The “Acceptable Ads” scheme is completely absurd

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.

how adblock works

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“:

  1. Acceptable Ads are not annoying.
  2. Acceptable Ads do not disrupt or distort the page content we’re trying to read.
  3. Acceptable Ads are transparent with us about being an ad.
  4. Acceptable Ads are effective without shouting at us.
  5. 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.

 

 

  • Yuri

    The question is, is blocking adblock users a viable strategy? Nagging seems to work better IMHO.

    • Adrian Werner

      Depends on website. It worked for Bild.de. Since they started to block adblockers’ users 2/3 of those users decided to switch it off when they visit the website. But Bild.de is hugely popular website and it gets most of it’s traffic from direct adress entry, not from google. For smaller pages that have more direct communication with their viewers nagging would might work better.

  • David McReary

    Yeah, the idea that people are going to ditch their adblockers for slightly less offensive ads, never made much sense. Most people don’t want to “accept” acceptable ads.

  • Michiko

    Good read. I don’t 100% agree that no readers would accept “acceptable ads”. But I think you’re right that it’s not going to work as a solution to the problem. Most people like their web pages ad free. Who wouldn’t?

  • Whiskeysour

    “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?”

    Well said.

    • Kevin O’Brien

      What other industry tracks customers against their wish , uses bandwidth cpu oh have been used as a vector of attack too many times over the years so yes till they ad networks and sites are held accountable I will block ads as well as talk others into block them

  • Meredith

    A bit harsh about academics!!! As an academic myself, I will tell you this: The academics in Germany that have supported Acceptable Ads support just the basis of the program but not Eyeo’s tactics! Of course, it’s a fine line. But I think it’s better to say that academics have shown support for Acceptable Ads philosophically and not as a commercial venture. And definitely not support for Eyeo. Lately, many of us have been backing off because Eyeo refuses to divest itself completely from the program as they said they would.

  • Nader

    I’m a media studies major and one of my professors thinks acceptable ads are the right answer. But he’s no stranger to “real world business viability”. He used to work for Microsoft and Google. I think the “AA” program could be very viable if it gets rolled out correctly. But the big question is, does my generation want to ‘play ball’? Or do they just expect the web to be free forever.

  • Peter K

    Not sure if you saw the news, but Bild.de (the website that blocked adBlockers) had an increase in 3,000,000 marketable visits as a result.

    PROOF that blocking adBlockers works!

  • Kevin O’Brien

    when the ad networks stop tracking and are secure so they cant be used to attack others then maybe ablocking will stop till then its just a security tool that should be on phones tablets pc’s ( and even on the routers). They cant be trusted full stop.

    acceptable ads is a step in the right way.

    • If you host your own ads, then how are you going to prove to advertisers that the impression and click statistics are accurate and not inflated?

      • Kevin O’Brien

        The same way we did in the 90’s,

        • Which was how? I didn’t operate an ad-supported website in the 1990s, so I never got a chance to examine its ad market.