A view from Claire Beale

A formula for better ads?

There's a new jury in town for your online ads, but it's worryingly distanced from any real creative sensibility.

We’ve just concluded our judging for this year’s Big Awards. Dozens of advertising’s smartest creative brains have sat in judgment on their peers and decided which work deserves a public pat on the back. We’ll find out on 19 October.

Like all the best awards shows, the Big judging is conducted in a responsible, thoughtful and orderly manner. It’s as fair as something subjective can be, and at least the subjectivity comes from people who know what they’re talking about. Even better, the judging is an altruistic activity, undertaken by people who recognise a duty to celebrate excellence. 

But there’s a new jury in town and this one is sitting in judgment over your online ads. This jury is a collection of people (or machines) who have no obvious reputation in the creative advertising space, whose creative wisdom you have no measure of and whose motivations are clouded by commercial concerns. Make no mistake, though: this is quite possibly the most powerful jury you’ll ever come up against. If this jury doesn’t approve your work, then it will ensure your ads never even reach the consumers they were intended for. 

Adblock Plus is opening its gate a little, but only the right sort of ads will be shepherded through its anti-advertising software. So the Acceptable Ads Platform will judge your work depending on its size, its colour, how eye-catching it is. The wrong kind of ads include animated ads, pop-up ads, rich-media ads… you know – the ads people actually notice. 

Of course, if all online ads were compellingly useful, entertaining and sympathetically incorporated into the user experience, consumers wouldn’t be so keen on ad-blockers in the first place and at least the Acceptable Ads exchange offers brands a way through the blackout… for a price. 

Meanwhile, the marketing industry has finally galvanised against ad-blockers, launching the Coalition for Better Ads last week. But they, too, will be weighing up whether your ads make the grade, working with the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Tech Lab on a filter that will block "bad" ads. What constitutes a bad ad is down to criteria based on the coalition members’ expertise and consumer insight. And if your ad isn’t considered up to scratch, it won’t be served on to the sites of participating online publishers. 

Both systems seem worryingly distanced from any real (human) creative sensibility. Yes, human creative sensibility is often fallible; whatever advertising platform you look at, there are plenty of execrable ads (quite a few of them made by members of the coalition). But accepting that algorithms can determine what ads are agreeable and appealing to consumers seems dangerously close to accepting that they can and might as well create the ads in the first place.

claire.beale@haymarket.com     
@clairebeale

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