If you’re a member of the digital advertising ecosystem, you’ve probably heard of either ‘‘Acceptable Ads,’ or the ‘Coalition for Better Ads.’ Both are sets of criteria that were developed to combat the dissatisfaction that users are experiencing with bad ads across the web. Though online advertising is primarily what keeps the internet free, more and more users have been turning to ad blockers recently as a result of the sometimes intrusive and disruptive ad experience.
Ad blockers disrupt the online value exchange as this is how many publishers fund their content creation and this endangers the sustainability of ‘free’ online content. Moreover, the rise in ad blocking suggests that self-regulation within ad tech is failing the user.
Though different in their own way, both committees agree on one thing; bad ads are bad for everyone and the industry must come together to solve this issue and create standards that protect the user experience.
What is the Coalition for Better Ads?
The Coalition for Better Ads was formed in 2016 by a number of trade associations and companies involved in the media, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Unilever and the American Association of Advertising Agencies. Essentially, the coalition was formed to understand consumers’ preferences and address their expectations in the digital advertising ecosystem. Many online publishers depend on advertising to fund their content creation and this is what keeps the majority of the internet free for users.
Unfortunately, the emergence of intrusive and disruptive ad formats, such as pop-ups and large sticky ads, lead to a large increase in the number of internet users installing ad blockers which threaten the ad-sponsored ‘free’ content model. Last year, the Coalition for Better Ads launched new global standards for ads, known as the Better Ads Standards. The standards are based on extensive research, consumer insights and cross-industry expertise into the least preferable ad formats to establish which formats are most likely to cause consumers to install ad blockers.
The Coalition’s research for the Better Ads Standards involved surveying more than 25,000 users in North America and Europe about their preferences for different types of online ad formats.
What are the Better Ads Standards?
The Coalition for Better Ads identified twelve ad experiences that were considered by users as the least favoured and the most likely to prompt them to adopt an ad blocker. Some examples include auto-play video ads with sound (outstream), flashing animated ads and full-screen scroll over ads. Members of the Coalition encourage publishers and advertisers to use these standards to help them understand what ad experiences to avoid.
What are Acceptable Ads?
Acceptable Ads is an initiative that was launched in 2011 by Eyeo, the company behind Adblock Plus. The initiative aims to improve the digital advertising ecosystem and make it more sustainable. The criteria for Acceptable Ads was initially developed by Eyeo in 2012 with a little bit of input from users of Adblock Plus. However, the initiative was then handed over to the Acceptable Ads Committee (AAC) which was established in 2017.
The AAC comprises of three coalitions:
For-profit: including business stakeholders, advertisers, ad-tech providers, advertising agencies, publishers and content creators. (Note: OKO’s Managing Director, Mat Bennett is a member of this coalition).
User Advocate: including general stakeholders, such as ad-blocking users and digital rights organisations.
Expert: including stakeholders that are specialists in online advertising and ad blocking, such as researchers, creative agents, user agents and academics.
The committee has developed and improved upon the criteria which are adhered to by members of the ecosystem in order for ads to be considered as less invasive and annoying. Acceptable Ads is a default feature in Adblock Plus which means that ads that meet the criteria are automatically shown to users. However, Adblock Plus users can also disable this feature and choose not to see even acceptable ads. Acceptable Ads protect the user experience, whilst also ensuring that publishers are able to monetize their traffic sustainably.
“92% of Adblock Plus users have chosen to allow Acceptable Ads over no ads at all.”
What are the Acceptable Ads Standards?
The criteria that publishers and advertisers must meet in order to get their ads shown to ad-blocking users can be found here. The main criteria that must be met are as follows:
Placement: Ads must not disrupt the user’s natural reading flow. They should be placed above, below or beside the main content.
Distinction: Ads and content should be clearly distinguishable and must be labelled as an advertisement or its equivalent.
Size: The amount of space taken up by ads should never exceed content space. Ads should also comply with size limitations depending on the position.
“The AAC determines the criteria that define which ads are acceptable. It also governs the Acceptable Ads Standard.”
Coalition for Better Ads VS The Acceptable Ads: What’s the difference?
The main difference between the two is that the Better Ads Standards were developed by trade associations and companies involved in the media who carried out research to establish which ad formats to avoid to reduce the number of ad blockers. The Acceptable Ads Standards, however, were developed through surveying ad-blocking users to establish which ad formats they deem as acceptable.
The Acceptable Ads Standards come from ad-blocking users directly and aim to build an ecosystem filled with ads that users find acceptable, as opposed to simply avoiding ad formats that encourage users to install ad blockers. Whilst the Better Ads Standards are enforced by Google, the Acceptable Ads Standards are enforced by Adblock Plus.
The two competing standards serve a similar purpose and both aim to create an online environment that is less intrusive for users.