The new Acceptable Ads committee. (And why it still won’t work)

adblock committee

Last week, Adblock Plus announced the first members of it’s “Acceptable Ads committee”.

If all goes as planned, this newly appointed advertising politburo will decide for us which ads are deemed “acceptable”. Or more precisely, which ads should be filtered and which ads will not be filtered.

These privately appointed commissars of the web will be structured into 11 subgroups, comprised of industry leaders from the advertising, publishing, ad-tech and consumer advocacy worlds.

Digiday sums up the committee as follows:

The committee is split into 11 subgroups, each devoted to a segment of media such as publishing, ad tech and advertisers. Each section is headed by a committee seat. Condé Nast, Rocket Fuel and Dell are some of the larger companies on the list and each one heads a subgroup. There will also be a subgroup to represent users, but the individual to seat that group has not been named yet.

That’s all well and good, but when a small, German internet company (one which the iAB called an “extortion racket“) takes it upon themselves to cobble together a bureaucracy of well-heeled industry executives to quibble about the definition of “acceptable” while ignoring fundamental realities of how ad blocking works, it’s hard not to be critical. It doesn’t matter that Eyeo, Inc (creator of Adblock Plus) has removed themselves from the equation. As I’ve noted many times before: This isn’t going to work. 

The industry still has no teeth when it comes to adblocking. And a room full of toothless executives still has no teeth.

 

Acceptable Ads without ad reinsertion can’t work

The problem is simple: Governance requires power.

And there isn’t any here. Whatever this committee decides, users ultimately have options which can and will override those decisions.

Adblock Plus didn’t become popular because of their gifts at mediation, or some ability to identify a tender middle ground between advertisers and readers.

Adblock Plus is popular because it blocks ads. Period.

Transitioning from a product that delivers a blissful, cost-free / ad-free browsing experience to one that allows “some” ads through is easier said than done.

It’s not as if Adblock Plus is the only game in town. Being the ad blocker that allows “some” ads through isn’t likely to be a competitive option versus those that allow none.

Not only is Adblock Plus’ relative market-share falling, but it’s far from the most effective ad-blocker available today. Ad blockers like uBlock Origin already have more sophisticated adblocking technologies and don’t adhere to the Acceptable Ads “standard”. It’s hard to see how Adblock Plus’ by-default lower-quality browsing experience (vs. ad-free) isn’t going to result in continued migration away from their platform — even if Acceptable Ads can be deactivated.

 

adblockers that support Acceptable Ads

Which ad blockers support Acceptable Ads?

 

Not-so-broad industry support

On a strictly numbers basis, the Acceptable Ads program is still primarily an ‘Adblock Plus -thing’ .

For the Acceptable Ads committee to be organizing a duma composed of members they have materially damaged, and attempting to enact standards that already promise to be unpopular across a broad spectrum of readers, publishers and advertisers — their position would need to be unassailable.

And it isn’t.

Adblock Plus is facing stiff competition from rising, next-generation adblockers that block ads better, and the buy-in among competing adblockers is not nearly large enough for Acceptable Ads to make a difference to publishers.

 

Acceptable Ads is optional. And therefore ridiculous.

What really makes the entire concept of this new committee absurd is that Acceptable Ads is optional even for Adblock Plus users. In other words, if you don’t like it you can turn it off and go back to ad-free bliss.

This isn’t some tiny detail. It’s crucial to both the efficacy and legitimacy of the entire program. Ad viewability will still be at the mercy of users.

acceptable ads optional

The future of the Internet apparently depends on you checking this box

Will some users opt to see Acceptable Ads given the choice?

Of course. But the number of users opting to view Acceptable Ads will by definition be a fraction of total users. And advertising revenues will therefore also be fractional.

Basing the future viability of the free Web on an appeal to user “understanding” and the lackluster promise of reduced/fractional earnings is a poor bet to say the least. It must also be noted: That plan hasn’t worked so far.

 

An uncomfortable truth

What few people seem to discuss is that Acceptable Ads are by definition worse performing ads. The uncomfortable truth is that ads that are placed more centrally (and are thereby more distracting), perform better and have higher viewability.

Should users have a right to not be distracted? Yes. But at a mandatory cost. And as long as both ads and costs can be avoided by simply using a different adblocker, or opting out of the Acceptable Ads program, the entire premise will logically fail.

