But what about the publisher? With the launch of Eyeo’s Acceptable Ads Initiative in 2011 (keep in mind users can still disable the feature and the approved ads along with it), websites can apply for the rights to run ads that comply with Acceptable Ads criteria; although the company claims there is no way to “buy” a whitelisting, it is listed as “free” for small websites with a side note that “only corporations pay.”
So which is it? According to a Salon report, Google confirmed its paid participation in the Acceptable Ads program. Faida told AdExchanger that fewer than 20 corporations are participating in Acceptable Ads, although there is growing interest.
“Acceptable” is defined as static advertisements that are marked clearly as “advertisements.” Preferably, they contain only text and don’t obscure site content. And, no blinking banners. Even if a large publisher joins the Acceptable Ads ranks, content allegedly still has to pass community standards before getting the green light.
Adblock Plus is compatible with Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer and Opera browsers. About 20% of its users are US-based and 15% are in Germany. In absolute numbers, the US represents its strongest user base because of the higher Internet user population, but percentagewise, in terms of market penetration and user distribution, Europe is its strongest market, Faida said.
Twenty percent of Germans have an ad blocker installed and there’s growing interest in Eastern Europe, Russia, Poland and France. Firefox remains the market leader in Germany and Internet Explorer and Chrome take precedence in the UK, Faida said.
Asked to anecdotally contrast geographies and browsers with ad “tolerance,” Faida noted that while western countries tend to divert from ads for “annoyance” or “privacy” qualms, users in areas where there’s a less prevalent Internet presence shy away from ads to save bandwidth because of slower Internet speeds.
When asked what percentage of ads are blocked by browsers, Faida noted AdBlock Plus does not track user activity, so “it’s hard to have reliable data.” Set to default, AdBlock cuts all ads, except for those vetted by the Acceptable Ads initiative. At this point Faida said 99% of users have not turned off the Acceptable Ads portion to default to no ads at all.
Adblock is beginning to harness data on the publisher side to determine what percentage of “approved” ads garnered higher CTRs and impressions to add some incentive for publishers on the Acceptable Ads front. This, obviously, gives the company some additional sell-in. Adblock claims that publishers involved in the Acceptable Ads program are seeing strong results for “approved” ads, since the user is not inundated, and therefore more apt to “tune in.”
The ad-blocking space is getting increasingly obscure. There are emerging companies like ClarityRay, which raised $500,000 dollars in funding last year to develop software that essentially “blocks” the ad blockers. According to “Ad-Blocking, Measured,” a report the company issued last year, Austria, Hungary and Germany had the highest rate of blocked impressions, each totaling more than 19% in blocked ads. The United States, France, Russia and the Netherlands averaged a rate of 11% in blocked impressions.
In terms of browser implications of ad blocking, Firefox, unsurprisingly, stole the show at 17.8% while Safari came in at 11.3% and Chrome was just over 10%. Internet Explorer had the lowest rate of blocked impressions at 3.9%. Although blocked impressions range by content type and publisher, ClarityRay notes some sites have seen up to 50% of user-blocked ad impressions.
Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, said there’s no grey area when it comes to blocker plugins. “Let’s be very clear – all companies and individuals engaged in ad blocking are interfering with legitimate publishing businesses, and depriving small publishers of the opportunity to earn a living,” he noted. “They may think of themselves as valiant warriors against ‘the system’ but their victims are mommy bloggers, gamer enthusiast sites, hobbyist zines, small news sites and thousands of other independent publishers who are trying to eke out a living from digital advertising.”
Companies like Adblock Plus claim that there is legitimate need for their services because of consumer demand. They say they’re not looking to eradicate ads, but improve the quality of ads vetted by a program such as Acceptable Ads.
Rothenberg retorted, “There is nothing honorable about standing in front of a newsstand with a pair of scissors and inviting passersby to cut out all the ads in the magazines being distributed. … Whether they get paid through voluntary contributions or by extorting payments from publishers is immaterial.”