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The ad formats everyone hates

As part of its mission to make online ads less annoying and intrusive, the Coalition for Better Advertising (CBA) has issued a guide as the ad formats that off-limits for North America and Europe, based on comprehensive research involving more than 25,000 consumers.

The Coalition’s research identifies the ad experiences that rank lowest across a range of user experience factors, and that are most highly correlated with an increased propensity for consumers to adopt ad blockers.

The following ad experiences are the ones deemed to have fallen beneath the threshold of consumer acceptability. Four types of desktop web ads (six tested ad experiences) and eight types of mobile web ads (twelve tested ad experiences) fell beneath this threshold.

Here’s the list in summary:


Pop-up ads (desktop + mobile)

Pop-up ads are a type of interstitial ad that do exactly what they say — pop up and block the main content of the page. These are the original bad ads from the early days of the internet, and today they can turn up on desktop and mobile sites.   They appear after content on the page begins to load and are among the most commonly cited annoyances for visitors to a website. Pop-up ads come in many varieties – they can take up part of the screen, or the entire screen. Annoyance Factor: 😡😡😡


Auto-playing video ads with sound (desktop + mobile)

Imagine you’re minding your own business watching the TV or trying to read a book, then a total stranger sits down next to you and starts playing their stereo really loudly without asking you first. This is what auto-play video ads with sond are like for the user. They play sound without any user interaction,  which is just rude. These experiences are especially disruptive to users, as they catch you off guard, and often compel them to quickly close the window or tab in order to stop the sound. Ads that require a click to activate sound are regarded as CBA compliant. Annoyance factor: 🙉🙉🙉


Prestitial ads with countdown (desktop)

Prestitial “countdown” ads appear before the content of the page has loaded, forcing the user to wait a number of seconds before they can dismiss the ad, or the ad closes on its own.

These ads can disrupt users in a way that dissuades them from waiting for the countdown to finish and continuing onto their content.

In desktop environments, prestitial ads that can be dismissed immediately did not fall beneath the initial Better Ads Standard for desktop. Annoyance factor: 😴😴😴


Large sticky ads (desktop + mobile)

In some ways, the idea of a large sticky ad sounds fun. Like a big toffee. Sadly, this isn’t the case. Large Sticky Ads stick to the bottom edge of a page, regardless of a user’s efforts to scroll. As the user browses the page, this static, immobile sticky ad takes up more than 30% of the screen’s real estate.

A Large Sticky Ad has an impeding effect by continuing to obstruct a portion of the page view regardless of where the user moves on the page. Annoyance factor: 😤😤😤


Prestitial ads (mobile)

Mobile prestitial ads appear on a mobile page before content has loaded, blocking the user from continuing on to the content were looking for. These pop-ups vary in size. They may also appear as a standalone page that prevents users from getting to the main content. Grrr. Annoyance factor: 😩😩😩


Ad density higher than 30% (mobile)

It’s impolite to take up too much room, and ads that take up more than 30% of the vertical height of a page are a definite no-no. Ad density is determined by summing the heights of all ads within the main content portion of a mobile page, then dividing by the total height of the main content portion of the page.

The rules around this are a bit complicated (bear with us on this one): 

  • Ad density is measured against the main content portion of the page, not the viewport.
  • The main content portion of the page excludes headers, footers and site navigation including related articles
  • Ads below the main content portion of the page are not included in the density calculation.
  • All ad formats count toward ad density, including “sticky” ads and inline ads. The height of each “sticky” ad is counted once for the purposes of this calculation)
  • Video ads that appear before (“pre-roll”) or during (“mid-roll”) video content that is relevant to the content of the page itself are not included in the measurement

Annoyance factor: 😠😠😠 + 😵 (for the calculations you have to do to)


Flashing animated ads (mobile)

In its official language, the Coalition for Better Ads says that ads which “animate and flash with rapidly changing background, text or colors are highly aggravating for consumers” as they’re a severe distraction for them as they attempt to read the content on a given page.

We think that’s putting it mildly and would say that flashing animated ads are the best reason we should just switch off the entire internet off and all go home. Animations that do not “flash” did not fall beneath the initial Better Ads Standard, but we’d prefer if everyone just stayed away from any flashing animated nonsense. Annoyance factor: 🤬🤬🤬🤬


Postitial ads with countdown

Postitial ads with countdown timers appear after the user follows a link. These ads force the user to wait a number of seconds before they can dismiss the ad, or for the ad to close or redirect them to another page.

These ads frustrate users by breaking the flow of content in a manner that can prove distracting — if a user is trying to navigate from one page to another, only to be delayed by this ad, they might abandon the page entirely. We wouldn’t blame them. Annoyance factor: 😧😧😧


Full-screen scrollover ad (mobile)

Full-screen scrollover ads force a user to scroll through an ad that appears on top of content. These ads take up more than 30% of the page and float on top of the page’s main content, obstructing it from view. The result can be disorienting for users, as it obscures the content a consumer is attempting to look at. These shouldn’t be confused with similar ads that scroll in-line with the content and more smoothly scroll out of sight. Annoyance factor: 🤢🤢🤢


Unruly’s ad formats promote and adhere to the Coalition for Better Ads principles and the ‘Better Ads Standards’. See our formats here