The Acceptable Ads Committee (AAC) met on December 1, 2020, for the seventh time since its inception in 2017. Sticking to health precautions, the board met remotely. The main topic of this meeting was to discuss the results of the second video ads study – the study that placed the video ads formats identified as least intrusive in the first video ads study within the context of the browsing experience of ad-blocking users.
Given the tremendous growth of video ads during the past years and the continued positive growth outlook, the AAC commissioned the video ads study to explore whether video ads could be considered in the Acceptable Ads Standard.
As the first step in this process, a preliminary study was commissioned, aiming to identify factors that could make video ads less annoying. The second study then aimed to put the “least annoying” video ads from the preliminary study into the context of the whole browsing experience of the user. The video formats tested included three different types of pre-roll video ads, specifically:
- 6-second non-skippable video ad
- 15-second skippable video ad
- 15-second non-skippable video ad
In addition, a number of banner ad formats were tested alongside these ads as a control, some of which met the Acceptable Ads Standard. The independent research provider Dynata conducted the study among 4,000 ad-blocking users from the US, France and Germany, testing two different mock brands for each ad, to control for ad creative content.
Results of the Video Ads study
The diagram below demonstrates the distribution of ratings of the different ad formats tested. All video ads were rated significantly worse in comparison to the Acceptable Ads tested as a control (a static rectangle ad and a top leaderboard). Indeed, over 35% of users found all the video advertising formats tested to be disruptive, annoying and intrusive, or very/extremely so. Interestingly, while the presence of a skip button and the length of the ad made a difference, that difference was rather small. This, however, is probably explained by the fact that this study only included the shortest pre-roll formats commonly in use.
Upon further in-depth analysis, the study concluded that none of the video ad formats evaluated met the “acceptability threshold” necessary for an ad format to make it into the Acceptable Ads Standard.
As expected, the data once again showed that Acceptable Ads formats are extraordinarily well received by ad-blocking users. Indeed, the Acceptable Ads formats tested scored exceedingly well on all the measured dimensions: annoyance, intrusiveness and disruptiveness. This finding provides another proof point for user acceptance of the current Acceptable Ads Standard.
If you are interested in all findings and a more detailed analysis, please check out the full report [LINK].
Based on the results of the study, it was clear that none of the video ad formats tested met the threshold required for an ad format to be deemed “acceptable” (i.e. <35% of users find it annoying, disruptive or intrusive).
That said, several members of the Committee noted that a couple of the formats studied fell just short of the 35% threshold. This sparked a discussion amongst Committee members as to whether there was a way for Acceptable Ads-participating ad blockers to identify which of their users are not bothered by such formats and selectively allow such ad formats for those users. Committee leadership is in ongoing discussions with major ad blockers about this concept, but given that the formats studied didn’t meet the AAC’s acceptability threshold, such a decision is currently outside of the AAC’s scope.
The AAC’s Representatives also spent some time discussing trends in the online advertising industry and on the Web.
In contrast to the beginning of the year, when stakeholders across the supply chain saw a significant disruption in CPMs because of COVID, there was a strong recovery in Q3 and Q4, with many publishers seeing CPMs comparable to pre-COVID times.
The Committee also spent time speaking about the ongoing industry discussions happening around Google Chrome’s plan to deprecate third-party cookies and replace them with a new mechanism for “privacy safe” ad targeting (the “Privacy Sandbox”), a plan which is likely to totally disrupt the way the industry monetizes the Web, once those changes are live in 2021 or 2022.
In response to these upcoming changes, there has been an explosion of ID vendors, privacy products and “email hashing” technologies, a term used to describe the process where a user’s identity is encrypted with a key and then turned into a secure, encoded digital customer identity that can be sent to other trusted parties.
Lastly, the Representative from the user coalition of the AAC reported that Youtube has taken a more aggressive stance in video ads distribution. Recent changes in the user terms allow Youtube to display ads on all videos, including small YouTubers who don’t meet Youtube’s partner program requirements. As a result, it seems YouTube will be able to monetize these less-followed creators’ content without compensating them.
Privacy research for Acceptable Ads
Given the ongoing changes happening at the intersection of privacy and online advertising (some which are described above), the AAC has historically taken the stance that our focus should be on minimizing the disruptiveness of advertising rather than on leading the charge on Web privacy.
However, the topic of privacy on the Web is becoming an increasingly salient issue for users and advertising industry stakeholders alike. Indeed, some members of the user coalition of the AAC have called for further research into ad-blocking user expectations with respect to privacy.
As maintaining a great user experience is one of the guiding principles of the AAC, the AAC will be opening a dialogue about this with other coalitions within the Committee to discuss the impact of this development on the Acceptable Ads Standard.
Finally, with the completion of our research around pre-roll video ads in Q4, the AAC issued a call to our membership for new research topics and we’ve received a great number of suggestions. This has prompted us to design a better, more streamlined process for research topic submissions that makes it as easy as possible for all members of the AAC to have their voices heard. The AAC will reconvene in early 2021 to discuss the proposed research topics and align on a prioritization.
The AAC is happy to announce that our official, new website has been launched at acceptableadscommittee.org! Check it out, and let us know if you have any feedback.