The Acceptable Ads program, launched by the developers of Adblock Plus: what is it and how can digital publishers benefit?
On the one hand, the digital ad industry is ripe for change and innovation to balance user preference with ad-sponsored content, but on the other it is quite controversial — for users and publishers — to have an ad program owned by the largest adblocking company. There are questions from all corners, privacy advocates, ad networks, publishers, and consumers.
Publishers need to be mindful that the Acceptable Ads program comes with some baggage, but consent-based ad-lite experiences could be one piece of an overall solution that respects visitors and funds great content.
What are Acceptable Ads?
Innovation in ad tech and delivery led to an ad experience that many consumers felt was invasive, annoying, and a threat to privacy. All of the control was in the hands of the ad industry and publishers, not the user themselves. Adblock technology adoption soared as a result, and this in turn threatened the ad-sponsored “free” content model that most publishers rely on for revenue.
Eyeo GmbH, the creators of Adblock Plus, created a new marketplace to balance ad delivery with user choice, dubbed Acceptable Ads. The Acceptable Ads program established a set of criteria for ads that are deemed to be less invasive and annoying, and a method for publishers and advertisers to have ads approved for delivery to Adblock Plus users. According to Eyeo, this provides an acceptable compromise between publishers, brands, and consumers. Acceptable Ads are enabled by default for new Adblock users, but individuals can choose to disable the feature, thus blocking all ads. Acceptable Ads are now supported across multiple adblocking technologies, including Adblock Plus, AdBlock, Ublock MacOS, Crystal adblocker, Adblock Premium and more.
What are the criteria for Acceptable Ads?
Eyeo states the following general guidelines from which specific criteria are determined:
- Ads should not be annoying in quality or number
- Ads should not block the view of page content.
- Should be distinguishable as an ad, and
- Appropriate to the site they are on
Specific criteria are spelled out, though they can change over time. Categories include:
- Placement: Top, bottom, or side, but not embedded in the middle of primary page content
- Size: Sizes are specific to the placement area, and cannot account for more than 15% of the space above the fold, nor more than 25% below the fold.
- Labeled: ads should be labeled as “advertisement” or similar text, to be distinguishable from other content.
- Ad types and behavior: there is a list of ad types that are not currently acceptably, including animated ads, expanding ads, pop-ups, overlays, and rich media.
Who determines the Acceptable Ads criteria?
In 2017, Eyeo GmbH turned control over the Acceptable Ads initiative to a committee comprised of advocates from three groups: User Advocates, For Profit advertisers and publishers, and Technical/Academic Experts. According to Eyeo, the committee is a politically-neutral body, and conducts research, gathers feedback from adblock users, and deliberates the impact on all parties in the digital ad ecosystem before issuing new criteria changes.
Considerations for Implementing an Acceptable Ads Solution:
The Acceptable Ads program could provide a net-positive middle ground to balance publisher and consumer needs. The program has gained adoption by multiple adblocking platforms, each with pros and cons. When vetting an adblock revenue recovery solution that leverages an Acceptable Ads Exchange (AAX), publishers should consider the following:
Ad Premiums May be Lower: Dynamic and interactive ads can support higher premiums and drive greater engagement vs static ads. Therefore, the ‘watering down’ necessary for ads to be approved as Acceptable Ads can lower average ad premiums. Publishers should plan accordingly, and continue to provide opportunities for adblock users to switch to a subscription model or whitelist the site for all ads. Ideally, using a single platform to manage multiple users options, such as re-insertion, whitelisting, subscriptions, or sponsorships, can help mitigate the drop in premiums.
Potential for Ad Fraud: Some anti-adblocker platforms have used the Acceptable Ads program as cover to leverage otherwise unacceptable ads that were dynamic or rich media. By making a static copy of a dynamic ad to claim AA compliance — even when the static copy may result in a blank image, transition or zero mention of advertiser — these anti-ad blocking approaches may charge advertisers the higher rate that dynamic ads typically demand, but deliver a static, sub-optimal image that should be priced at a lower rate or not shown at all. If considering an ad re-insertion solution, publishers should vet their anti-adblock providers to ensure they are not not charging premium prices for altered/static ad impressions, putting publisher reputation and revenue at clawback-risk with advertisers.
Many ads will still be blocked: Not only can individuals disable the Acceptable Ads feature, but there are dozens of adblock technologies on the market that do not support the Acceptable Ads approach. Thus, publishers should still build direct relationships with their visitors, offering a choice of ad-lite experiences, whitelisting, subscriptions, or other steps forward in the relationship journey.
Platform dependency: Just as pubs have been burned by platform reliance on Google search or Facebook social, an Acceptable-Ads-Only approach means perpetual payments to fund ongoing adblock innovation. If you stop paying, the ads stop showing. Thus, owning and growing direct visitor relationships puts the publisher in greater control of their future. Further, the Acceptable Ads program generates revenues that funds further adblock innovation and marketing, impacting publishers long-term.
Avoid Either/Or Mindset: Some anti-adblock platforms may present solutions as an either/or choice between whitelisting vs reinsertion. In fact, the answer is “BOTH”. There are many innovations and opportunities for publishers to build new revenues and visitor loyalty. Acceptable Ads provide part of the solution for adblock users, but should be leveraged in combination with other offers that can provide revenue diversification, reliability, and higher average revenue per visitor (ARPV). In reality, adblocking visitors are so diverse that optimal revenue growth comes from offering all of the above: ad-lite, whitelisting, subscriptions and more.
Michael Yeon, VP Marketing, Admiral
Admiral helps digital publishers grow visitor relationships via adblock recovery, per-site subscriptions, multi-site subscriptions, email subscriptions, social subscriptions, privacy consent and more, powered by Admiral’s one-tag, one-vendor, one visitor experience Visitor Relationship Management (VRM) platform.