At this point, most publishers have heard of the “Acceptable Ads” scheme supported by AdBlock Plus creator Eyeo GmbH. The controversial initiative involves charging publishers a fee to bypass adblocking filters. Under the program, publishers must agree to a rigorous set of user-friendly advertising standards while paying for the right to have their ads unfiltered. However, should users wish to opt-out of Acceptable Ads, they can opt to block Acceptable Ads as well — along with the all the other ads that adblockers already filter.
Acceptable ads aren’t unavoidable ads. They’re an effort to find a middle ground between publishers’ monetization needs, and the white-listing whims of website visitors. Should visitors decide for whatever reason Acceptable Ads are unacceptable – they don’t need to see those ads either. So basically, the “Acceptable” bit is ultimately up to the individual — not to industry standards.
What other industry must ask users if their monetization strategy is acceptable, while being forced unilaterally by the customer to give the product away for free if it isn’t?
The fundamental problem with so-called “Acceptable Ads” is that it transforms the relationship of reader and publisher to one of a donor and a charity. No longer can publishers proactively monetize their traffic — under the Acceptable Ads scheme, the publisher must ask whether or not monetization itself would be “acceptable” to the user. What other industry must ask users if their monetization strategy is acceptable, while being forced unilaterally by the customer to give the product away for free if it isn’t?
This apparent attempt to re-write basic laws of commerce by placing the quid pro quo of consumption entirely in the hands of the consumer, while appealing to some ephemeral concept of ‘consumer understanding’ is so ridiculous that it’s hard to imagine the proposal is serious. To be clear: Consumers who have installed adblockers have already unilaterally arrived at a style of advertising that works wonderfully for them. That is: No ads whatsoever.
One must ask: Once users have already experienced a 100% ad-free browsing experience, what force exactly would encourage Adblock users to willingly retreat to some halfway point by allowing some ads through the filter? Empathy, maybe?
And why would users install adblockers like AdBlock Plus in the first place which offer “some blocking” by default — over adblockers which block 100% of ads, like uBlock Origin?
Furthermore, there’s no evidence the program produces financially viable websites.
Take this list of requirements from the Acceptable Ads “manifesto“:
- Acceptable Ads are not annoying.
- Acceptable Ads do not disrupt or distort the page content we’re trying to read.
- Acceptable Ads are transparent with us about being an ad.
- Acceptable Ads are effective without shouting at us.
- Acceptable Ads are appropriate to the site that we are on.
Numbers 1 and 2 are ridiculous when one considers that most adblock users — if not most website visitors — tend to view all ads as annoying and disruptive. Number 4 is apparently a call for ads that are easy to ignore and forget about. And number 5 is a call to end visitor tracking, which has been one of the most profitable technological developments in ad-tech.
In many ways, Acceptable Ads are a roll-back of ad-tech to the early days of the web. To pretend that “Acceptable Ads” are something new that hasn’t been tried yet is ridiculous. Of course low-tech, unobtrusive ads have been tried. They were tried first. And they worked decidedly less well.
Unsurprisingly though, both the scheme and Eyeo’s extortionate tactics have garnered “buy in” from companies who are on the extreme losing-end of Adblock’s filters and hope to partially re-monetize some of the 300 million web-users who have downloaded AdBlock Plus. Also voicing support for the Acceptable Ads program are many academics, who seem somewhat prone to embracing ideology before real-world business viability. The assumption, which is being glossed-over by many of these academics (who apparently buy into Eeyo’s laughably self-serving strategy cum populist cause), is that a large enough percentage of readers will agree to “donate” their eyeballs via whitelisting to keep the industry profitable. This is a lightweight assumption at best — a feel-good business strategy which ignores the reality that poorly targeted, poorly tracked, marginally situated, non-animated, low-kilobyte ads with low contextual-relevance will underperform by a wide margin. We know this because the industry has been there and tried that.
Is it any wonder that Germany’s largest publisher opted instead to simply block all adblocking users?
Fans of adblocking call their practice of depriving websites of their monetization mechanisms, “consumer choice”. It sure is! It’s probably the most lavish consumer choice in history: Non-negotiated, 100% free access to the product being ‘consumed’ — with an option to unilaterally engage or disengage the product creator’s revenue model. If that’s choice, I can’t wait for it to apply to everything. One doesn’t need to ask how this strategy would work for other businesses. But somehow publishers are supposed to pretend that the Acceptable Ads scheme of providing gratis content first — and then begging for the right to monetize it second is somehow sensible.
It isn’t. It’s extortion and it won’t produce a viable web anyway.