As Digiday notes:

ABP currently blocks ads placed in the middle of an article. But because ads at the top and bottom of articles often have poor viewability, this can be a cumbersome restriction for publishers, said Paul Lomax, chief technology officer of ABP committee member Dennis Publishing.

Ad reinsertion is the answer

Until publishers start using ad reinsertion and adblock circumvention strategies, attempts to recover revenue from adblockers are doomed to fail. Users should be given a choice, but that choice cannot include a browsing experience that is both ad-free and cost-free. As long as alternative ad blockers exist which can block Acceptable Ads, and as long as the Acceptable Ads program itself is optional, the choice for too many users will be clear: No ads at all. 

It won’t matter if the Acceptable Ads program gains some small amount of traction among a subset of readers. Publishers cannot afford limited viewability by a subset of their readership. Nor can they afford the reduced performance of static, poorly placed advertising.

Asking users to come to a middle ground which is more expensive, slower and more cluttered is just more wishful thinking.

Last year the iAB called Adblock Plus a “mendacious coven of techie wannabes“. Apparently having failed to stay at the top of the technology ladder, this year they’re behaving more like wannabe government bureaucrats.

One thing I’ll give Eyeo credit for is immediately heading for the door after forming the committee. They know as well as anyone that when this this group of diametrically opposed constituents attempts to agree on anything it won’t work.

And given the falling market share (and efficacy) of Adblock Plus, it won’t matter either.

 

  • Paul

    I had the exact same thought: Who do these guys think they are? They’re one blocker in a sea of hundreds. And they’re not even the best one anymore.

    Nobody cares what some “committee” thinks are acceptable ads. The only decision that matters is whether users agree. Who elected these people to decide for us?

    This is a nothingburger from a blocker that’s already stopped being important.

    • Chillsky McBuzz

      AdBlock just isn’t on top anymore, I ditched it ages ago. Better still, when all these idiots making anti-adblock scripts have been responsible for letting through so many trojans, exploits and generally clogging up my bandwidth with ads that are either irrelevent or not even related to the site I’m on… I’ll go find another site, simple. That’s what I’ve been doing when sites have decided to go all Adolf-like because their business model is fatally flawed and someone else MUST pay the price… Yeah.

  • Rachel Rainer

    I turn non-intrusive ads off. Find another business model. I don’t want ads.

    • Enjoy your $5 per month bill for every website you find through a Google search.

  • Ublock bitches

    LOL. They can say whatever they want. I use Ublock. I won’t see their acceptable ads or any other ads.

  • G-killahz

    It’s not true that more intrusive adds perform better. Where do you get this crap? On my site the best performing add is a 468×60 old school banner. Please learn about advertising before writing stupid stuff.

    • BlockAdblock

      There are no shortage of heatmaps showing the statistical outperformance of centrally located placements vs marginal ones. Google is your friend.

      • Do centrally located still ads perform well? Or does this apply only to videos or other ads with movement?

    • MarkRabin SEO

      Of course intrusive ads perform better. I’m an AdSense expert with over 8 years of experience. The more intrusive an ad is, the better it performs. If you put one on the margins or in the footer it won’t perform nearly as well.

      Maybe you should learn about advertising before you write stupid stuff.

  • Raul Nema

    Ok so then what? You’re not going to force users to see your ads. And you’re not going to survive if they don’t see any ads at all. So what other options is there without AcceptableAds?

    • One is sites selling their own ad space rather than going through the impersonal route of a network or exchange. Then there’s no cross-site tracking cookie to block, no dedicated “ad domain” to block, and ideally not even a non-free script to block.

      Another is a federated paywall, where a single subscription applies to hundreds or thousands of sites. It worked with Adult Check back in the late 1990s because grown-ups can pay for nice things. Webpass.io is trying a similar model.

      A third is syndication, in which a single provider offers subscription access to works licensed from several publishers. It shares many advantages and drawbacks for users with a federated paywall. Examples of this model include Netflix, Tidal, and YouTube Red.

  • Rachel Brochado

    Very good points Raul & G-killahz…. and wonder the same here!

  • Eddie

    ok first off… whitelisting some ads.. because they pay for it. is as bad as you saying it is against dmca to block ads.. no..
    it is against dmca to hack/break in a website that uses a password and login perhaps.. but blocking ads is not the same as hacking..

    is it breaking the law to goto the bathroom during a tv commercial? is it breaking the law to go get some food out of the kitchen during a commercial? Not at all.. that is a form of ad blocking.

