With progress of any kind comes the time for evaluation. Unfortunately, the ad industry hasn’t taken a holistic look at the consumer experience in the past few years, so it has failed to acknowledge and adjust to growing consumer dissatisfaction.
Digital advertising has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. From high-impact programmatic executions to advanced, data-driven analysis of issues like viewability and verification, the opportunities have become limitless. With progress of any kind comes the time for evaluation. Unfortunately, the ad industry hasn’t taken a holistic look at the consumer experience in the past few years, so it has failed to acknowledge and adjust to growing consumer dissatisfaction.
With this in mind, Coalition for Better Ads recently undertook such an audit and released its Better Ads Standards, aimed at understanding the consumer mindset and identifying the least-preferred ad experiences. The survey, which polled 25,000 consumers across Europe and North America on both desktop and mobile experiences, found that ads can feel intrusive and annoying. There is also an overreliance on retargeting, which can appear disrespectful to the consumers. Hence, the rise of ad blocking technology.
We must first emphasise that the new standards are in no way an indication of a crisis or a breaking point. But while many are still interpreting the standards, it’s clear that entities across the online ad ecosystem will be affected. Two parties in particular – agencies and publishers – will have to bear more responsibility than they may have done previously if the industry wants to ensure consistent quality ad experiences for all consumers.
To adapt to the recommendations of the Better Ads Standards, agencies must be aware of the media being purchased on behalf of their advertiser clients, which requires insight into the publishers. Agencies must also be proactive in precautionary initiatives that technology providers undertake, to better safeguard their clients from delivering impressions that may have a negative impact on their brands. Finally, they must identify key features and formats that behave in a user-friendly method.
One of the easiest best practices to adopt is to make the user the focus of the creative strategy. Brands can implement visual cues that encourage users to interact with ads, without being intrusive. User-friendly design, incorporated via programmatic technology and Dynamic Creative Optimisation (DCO), allows for an optimum level of safety and consistency. This enables brands to deploy their message with the confidence that they will get the return on ad spend they deserve.
Meanwhile, publishers can be proactive in weeding out disruptive formats and place stricter guidelines around redistributing the ad units that contain annoying user interactivity and deployment. The report identified four kinds of ad units that generally lead to poor user experiences: pop-up ads; auto-playing video ads with sound; prestitial ads with countdown; and large sticky ads. While there is great pressure to increase revenue, publishers have to be aware that the harm these ad units do to the consumer experience outweighs any potential revenue gains.
Publishers should adapt these ad units to better fit the user experience they want to provide. If auto-play video is an accepted feature on a site, publishers must arrange the video units so that they are triggered, muted and remain in-page unless the user engages with the ad. Publishers must also ensure that file weights are reasonable, so that consumers are not experiencing lengthier load times to view the requested page. One rule of thumb to adopt is that if functions happen on a page without a user initiating them, then the chances are that the ad is in violation of user-friendly performance guidelines.
As advertisers continue to push for higher engagement with attention-grabbing ad units, the industry at large needs to avoid falling into a trap of chasing ad quantity over quality experiences. The coalition’s mission is not to derail the advertising business, but to establish global standards that are increasingly user-focused. Understanding these needs and meeting consumer expectations is a responsibility that everyone in the ad industry shares.