Chrome ad-blocker set to transform online advertising in India and globally
For some online advertising publishers, pop-up ads, auto-playing videos, and other aggressive online advertisements are a tactical part of their livelihood. For most average users, however, they’re just a nuisance to be cursed and closed.
So when Google announced in June of last year that Chrome – India’s most popular web browser with a 42.72% market share – would begin featuring a built-in ad-blocker, for many it sounded like a dream come true.
Now that dream-come-true has a set debut date – February 15. As of that day, websites displaying full-page ad interstitials, flashing ads, and ads that unexpectedly play sound will be warned and eventually stripped of ads by the Chrome ad-blocker. Google intends to penalize websites not in compliance with ad standards set by the Coalition for Better Ads, cutting off their ad revenue, and thus forcing publishers and media companies to abandon ‘low-quality’ advertisements.
But in a country where, according to Strategy Analytics’s 2016 numbers, a whopping 97 percent of smartphones run on Google’s Android, some view Google’s assertion of control as unfair, and even monopolistic.
As Times Internet Limited (TIL) CEO Gautam Sinha told The Times of India, “Google already controls over 60% of the ad industry. By setting standards on what ads are acceptable or not, Google is effectively regulating the entire digital ad industry, including its competitors – a role that no company should have the authority to do.”
“Google needs to be a little less dictatorial in how they conduct their business. Along with user experience, Google needs to put an equal emphasis on creating a sustainable digital marketing ecosystem,” says Executive director at The Indian Express Anant Goenka.
Indeed, fair or unfair, the ad-blocker is likely to hit smaller publishers particularly hard, potentially running them out of the industry altogether. While premium publishers were already phasing out invasive ads as per market trend, “if Google decides to tighten the strings on this, smaller publishers won’t be able to sustain their businesses,” Sinha says.
As Alexander Bachmann, industry expert and CEO of affiliate marketing company Admitad, explains, “Even with the ad-blocker software that many users have had for some time, many small publishers made money with the click-under and pop-under ads, which largely weren’t blocked. With the new ad-blocker, these advertising market players will start losing their conversions.”
For many bigger premium companies like Admitad, however, the regulation is welcome. In the past users have turned to ad-blocker software that blocked nearly all ads indiscriminately. With so many different ad-blocker programs blocking ads outright, there were no set standards that companies could adhere to in order to keep their ads visible.
Google’s hope is that the Chrome feature will make these third-party ad-blockers obsolete.
“One positive about the new Chrome ad-blocker is that ad-blocking standards will be regulated and consistent across the board,” says Bachmann. “Publishers will know what they can and cannot do.”
Others in the industry see the new feature as a natural evolution in online advertising.
“Ad blocking is bound to happen because that’s what consumers want,” says Jerrid Grimm, the CEO and founder of Pressboard, an online sponsored content marketplace connecting brands with media publishers. “The problem isn’t the people blocking ads. The problem is the ads themselves.”
Grimm, like many others, believes that aggressive advertising drives away users, and that the changes will force advertisers to create better ad experiences that are less cluttered and intrusive.
“Thoughtful ads that first seek to respect users’ time and experience are what’s needed,” says Grimm.
And while echoing this opinion, many in the industry would add that the higher-quality ads of the future will take the more subtle, more personally tailored form of influencer marketing. Leveraging the reach and supposed authenticity of social media personalities who expose products to their like-minded followers, influencer marketing offers a less visible, and therefore less off-putting, ad experience.
Co-founder and CEO of Peersway, Arnab Majumdar, envisions influencer marketing as tomorrow’s dominant form of online advertising, with nano-influencers – i.e., those with less than 10k followers – leading the way.
“Moving forward branded content will need to be more personal and trustworthy,” says Majumdar. “Nano-influencer marketing can fill this need by connecting brands with ordinary consumers who create engaging content which is trusted and enjoyed by other consumers.”
For better or worse, the consensus among industry experts is that a transformation of the industry is underway. Google sees its ad-blocker as a logical outgrowth of this transformation, and promises to hold its own ads to those same standards. And to object, at this point, is probably like protesting the changing tide.