Attack Of The Bad Ads

As if the threat from domination by Google and Facebook and the rise of ad blockers isn’t enough, now we’re being told that bad ads are going to kill digital advertising.

A startup called Ad Lightning, based in Seattle, has secured $2 million from Sinclair Digital Ventures and other investors. Ad Lightning wields a “proprietary intelligence tool” that is designed to weed out programmatic ads that slow down or detract from the user experience at a given Web property. The IAB has a series of standards it calls LEAN that attempts to also identify and ultimately remove offending ads, and Ad Lightning pledges to work within those standards.

We conducted an email symposium with Scott Moore, CEO of Ad Lightning, on bad programmatic advertising. He thinks that the ad tech industry will die unless it cleans up its act. The biggest culprit, he says, is the type of ad that seriously slows down the user experience.



“Every two seconds of page load delay causes an 18% drop off in user engagement,” Moore says. I’m not sure how generally well known that is, but it’s a fascinating metric. So many ads are designed with all kinds of bells and whistles to get the viewer interested, but the opposite result is obtained.

“The primary ad related issues that we see in our data are those that cause latency,” Moore observes. “We measure the delta in page load time with and without ads for our customers and analyze the underlying root causes of the latency. Slow pages lead to fewer pages consumed and thus fewer ads served resulting in lost revenue.”

CPU Consumption Is The Bigger Problem
A more popular conception, spawned by all those companies that offer to clean up your computer, is that most of the problem is tied to malware. But, Moore notes, “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.”

The ad tech industry, Moore maintains, is caught in a vicious cycle in which slow-loading ads cause frustration, leading to downloads of ad blocking software, or the use of new ad blocking browsers like Brave.

“The biggest threat to the industry is the rise of ad blocking software installs. Page Fair and Adobe have published an annual study that I'm sure you've seen. The only rational way for the industry to discourage ad block usage is to clean up our collective act. Consumers understand that free content has to be paid for and that ads are a key part of it. Unfortunately, an unintended consequence of the rise of programmatic advertising is the degradation of the consumer experience and that is causing a revolt in the guise of ad blocking software. “

And, as with everything else in the ad tech world, Facebook has a big advantage in this bad ad arena.

“Ironically, Facebook doesn't have the same problems because they closely control ad quality and they have a proprietary user ID platform,” Moore says. “Given that Facebook is a competitor to everyone else selling ads its would make sense to pay attention and adopt some of their best practices.”

I think Moore knows what he is talking about on this issue. Most recently he was the CEO of a humor property called Cheezburger, Inc., which was sold. He also was head of media at Yahoo! in the 2000s, and was GM at MSN, publisher of Slate and president of 

13 comments about "Attack Of The Bad Ads".
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  1. Andrew Hunt from Addroid, November 16, 2016 at 12:12 p.m.

    There are already in place well developed IAB standards that speak to the responsible use of the various formats described in this article.  Platforms already exist (such as ours, and others) that allow advertisers to build ads to IAB specs that respect the user experience, prevent malware, and reduce ad calls.  The reality is that publishers are struggling, and are willing to accept out of spec ads to keep their doors open.  This issue won't be solved by simply calling for 'better ads'.

  2. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, November 16, 2016 at 12:59 p.m.

    We have a new term here that has not been defined. This is "Bad Ads". While this might be an easy to understand phrase and general understood, in fact as there are maybe 3 or 4 different categories of "Bad Ads". 

    A bad ad can mean to Google and Facebook as one that drives the CPM rate down. To the advertisers they want their ads on the same page a data miner ad. To the publisher we want our fair share of quality Fortune 500 ads and not be discriminated by a computer program. I am sure others can come up with what "Bad Ad" means to them. But the point is, shouldn't all opinions be heard and considered instead of being force feed by several ad distributors?

    So is the problem really "Bad Ad" or bad choices, bad decisions, or even fairness?

  3. John Motavalli from Freelance, November 16, 2016 at 1:12 p.m.

    Right, we did allude to the LEAN standards that IAB came up with. I don't qualified to comment on how efficacious those are, but you have to start somewhere, right? Craig, do you think IAB is impartial or do they have a different agenda?

