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.