tools for publishers

The new Ad Experience Report helps publishers understand how the Better Ads Standards apply to their own websites. It provides screenshots and videos of annoying ad experiences we’ve identified to make it easy to find and fix the issues. For a full list of ads to use instead, publishers can visit our new best practices guide.

As part of our efforts to maintain a sustainable web for everyone, we want to help publishers with good ad experiences get paid for their work. With Funding Choices, now in beta, publishers can show a customized message to visitors using an ad blocker, inviting them to either enable ads on their site, or pay for a pass that removes all ads on that site through the new Google Contributor.

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 2.20.08 PM.png

Funding Choices is available to publishers in North America, U.K., Germany, Australia and New Zealand and will be rolling out in other countries later this year. Publishers should visit our new best practices guide for tips on crafting the right message for their audience.

Chrome support for the Better Ads Standards

Chrome has always focused on giving you the best possible experience browsing the web. For example, it prevents pop-ups in new tabs based on the fact that they are annoying. In dialogue 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.

Looking ahead

We believe these changes will ensure all content creators, big and small, can continue to have a sustainable way to fund their work with online advertising.

We look forward to working with the Coalition as they develop marketplace guidelines for supporting the Better Ads Standards, and are committed to working closely with the entire industry—including groups like the IAB, IAB Europe, the WFA, the ANA and the 4A’s, advertisers, agencies and publishers—to roll out these changes in a way that makes sense for users and the broader ads ecosystem.

Google, the advertising company, could bring native adblocking to Chrome

Google is taking a counterintuitive approach to countering adblocking: building an adblocking feature of its own.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday night that Google is considering bringing an adblocking feature to the desktop and mobile versions of its Chrome web browser. The feature, which could be turned on by default, would block ads that don’t meet the standards set by the Coalition for Better Ads (of which Google and Facebook, among others, are both members and pay to fund), such as pop-ups, prestitials, and auto-play videos that have sound.

The company is also considering going a step further by blocking all ads on offending pages, rather than the offending ads alone, the Wall Street Journal reported. That could be bad news for publishers, which don’t always actively police the kinds of ads that appear on their pages.

Google alone will account for over 40 percent of digital advertising revenue in the U.S. this year, according to data from eMarketer. That’s double Facebook’s share.

But the move move makes more sense when you consider that, by leveraging the popularity of Chrome, Google could potentially wrest control over adblocking from popular third-party plugins like Adblock Plus. And Google could use that power to go after competitors like Facebook, which offers competing advertising products.

Such a move, on the other hand, could lead expose Google to antitrust suits from regulators concerned about the company using its products to suppress competition. Google could trade one problem for another.

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