  4. Scott Moore from Ad Lightning, November 16, 2016 at 2:04 p.m.

    @Andrew Hunt  There is no question that the IAB is doing great work around standards.  I specifically referenced their LEAN standards.  They have also done a great job with the Open RTB standard, the new version of which is in review. 
    However, ad quality standards are often ignored by some advertisers and adtech that isn't specifically covered by the IAB can contribute to the latency problems which negatively impact user experiences.  The collective effect creates a kind of tragedy of the commons, whereby companies playing by the rules get negatively effected by those that ignore them.

  5. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, November 16, 2016 at 2:15 p.m.

    I think IAB is deaf, dumb and blind to what is really happening to publishers. IAB is top down and starts with the big ad agencies and advertisers. When it gets down to the level of the privately owned publishers, we are the very bottom of the food chain and get treated poorly.

    Here is a very real story. 

    Nearly 4 years ago, my website was one of the higher paid publishers for Google AdSense. We made in the 5 figures. We were happy.  I get a call out of the blue from a guy in India who said he was representing Google "AdWords".  I blew this off because I thought it was a scam of some kind.  Then I get email and another call. They gave me information only only Google would know. Now I know this is serious.

    The Google India snake charmer ask - correction - told me to take down one of three ads above the fold. One was a non-Google competitor ad.  John if you don't know, this is a felony anti-trust
    violation.  I told snake charmer him no.  Over the next several months snake charge said that "AdWords was over AdSense" and talked about what would happen if we didn't take down the third ad above the fold. Google would take revenue away from from Worse they have to the power to drop us from the first page first spot for the keyword "Sweepstakes" out of over 50 million postings. We were dropped to page 27. 

    I refused to break my loyality and values to my other ad vendors. India Google retalated. cut our 5 figure a month revenue down to under $2,000 a month. Then ad the page drop to 27 in the rankings, this was tough. 

    Simply I was being blackmailed by India Google into changing out website to GOOGLE STANDARDS NOT IAB. IAB HAD NO STANDARDS OR RULES. Now understand, our website is very complex in design. it takes months of planning and redesigning and is not simple. We are finally close to install our new version.  The total cost, loses and valued incurred is over $300,000.

    I wrote IAB. Nothing. They are cowards to stand up for the smaller privately own publishers.  They made it clear they are only for the mega internet companies only. 

    So you ask the question if I "think IAB is impartial or do they have a different agenda"? My answer is absolutely. 

    If you think my story is isolated, it's not. I have been told by a large legal firm who has a lawsuit against Google their are hundreds if not thousands of similar stories by publishers. This is why Google is fighting a class action status to include the hundreds or thousands of publishers who have been hurt by Google.

    To further answer your question, IAB doesn't represent the publishers unless you got very big bucks to give them.  They are out dated and it is time to bring the Dept. of Commerce to regular our industry.

  6. Andrew Hunt from Addroid, November 16, 2016 at 3:35 p.m.

    @Scott Moore, I know this tragedy well.  Enforcement efforts will help to some degree, whether publishers view their sites directly in a browser or use a scanning tool such as yours, but ultimately the root cause here is a lack of creative auditing by DSPs.  The solution to the tragedy is preventing bad ads from entering the ecosystem in the first place.  As @Craig Mcdaniel pointed out, not every party has aligned interests here, as reducing bad ads would reduce revenues for some very large companies.  And LEAN standards will help some, although ultimately the specs are enforced by individual publishers, and many in the industry believe LEAN specs will remain just a suggestion as with past IAB spec efforts.  For the record, I support all of the above efforts, and the IAB spec team is doing good work, but day-to-day experience tempers my expectations for rapid change. 

  7. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, November 16, 2016 at 5:39 p.m.

    Andrew, your comment is appreciated.  When my problem with Google started it was 4 years ago. Long before LEAN. 

    Prior to this Google problem, we had a very good relations with Google. about 11 years ago Google AdSense said if we redesigned our webiste to have 3 Google banners above the fold they would double or revenue. Gootle called us a test website then.  We didn't just redesign the site to have the 3 banners above the fold but we also added Silverlight and other new features to make the site to run faster. Google love it and they did pay us at a higher level.

