Digital Marketing

Threat Actor Theater: What makes Bad Ads that get banned online?

24 May 2022

3.4 billion online ads were blocked by Google in 2021, which is 300 million more than they did in 2020. Last year they suspended nearly six million accounts, approximately 4 million more than they did the previous year. Staggering numbers, but despite the amount of time and energy that went into making them, the removal of these ads and advertisers is actually a positive development. They were all bad ads through either their contents or the dangers they potentially posed.

You might wonder what’s considered a bad ad by Google standards. Throughout your various online journeys, at some point you’ve undoubtedly had to endure annoying pop-ups whose hidden tripwire you clicked through or bitterly looked sideways as a five-second promotional video flurry seemed to stretch on for a minute, with it being too short to permit you to hit a “skip” button. If these remained and refused to leave, then what was terrible enough to be dismissed?

The Aggressive Access of Network Abuse

What immediately comes to mind when the term bad advertisement crops up are valid, informed, yet incomplete guesses. Ads that are vulgar. Ads that are offensive. Ads that are deceitful. Subjectivity aside, these are all blatant affronts, which are crude and tactless, but easy to spot. They can be seen, recognised, and reported in short order to the web host or platform, and they typically are. More insidiously, and of higher priority due to their subtlety and quantity, are bad advertisements that abuse the ad network itself.

652.1 million of the bad ads that Google blocked or removed in 2021 fell under this category and that’s because what’s there can wear a multitude of masks to achieve their goals. Far from making a quick buck or riling people up, these bad advertisements go after the systems themselves. These bad ads are vessels and gateways for the usual suspects made stronger and wiser with age and experience: viruses, ransomware, worms, rootkits, rogue security programs, and other malicious programs. 

It’s sobering that nearly two decades of widespread commercial use and frequent iteration haven’t exorcised these old menaces from the internet. Conversely, there’s a subdued assurance that in an era where the subject of data privacy and collection is looked upon with trepidation – to the point that a number of VPN providers actively advertise not being seen at all as a major, legitimate selling point – that there still exists a line between CryptoLocker and cookies. So don’t panic, just exercise caution when you come across an online advertisement that seems suspect.

Fraudulent Services and Service Roads

Even combined, bad ads relating to misrepresentation, copyright and trademark infringement, and counterfeit goods that were banned in 2021 wouldn’t even reach the brow-raising highs of their “Adult Content” counterparts, but the subject of deceit warrants some examination. There are, of course, bad advertisements that make bold, impossible claims. Hair and whatnot can’t grow that fast, dolling up a conspiracy theory is quaint at best and deceptive at worst, and if those money-making tips are so great, then why share them? Not so visible is misrepresentation in terms of function, where an ad will punt you to a website wholly divorced from what it was promoting, or a shallow page littered with more frivolous ads than the content you were interested in.

Offensive vs. Challenging

Violence, adult content, profanity, controlled substances and sometimes inflammatory rhetoric. Instinct alone won’t be enough for you to detect there, so it might be a good idea to check what the likes of Google, Bing, LinkedIN, Pinterest, and more should find obviously distasteful in bad ads. Still, it must be stressed that the counter to these bad advertisements isn’t bland advertisements. If you ever find yourself in a position to promote or market a good or service, what you craft should still be distinctive, enchanting, smart, and even challenging. Just make sure that it doesn’t have any of this harmful guff, and you ought to be fine.

Exploiting the Essentials

In 2018, Google banned ads for bail bonds services. In 2021, they also banned ads for services relating to passports, visas, IDs, and other government documents. For both these cases, this wasn’t due to unabashed network abuse, outright misrepresentation, or offensive framing. The company merely judged that the clients these ads were trying to solicit were in very vulnerable positions. Beyond worries of tacit scams like phishing, the potential for these advertisers to legally bloat their rates and to have them paid regardless due to their customers being too harried and emotionally compromised to perform reasonable research was deemed too risky. Ads should illuminate goods, services, and even alternatives of the same, but as illustrated in Google’s fear of exploitative bad ads, good advertisements should inspire and court a consumer’s desires, not their desperation.

Avoid Poor Quality AdsSurprising Stealth

Imagery and messaging appropriate to the host or client website and its targeted demographic should be easily apparent and adhered to when it comes to creating or allowing advertisement on a webpage.

So the next time your company decides to increase its paid advertisement budget, it would make sense to make sure that all assets are on-brand, with the right tone of voice, good creative and compelling text, with a view to abide by all Google guidelines. The good news is that any agency worth their salt would be able to provide a good service. Getting the best possible performance out of your ads is no longer a nice to have, but a competitive advantage in an overly aggressive ad market. If you want to get the best reach and conversions, make sure to get in touch.