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What Are Acceptable Ads?

Of all the industry initiatives around making the online ad industry more friendly to users, only Eyeo, the German company behind Ad Block Plus, has spent the last few years doing research on people who download ad blockers, especially their own. The rest of the industry organizations are basically guessing what users will tolerate based on what they’d like to promote. What Ad Block Plus found through a Google survey  conducted in January is that 18% of Americans use an ad blocker on the desktop, and so do 20% of Europeans. But 83% of those running an ad blocker would be happy to see ads that don’t interfere with their user experience.

It’s impossible to write about this too often, since it doesn’t ever seem to sink in, but the root of the ad blocking problem isn’t ads. It’s user experience, and most of the deterioration of UX is due to data collection and tracking. It’s mind boggling how many trackers are on most publisher sites, for everything from analytics to data collection. This tracking is what users hate. It steals their privacy, hijacks their user experience, and shows them only disrespect.

On the other hand, users also hate paying for content, especially young people who have grown up in a world where web content has largely been free. Although sites like the New York Times have grown their subscriber bases admirably, they jury is still out on whether sites like Bloomberg and Wired will garner enough subscribers to make their pay walls “pay.”

And the people who download ad blockers are generally young, well-educated, employed with higher than average incomes, and comfortable with completing their purchases online. In short, they’re a demographic many advertisers would want to reach.

AdBlock Plus has figured out a way to reach them: by respecting their preferences.

Face facts: compelling sites with quality content are not free to run. Advertising used to cover the cost of these sites until publishers lost the battle to protect their visitors’ experience to programmatic advertising. No one knew in advance this would happen.

But Ad Block Plus has now come up with suggested ad formats that do not destroy the user experience, and ad-blocking users have willingly consented to see them. 92% of their users have said they’ll participate in a program through an exchange that can make ad-blocking visitors available to premium brands under special circumstances.

Will this work? Well, for publishers it is tempting because it allows them to monetize their ad-blocking users. And agencies will probably salivate because the exchange gives them access to more than 150,000,000 new users in the most desirable demographic. EMarketer said that 41% of millennials used ad blockers in 2017. Being able to reach them with ads they’ve agreed to let through is quite desirable.

The key is going to be to keep to the rigid rules of Acceptable Ads, which emphasize position, transparency, and size. It’s a cop out to say that time will tell, but Ad Block Plus is only just out of its closed beta with the Acceptable Ads Exchange, so we can’t say much else yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malvertising Raises Questions About Ad Blocking

ota-2015-logoA recent Buzzfeed article totals up the recent loss of jobs in digital media as publications struggle to adjust to new market forces. Because of the dominance of Facebook and Snapchat, media organizations that once hoped to make it at scale have cut back to pursue niches, which we believe is the best strategy for the present. But even niche publications have to contend with malvertising and poor delivery of ads to mobile devices.

However, other headwinds are also hitting the publishing industry. On Medium this week Rob Leathern, long-time digital advertising critic, wrote that crummy ads (he used other language) cost iPhone users $8 billion in data charges last year.

We ran across 7 websites for 3 minutes, and loaded 1712 URLs on average, whereas the top 10 blockers on average needed just 493 calls to render all the content and images on these sites -> this means that advertising technology accounts for 71% (1,228 hidden items loaded) what loads on your mobile phone in an average web session! I think that’s just crazy, and hard to justify for the small amount of advertising revenue most sites are making off of us.

Focus on the last sentence. Consumers are spending the money for data, advertisers are paying for ads, but publishers are still not making any money. Fortunately, mobile consumers are still not blocking ads in the numbers desktop consumers are, and we can fix this problem if we hurry.

We’ve been heavily involved in the Online Trust Association (OTA) for years, and we are working on the Advertising Integrity Committee this year.  This morning the organization sent around an article about a massive malware infestation in the Netherlands:

As of Monday, at least 288 websites had been infected with malvertising, exposing millions to poisoned ads.

One example of how far its tentacles have reached: the campaign has hit Nu.nl, the most-visited Dutch-language news portal.

Nu.nl alone is estimated to have scored more than 50 million visitors in March, according to Tech Week Europe.

Other affected sites include eBay-style service Marktplaats.nl and well-known news and culture sites, according to Fox-IT.

The campaign originated in an advertising platform used by the affected sites

OTA is worried that consumers might respond to this by blocking ads, which the organization does not feel is a suitable solution, because most ad blocking software is itself untrustworthy. Most of it has white lists or allow lists that do not block advertising and are increasingly being used by consumers as ad vectors.

In our own case, we have created a private buying platform for our publishers that does not admit malware and is very closely monitored to refuse to serve questionable sites.  Working with both the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the OTA, we’re engaged in being as much a part of the solution as we can.  We can only do our best to lure back angry consumers.

Ad Blockers: Who Loses the Right to Survive?

The rapid growth of ad blocking software in Europe has rattled publishers. The figures say that up to 35% of online users, especially younger ones, block ads. With the shift to mobile, this may get worse. Some carriers have given thought to stripping mobile ads on behalf of their users. And a new Israeli company, Shine, launched a mobile ad blocker that allows users to strip mobile ads themselves.  When asked why users have a right to do this, Shine argues that mobile ads cost users 10% to 15% of data plans, deplete battery life and decrease l page load times, so users should have the option to block them.

Shine’s entire marketing program is based on the users’ “rights” not to be charged data charges to see ads. The company even refers to ad tech as “malware,” although the percentage of malware masquerading as malware is growing increasingly smaller. ZEDO has been active in  industrywide anti-malware efforts for years and they are working. We have built the technology to spot it and get it off our network.

Unfortunately, the courts have so far  still tended to side with the ad blockers. Ad blocking has  been deemed a legal business, and mobile device owners (unsurprisingly), also have the right to control what is on their screens.

Really? What about the publisher’s right to stay in business? If the user won’t pay for content (and a major percentage of users will not), and advertisers cannot have their ads seen, who exactly will pay the cost of free content?  The best selling apps, according to App Annie, which surfaces and rates all apps, are free, indicating users are no more willing to pay for apps or app content than they are to pay for news on the web.

Traditionally, the advertiser has also had rights — the right of free speech to market products to the audience in return for paying the cost of ads. And the publisher certainly has rights: the right to be in business and sell his inventory to an advertiser for a fair price.

Compounding this messy situation is that, when you look into the business models of most ad blockers they make their money from sites that pay them to be “whitelisted.” This is a form of blackmail, but publishers must pay so their advertisers can be seen.

If the use of ad blockers keeps growing, it will force the institution at long last of paid content on the internet. After all, one way publishers can retaliate might be to block access to their sites by anyone who is running an ad blocker, unless they are willing to pay for admission to the site or pay the cost to read a specific piece of content. The internet’s 20-year “summer of love” might finally be over. Publishers have to eat, too, you know.