Google’s plan to block some ads has ad-tech companies scrambling — and calling it a dictator

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Flickr/Isaac Bowen

  • Google’s Chrome browser will automatically block certain ad formats, and that’s causing ad tech companies to scramble.
  • The startup Parsec says it is completely shifting its business because of Google.
  • Google says its actions are based on the recommendations of the Coalition For Better Ads, a cross-industry group focused on stemming the rise of ad-blocking
  • Yet many in the digital ad industry aren’t clear on when these changes will take hold, what they need to do to prepare and who’s driving them.

Parsec, a three-year old startup, had found its niche. The company designed ads that people have to move out of the way with their finger order to keep reading a story on their mobile phone. 

The unique approach meant users would be required to a degree to interact with an ad, instead of just letting it slip past as they read a story or click through a slideshow. The rough idea was that people would be more likely to stop and notice these ads, and ideally, they’d spend more time with them than the average banner.

Now, Parsec CEO Marc Guldimann says Google is blowing that business up. 

Starting next year, when Google rolls out the latest version of its Chrome browser, those ads will be automatically blocked. It’s not just them. Also blocked are ads that automatically start blaring sound, and others like these that Google says make the experience of browsing the web worse.

So Parsec is scrambling to ditch the old ad unit entirely — which means getting publishers, advertisers, and other business partners to run an entirely different, Chrome-approved, ad unit. 

Here are the old Parsec ads:

Guldimann acknowledges that the company was always going to have to move away from ads that force interaction. 
But his complaint is that Google is using its massive power in the digital ad ecosystem, to play judge, jury, and executioner of ad-tech companies. He’s not clear, he says, on how Google made the decision it did or when and how it’ll be implemented. 

“Right now, they are a benevolent dictator,” he said. “Let’s not joke ourselves. They own the browser. We’re playing in their world. They set the rules.”Daily Beast

Parsec isn’t alone in facing a sudden shift from a tech platform. Publishers too — especially those that had loaded up their sites with lots of videos that play automatically with sound— have to work out what the new Chrome restrictions will mean. 

Yet as the industry grapples with how to adapt to the coming changes next year, there’s loads of confusion over who is in charge, how the annoying ads will be identified and what the timeframe is for compliance. It all points to an uncomfortable position for Google, which is both a massive ad sales entity and the provider of the web’s most popular browser in the U.S.

Google says its just following the lead of the Coalition for Better Ads, a consortium of ad industry trade groups and big tech and media companies formed in September of last year.

The Coalition says it has conducted proprietary research on over 100 types of digital ads graded by 25,000 consumer respondents in the U.S. and Europe. That’s how it came up with dozen ad types that consumers find ‘annoying’ and that publishers should avoid. The list includes video ads that play automatically with sound and ads the cover more than a third of a person’s screen, for example.

It also includes “Full-Screen Scrollover ads,” or ads that “force a user to scroll through an ad that appears on top of content.” In other words, exactly the kind of ads Parsec bet the company on.

Google says with the coming Chrome update it’s just providing the hammer that the industry can use to apply these recommendations in one fell swoop.

” Thanks to the Better Ads Standards, the ad industry has 12 ad experiences that we know annoy Internet users and encourage people to opt out of ads entirely,” said a Google spokesperson.” Chrome has a long history of protecting users from annoying or harmful experiences. For example, like other browsers, Chrome blocks pop-ups in new tabs and shows warnings before malware pages. “

‘Uncomfortable’

Given the rise in popularity of ad blockers, it’s clear that digital advertising needs to clean up its act. Many ad insiders, though, aren’t wild about Google deciding what ads are ok and which are not. 

In fact, several executives told Business Insider they are of the belief that Google is the driving force behind the Coalition, and that it is funding and dictating the effort. They speak as if the Coalition is Google.

Both Google and the Coalition say this is not the case.

Parsec is moving forward with new ads that the company hopes combine consumer interruption with consumer respect. Guldimann estimates the company is about halfway through its transition to Chrome friendly ads.

The new Parsec ads:

“This has been an impetus for where we want to be as a company,” he said. “There’s just been a lack of transparency on how we got here.” 

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