Today’s column is written by Spencer Scott, head of media platforms at PCH/Media.
How did it come to this?
That’s the question digital publishers and advertisers have been asking themselves in recent years. Despite an abundance of creative ad formats, hyperprecise targeting tools, premium publishers and audience data, the digital ad ecosystem had sunk further and further into a sea of annoying ads. And the increasing dominance of programmatic made it worse.
No one wins in that environment. Publishers lose revenue. Advertisers see performance drop. And consumers get frustrated.
However, I see a turning of the tide in ad quality. More and more, publishers and advertisers are realizing that quality ads – with quality audiences – are the key to success. And the industry is lining up to support an approach that is helping the premium publisher.
Advertisers, for example, are setting new expectations. When the chief brand officer at a respected industry leader like Procter & Gamble says, "There's too much crap" in the media supply chain, as Marc Pritchard did in April, you can bet publishers up and down the spectrum are listening.
Publishers are also seeing a shift in advertising tactics, with advertisers moving away from scale as the most important facet of a campaign and buying across smaller, more focused site lists. Yes, a campaign still needs to reach a large number of consumers but advertisers are demanding that reach within quality sites.
Verification tools are also making a difference. The shift to quality is a fine concept, but without third-party verification of essential measures of quality, such as viewability and audience measurement, it’s nothing but hype.
Even the most well-known publications need more than just their say-so to convince skeptical advertisers of their value. Truly premium publishers put user experience at the top of their priorities – aligning them with advertisers’ concerns – and are now offering verification from sources such as comScore for audiences and Moat for viewability.
Another factor: Google brings ad blocking to Chrome – and publishers applaud. On the surface, the leading web browser adding native ad blocking would seem to be a giant red flag for publishers. In this case, though, Google’s thoughtful approach and the changing perceptions of publishers have flipped that script on its head. Google – with a huge amount of its revenue dependent on advertising – is planning to implement Chrome’s ad blocking with sensitivity to the needs of both publishers and advertisers.
Specifically, Chrome will automatically block some of the most intrusive ad formats, including pop-ups, auto-playing video ads with sound and “prestitial” ads with countdown timers. And the blocking will affect entire sites if they use any of the targeted ad types.
This is another win for advertisers and publishers. Advertisers have more chances to reach consumers who don’t turn to third-party ad blockers, which are much less selective about the ads they block. More importantly, premium publishers don’t lose revenue to consumers who are trying to block intrusive ads but chose a technology solution that blocks all ads.
Technical improvements are also chipping in. The emphasis on quality is driving more technical changes, too. In contrast to the Chrome ad blocking, which will impact entire sites for using intrusive ads, Google is going to enforce content-based blacklists on a page-by-page basis, instead of pulling its AdSense and DoubleClick ads from entire sites. This allows publishers to host controversial or age-sensitive content on appropriate parts of their sites, without losing out on all ads from Google properties.
The IAB’s new ads.txt project will solve another long-standing problem: spoofing. By maintaining a list of authorized resellers and exchanges for major publishers, the project aims to cut out impostors who fraudulently represent themselves as premium publishers.
For publishers, advertisers and consumers alike, the advantages of quality advertising are too many and too compelling to be ignored for long. As the digital advertising industry continues to move to quality, I expect the benefits to accumulate, technology to continue to help and the pace of change to accelerate.