Adblock Plus gets into the ad business with launch of RTB platform

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Adblock Plus, one of the most popular ad blocking add-ons for browsers, is getting into the ad business with the launch of a new marketplace that allows publishers and advertisers to buy and sell ads that are not subject to ad blocking.

The marketplace is an extension of Adblock Plus’ Acceptable Ads initiative, which was launched in 2011. That initiative gives publishers and advertisers the ability to, for a fee, work with Adblock Plus to whitelist ads that meet certain criteria.

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Among other things, Acceptable Ads must be clearly distinguishable as advertising, can’t disrupt a user’s natural reading flow and must not exceed certain sizes or contain animation.

Because of the investment required, both in terms of time and cost, Acceptable Ads adoption has reportedly been mixed. Some publishers also object to the Acceptable Ads concept on principle, seeing it as a “protection racket.”

With the Acceptable Ads Platform, which Adblock Plus developed in partnership with ComboTag, Adblock Plus claims that it “will redefine RTB and help small websites” by “[cutting] the whitelisting process from weeks to seconds.”

According to Adblock Plus’ Ben Williams, the platform works by allowing publishers to select from a pre-whitelisted ad units that they can add to their sites using a single line of code. These ads units are displayed to users who are using Adblock Plus; the publisher’s regular ad units will continue to be displayed to users who aren’t.

A differentiating feature of the Acceptable Ads Platform is a feedback mechanism that allows users to rate ads. Williams explained:

The AAP [Acceptable Ads Platform] will offer a feedback mechanism embedded in each ad, which will let you say whether you thought that particular ad was great, good, bad or complete shit. This feedback will then figure into which ads get selected on a live auction.

This feedback mechanism, in turn, sets the stage for the second AAP benefit, making the real-time bidding process (RTB) better by making it more human RTB is the process by which ad inventory is bought and sold in real time on ad exchanges. It literally takes milliseconds for winners to be crowned on an auction, then appear on your page; which ads appear to you in particular is normally based upon a number of criteria, many of which are based upon tracking.

Will publishers and advertisers bite?

Williams believes the Acceptable Ads Platform “will turn [the RTB] model on its head, because instead of basing the auction winners on algorithms trying to figure out where you live, whether you like cool ranch or nacho cheese or where you just went on vacation, our system pick winners based on real feedback from real human beings, like you.”

But it’s not clear that the platform offers a proposition that will win over publishers and advertisers.

While some publishers might be increasingly willing to address the ad blocking phenomenon more pragmatically, it’s likely that “protection racket” concerns will persist, making some hesitant to participate in the marketplace.

Indeed, IAB UK CEO Guy Phillipson calls it a cynical move:

“Adblock Plus, who spent years as the consumer champion squashing adverts – now sell ads!
We see the cynical move from Adblock Plus as a new string in their racket. Now they’re saying to publishers “we took away some of your customers who didn’t want ads, and now we are selling them back to you on commission.

The fact is, in the UK ad blocking has stalled. It’s been stuck at 21% throughout 2016 because the premium publishers who own great content, and provide a good ad experience, hold all the cards. More and more of them are offering ad blocking consumers a clear choice: turn off your ad blocking software or no access to our content. And their strategy is working, with 25% to 40% turning off their blockers.

So with their original business model running out of steam, Adblock Plus have gone full circle to get into the ad sales business.”

While advertisers might be interested in the possibility of participating in an ecosystem that gives them the ability to reach consumers who are using ad blockers, the Acceptable Ads Platform’s use of human feedback instead of traditional targeting means that it apparently doesn’t offer the benefit that has attracted so many advertisers to real-time bidding: the ability to buy audiences across the web at scale.

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