Commentary

The Return Of The Attack Of The Bad Ads

Last November, we had fun interviewing Scott Moore, the founder of Ad Lightning, who spelled out just was wrong with programmatic advertising — ads that slowed down Web sites and drive users to put up ad blockers.

Now, Ad Lightning has come out with a study involving 605,000 examples of online ads, encompassing 65 web properties and 11 million impressions, gathered from October to the beginning of this year. According to Ad Exchanger, these “bad ads either exceeded IAB-recommended file size, made too many network requests, used too much processing power, weren’t secure or used an intrusive format like in-banner video.”

Ad Lightning has a financial stake in this, of course, in that it provides guidance to clients for ads that stay within recommended guidelines, such as a size ceiling of 300 kilobytes. Many of the ads in the Ad Lighting study exceeded 5 megabytes. Could your mobile browser handle that? There is a somewhat juvenile equation in America that bigger is always better. Consider the Whopper and the excess outlined in “Super Size Me.” But in online ads, nothing makes a user reach for an ad blocker faster than 5MB ad files.

What makes this doubly difficult for Ad Tech is that 1. Giants like Facebook have very strict guidelines for online ads, and when they compete with the rest of the online world that’s just one more advantage they have; 2. Facebook came up with a workaround for AdBlockPlus some months ago. AdBlockPlus is still stymied by it, despite confident boasts that the open source community would rise up and defeat it. On February 7, AdBlockPlus’ Björn Loesing posted on his company’s blog that difficulties remain in dealing with Facebook.

“We sincerely hope to have additional information for you soon. There’s been a few unforeseen technical difficulties going forward with this, but it’s definitely still on our roadmap.”

That sounds like defeat to me.

What sounds like insanity is the complexity of many of the ads studied by Ad Lightning.

According to Ad Exchanger, “Sampled ads averaged 56 network requests and tracking scripts, far exceeding the 15 requests in IAB guidelines. Many ads were also slow or intrusive. A third exceeded load time recommendations of 300 milliseconds. And 19% of in-banner video ads used autoplay. Half of all scripts weren’t secure or were SSL noncompliant."

Ad Exchanger reported that “Purch, a large programmatic publisher, deemed the findings alarming, according to Michael Hannon, VP of yield and revenue optimization. ‘As an industry trying to tackle things like ad blocking, overall latency, and simply providing the best user experience possible, this just makes it that much harder,’ he noted.”

Ad Lightning’s Scott Moore told me in November: “While there is a lot of noise about malware in ads, we don't see it frequently. The bigger and much more prevalent problems are with CPU consumption by ads as they render, file size — we often see 4MB ads being served to mobile browsers — and huge numbers of tracking and user sync scripts fired off by ads. We often see a single ad triggering over 100 unique JavaScript calls. These not only slow things down, they lead to data leakage. The other offenders are auto-play media (video and audio) and poorly executed animation in ads.”

And, according to its new study, some ads actually exceed 5MBs. It has often seemed to us that ad tech is on a suicide mission. This new report seems to confirm that.

7 comments about "The Return Of The Attack Of The Bad Ads".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from EMHS (Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems), February 22, 2017 at 12:16 p.m.

    The sample of the study, with only 65 properties and 11 million impressions, is likely not representative of the universe of internet experience. My non-data-based judgement is that, if anything, the actual experience is probably worse. 

    You're only cheating yourselves people. 

  2. John Motavalli from Freelance, February 22, 2017 at 12:42 p.m.

    Worse? Oh my God!

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, February 22, 2017 at 2:07 p.m.

    FBPurity is not stymied by Facebook changes on my computer. My ads are blocked (and I can block certain words or annoying features from my feed). Maybe the folks at AdBlock Plus are taking a "whitelist fee" from Zuckerberg.  As for "bad" ads, I consider any ad to be a bad interruption, without regard to supposed quality or engagement.

  4. Benny Radjasa from Armonix Digital, Inc., February 22, 2017 at 10 p.m.

    The ad operationns group who allows the upload of 5MB ad files should be force to watch Showgirls 10 time in a row, no sleep.  If the problem persist there is always Battlefield Earth.  No one cares, thats the problem.

  5. John Motavalli from Freelance, February 23, 2017 at 5:19 a.m.

    All of this, while AdBlockPlus takes about one minute to install...

  6. Björn Loesing from eyeo, February 24, 2017 at 9:41 a.m.

    Thanks for the shout-out, John. ;) We're definitely not giving up, I was just trying to find a more verbose way of simply posting "soon" over and over again. We learned the hard way not to give concrete deadlines for that feature!

  7. John Motavalli from Freelance, February 24, 2017 at 5:05 p.m.

    Bjorn, I want to believe in the open source community. Show me some results!

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