AdBlock Plus Is Launching a Marketplace for ‘Acceptable’ Ads, but Will It Just Infuriate Everyone?

An ad blocker wants to serve you ads

It's hard to know which crowd Adblock Plus will upset more with its announcement today—marketers, publishers or its users. 

The ad-blocking software brand, owned by Eyeo GmbH, revealed in a blog post that it's created a service that lets brands buy the right to place "acceptable" ads that appear in front of consumers who actually want ads blocked. The company's endeavor, dubbed Acceptable Ads Platform (AAP, for short), will let publishers sign up for the service and then sell ad space via an automated system.

The Germany-based company has hooked up with ad-tech player ComboTag to build the exchange, which will operate on a real-time bidding (RTB) mechanism seen across the digital ecosystem. It's unclear how the ad buys will be priced, but how the general public reacts to an ad appears to affect to some extent whether it will get placed. Thanks to the whitelisting-style program, the ad blocker almost certainly will take a sales cut, though financial details are scant.

"The AAP 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," Ben Williams, a communications and operations exec with Eyeo GmbH, wrote in the blog post.

"This feedback will then figure into which ads get selected on a live auction," he explained. "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."

Eric Franchi, co-founder of Undertone, said that while the situation is nuanced, it boils down to the fact that a "user downloads software which is called an ad blocker. That software is then used as the basis for serving them ads."

"This is a battle cry for control of what remains of the open web," added Patrick Hopf, SourceKnowledge president. "AdBlock Plus is simultaneously selling an ad blocker to users and an advertising platform to advertisers and publishers. It's essentially an ad platform disguised as an ad blocker."

Compared with those two industry players, Andrea Bridges-Smith, product marketing manager at PostUp, saw the development a bit differently. "This is more of the same distraction from the real issue—publishers' relationship with their audience," Bridges-Smith said. "Whether they're showing large page takeover ads or these acceptable ads, publishers still need to have a good relationship with their audience in order to get them to turn off ad blockers or allow acceptable ads."

According to The Wall Street Journal, Google and ad-tech company AppNexus will be helping sell AAP's ad space through their exchanges. Google and AppNexus are members of the Interactive Advertising Bureau's organizations around the globe, and the IAB has railed against AdBlock Plus' objectives in the recent past and isn't letting up.

"No matter how Adblock Plus tries to justify their form of extortion, or make it seem harmless, it is a practice that will continue to erode the value exchange that powers the free and open Internet," Dave Grimaldi, evp of public policy at the IAB, told Adweek in an email today. "Online advertising is what enables consumers across the globe to access their favorite websites, songs, and videos, and Adblock Plus continues to ignore the damage its technology is doing to that free-flowing ability."

The timing of AdBlock Plus' announcement appears tied to the Dmexco conference, which takes place this week in its hometown of Cologne, Germany. 

Williams also riffed on the idea that ad blockers will improve the digital experience. "Ads that receive good reviews," he noted, "get rewarded by making them more likely to be chosen. Rad, eh?"

Yet, since publishers and advertisers don't want their paid promos blocked and AdBlock Plus users may not want to see any ads at all, we'll see, sir. We'll see how rad it is.