Bad ads

A release from the Interactive Advertising Bureau decries the excesses of online advertising.

“We messed up,” says a press release issued by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), the powerful world federation of online advertising, in a rare admission of error, reports French daily Le Monde.

IAB press releases are usually used to boast about great ad stunts or sector innovations, but this one, which summarizes the short history of online advertising, admits that practices went just a wee bit too far. After the dot-com bubble burst, it says, the “dark ages” set in, followed by the “renaissance.” During this period, online advertising “became the foundation of an economic engine that, still now, sustains the free and democratic World Wide Web.”

Then came a new period, which could possibly be called a new “dark age” (the release doesn’t say). At this point, advertisements became too invasive, abusive, profit-seeking, excessive.

Advertising’s unexpected mea culpa was not prompted by some mysterious inspiration, but by the massive emergence of online ad blockers. Within hours of their launch, blockers such as Crystal, Purify and Peace shot up to the status of most downloaded apps from Apple’s AppStore.

In response, the IAB defined a set of criteria for “acceptable advertisements” that are similar to many put forth by ad blockers. Adblock Plus, one of the best known, uses a “whitelist” of advertisements that are not blocked by default. To be eligible, ads must not interfere with the reading of a web page and must not be aggressive (no flashing animations or pop-ups during navigation, for example).