    Note... Back when Silverlight came out, this made page load speeds considerable faster because the pages didn't refresh. Google AdSense banners and others simply didn't change. IF IAB really wants LEAN and super fast pages don't refresh them.  However the problem is, then the publisher will turn this feature off because they will get far few page view because ads are programmatic and paid on CPM instead of CPA or CPC or a combination there. That is the core of the problem. That is the core of the problem IAB and LEAN doesn't address. Why? Because IAB is lapdog to the Google's, MS, Facbook and the other high dollar donors. The smaller website can afford their high fees and we get shut out at the table.

    The other problem is hosting companies including Google, Amazon, Azure have considerable faster servers than 10 years ago, the faster speeds should be at lower price. The faster server and cloud speed have not been past on to the website owners to a great extent. IAB should get these hosting companies to give more speed for the dollar being paid now.  This alone would be the biggest help to speed up website. Will the big hosting company give in? I doublt it.

    So will the publisher agree with Mr. Butterworth's and IAB so called solutions? I doubt it. IAB is asking why to much money for the small to mid size publishers to give up and ask nothing of the biggest like Google, MS, Amazon and Facebook and publically traded companies.

    Does IAB stand up and say what Google did to me by telling me to take down a competitor's ad and breaking the anti-trust laws is wrong? Of course not. Google pays them a ton and sits on their board and committees. My $300,000 loss means nothing to IAB.

    Last there are additional ways to dealing with the ad load speed problem and ad blocking but this has become a tuff war between the very big who want more for their stockholders and the small who are trying to stay in business.

  8. John Motavalli from Freelance, November 17, 2016 at 3:51 a.m.

    A great discussion here. I can see this is a major issue in ad tech right now. There are so many ways that programmatic advertisers are squeezed left and right, it almost makes one nostalgic for the old days, when ad salesmen for Life would fill the book before lunch, grab 3 martinis in the bars at Grand Central, and head back to Connecticut.

  9. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, November 17, 2016 at 4:36 a.m.

    John there is a problem that has been around since I have been in business 13 years ago. This is since contents ads are hot, the key to them is not the banner but the text link within the banner. I have published over 60,000 sweepstakes and contest and rarely have we use a banner. The public and our members prefer clicking onto a text link to the sweeps. The problem? Google and DoubleClick controls all the quality text links and will not allow or resell them to ad networks or to me directly.  They know I would sell out a big chunk of their inventory and they can make more in AdSense. Is this fair? No. But the whole purpose behind Google's decision is they can sell the ads hands off and automated. 

  10. John Motavalli from Freelance, November 17, 2016 at 6:38 a.m.

    CRAIG, I find this really interesting. How common is this problem? 

  11. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, November 17, 2016 at 4:37 p.m.

    How interesting? If you are talking Google alone, there are several large law firms looking at making this class-action.  Plus there are court actions in the works with other clients.  I have not signed up as a client as of now.

    If you are ask why text links URL's are not made available, It's been forever except through the ad network companies. So this is why I work with many Fortune 500's directly. I give them a price on a flat rate that is about 40 percent less (estimation) in cost that what it would cost them to run with Google or the RTB's. Plus they get the social media for free, and if the URL stay's live in a archieve file, then the link to stays live on the search engines. This value is reall high.

    So what we really do is to turn the client's advertisement into both entertainment and PR at a far lower but more effective ROI.

  12. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, November 17, 2016 at 5:21 p.m.

    John, I hold a online advertising record that will not be broken. This is NOT ONE of my 60,000 plus TEXT LINK URL ads have ever been brocked.  NOT ONE.

    The whole problem now with ad blocking is not about the block being blocked but retaining control over who and how the ads are being distributed.  Google, DoubleClick and the other ad vendors refuses to sell ads through ad networks or to simply set one up them self.  This would mean having to hire extra staff and spend more on overhead.  Screw what is in the best interest of the advertisers. This is about who can make the most money and control the whole process.

  13. John Motavalli from Freelance, November 19, 2016 at 3:41 a.m.

    Tell me more about the class action suit. Who can I contact about that? I might write about that.

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