    Ublock origin coupled with anti ad block killer AAK and PrivacyBadger does wonders
    I am sorry blockadblock.com but you are neither right in your claims nor in your ability to block ads.

  • Myles

    If i find a website that is useful and i visit it a lot and i see that my adblocking software has blocked ads i will disable my blocking software. If the adverts the websites use are acceptable to me and non intrusive i will keep it unblocked and i will click adverts….even if i am not interested in the product advertised i will support the site. Don’t annoy me and i will make you money…..force me to pander to your advertising whims and i am gone along with your potential money earnings.

  • Chillsky McBuzz

    I disabled UBlock just to read this page. It reads more and more like
    a pro-advert corporation propaganda sheet you’d expect from 1940s
    Germany. UBlock going back on, nothing to see here people apart from a
    bunch of profiteers who want you to degrade your security and privacy to
    line their pockets. Much like the RIAA’s awful tactics over the last
    few decades. It won’t work and lying to, or forcing, people to conform
    makes you WORSE than the people you are whinging are taking your money
    away. Try creating a better business model then, instead of forcing your
    mistakes and ignorance onto the end user, who will eventually go
    elsewhere – which will kill your revenue stream far quicker than an ad
    blocker.

    Get with the times or die like the dinosaur you are.

  • Heh
  • CieloCristiano

    blockadblock cool 😀 + 10

  • Blinix

    I only turn off my adblocker on sites I like and trust, like web novel
    translations, some youtubers channels, deviantart, etc. (Like “Turn off
    you adblocker to help us keep translating
    :c ” and I’m like “Ok, ya give me translations, I’ll disable it 😀
    and even click and add”)

    But today, on my opinion,you can’t use internet without an Adblocker; I’m not
    a pro geek on computers but even I get that if my antivirus blocks 10-20
    dangerous
    elements (Trojan, hack, worms, etc.) per add; cuts connections that
    scan my computer ports and the adblocker avoids like 2 (to infinite
    popups)… well, it’s going to be difficult. I understand that these
    sites need money to stay up and running but that amount of adds is
    unsafe and insane.

    And more reason to use them on mobile devices,
    they kill your paid internet with all those animations and videos (that
    have no way to stop them).

    So my final opinion is: AdBlock have
    to only block “unsafe and invasive” publicity(mandatory not optional to
    disable), normal publicity (no pop-ups in new windows, no sound and that
    you can skip(like in youtube) or stop (when they are moving images))
    are acceptable on browser; and when in mobile, everything that is not an
    image should be blocked. These are acceptable conditions for me to keep
    the internet free :p.

  • JOKAR l

    please unblock me

  • There are billions of site which only are made to show their ads only,In that case ad block is coming as savior.

  • Stefen

    If you don’t want people disabling ads, then stop making them annoying. Is common sense dead or something? Holy idiots, Batman.

    I couldn’t care less if there were ads on web pages if the ads didn’t slow down my browsing experience/entire machine or interrupt the text on the page. I’m also a blind computer user, so some ads aren’t even accessible to me since they’re just graphics with no alt text whatsoever. Yeah, I’m supposed to click on ads when I can’t even read them. Real smart, people. Real smart. Grow a brain!

    So yes. I will continue to use an ad blocker until people get it through their skulls that we, the consumers, do not want intrusive and resource hogging ads. If millions of people are using an ad blocker, don’t you think something’s wrong? Hmm. I wonder what could be wrong. Oh, I know. maybe people are fed up with ridiculous ads. That must be it. Nah… couldn’t be, could it? Nah. They just want free stuff.

    Why don’t we focus on ways to include ads without annoying the customers who are supposed to click them? I started using an ad blocker when ads started making some pages virtually unusable or too annoying to use.

    You claim that ad blockers are hurting the Internet when it’s people like you who want to FORCE people to deal with ads in the first place. I agree that not all ads should be blocked. Perhaps there should be some sort of web standard for ads. Fix that before deciding to go after all ad blockers. Work with people instead of against them. Until then, maybe visit some sites with some really intrusive ads so you can see where we’re coming from and why we use ad blockers, and quit trying to stop people from choosing what runs on their machines.