Google’s Getting Ready To Counter The Ad Blockers – But There Are A Few Stumbling Blocks

GoogleadblockingTo know your enemy, you must become your enemy. That could be one way to view Google’s rumored entrance into the world of ad blocking.

Recent buzz has centered on Google spearheading an industrywide initiative that sounds a heck of a lot like an acceptable ads program, taking an unexpected page from the Adblock Plus playbook. An announcement seems imminent.

But maybe it’s not all that unexpected.

Google pays an annual fee to ABP-owner Eyeo to whitelist its ads. The number $25 million has been floated, although some sources tell AdExchanger that it’s closer to $40 million or $50 million.

While that’s an infinitesimal percentage of Google’s revenue – in Q1 2016, Alphabet reported $18 billion in ad revenue alone – shelling out to an ad blocker puts Google in the weird position of financing a tool that eats into publisher revenue.

There is a clear incentive for Google to take action. But Google introducing something the whole industry will adopt? That’s another story.

And therein lie multiple rubs. For one, Google is Google, king of advertising. While its scale might give it undue influence, Google a) doesn’t control the entire ecosystem, and b) is far from independent.

“The challenge with Google coming up with their own acceptable ads initiative is that I don’t believe they would be able to enforce it on the wider web,” said Dean Murphy, creator of popular iOS 9 ad-blocking app Crystal, which accepts a monthly payment from Eyeo to allow ads from companies on ABP’s whitelist to slip through its filter.

Regardless of what happens, there will still be “a place for ad blocking,” he said.

“Enforcement of a criteria is a huge hurdle for anyone who isn’t an ad blocker, especially one spearheaded by Google, as it may be seen to use its advertising and search engine clout in an anticompetitive way,” Murphy said.

That hasn’t stopped Google from laying the groundwork.

Google already has some internal ad guidelines and policies of its own around what ads are acceptable, including technical requirements geared toward user experience.

Google also operates an ad preferences center where users can manage what ads they see, and it’s been doing research to try and figure out what makes ads annoying to users.

But these aren’t enforceable across the entire Internet.

In 2015, Google launched a so-called sustainable advertising unit helmed by DoubleClick vet Scott Spencer, perhaps a step in the direction of an industry standard.

It’s Spencer’s job to help Google improve online advertising and develop Google’s strategy around ad blocking.

The sustainable advertising group’s main goal for 2016 is “ensuring that we take the demand for ad blockers out of the system – that consumers should want to see ads and not be annoyed,” Spencer said at AdExchanger’s Industry Preview event in January.

Getting publishers on board across the board, though, for a Google-led (supposedly industrywide) acceptable ads-like initiative will likely be an uphill battle.

Perhaps Google will use Accelerated Mobile Pages, its project to speed up the mobile web, as an enticement and a cudgel by making participation in its version of an acceptable ads program into a prerequisite for AMP.

Google might also try to freeze out ABP with a sucker punch to where it hurts most – in the wallet.

With ABP licking its wounds – Google doubtlessly represents an enormous portion of its overall revenue – Google could present its own acceptable ads standard with backing from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and its ad blocker-hating chief, Randall Rothenberg.

But it couldn’t be positioned as a Google solution. Whatever Google puts out there would need industrywide support from trade bodies, advertisers, publishers and browsers.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s top-ranking ad exec, said as much on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt on Tuesday.

“We want this to be for the entire industry,” Ramaswamy said. “We want to make sure that we actually work cooperatively with the publishers, with the IAB, with everybody that’s out there.”

Initiatives like the IAB’s LEAN program to make ads light, encrypted, ad choice compliant and noninterruptive are fine, but the goal is to come up with something more actionable, a “standard that advertisers and publishers can follow,” Ramaswamy said.

It’s an enormous undertaking, but let’s say Google can rally the entire industry to its side. What will happen to Eyeo’s Acceptable Ads initiative as it exists today?

“It’ll stand strong,” Murphy said. “I doubt many if any of Eyeo’s partners would take a financial loss just to send a message.”

Google declined to comment for this story.

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