Ad Blockers Are Good for Pubs… Wait, What?

We’re sure your eyebrows jumped at the title of a recent report by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the City University of Hong Kong: “Ad blockers may benefit websites, users, and the market at large.” Well, your brows might relocate past your scalp when you read some of the conclusions from the paper.

The researchers argue that ad blockers can make the advertising marketplace “more efficient by filtering users who are sensitive to general ads, allowing websites to target more intense ads to the rest of the users.” Ah—non-blockers love a good intense ad experience that leaves you with a nosebleed!

But the real jaw-dropper in the paper is the notion that ad blockers “help regulate the ad industry by motivating the advertising platform to pay a fee to the ad-blocking company to include it in a list of ads that are allowed past the blocker.”

So the ad blocker fee model—which has been widely decried as blackmail within the publisher community—is… a beneficial watchdog for the overall industry?

Rethinking the Ad Blocker’s Role

All right, we know some publishers in the audience are about ready to divide teams with pitchforks and torches between Carnegie Mellon and City University of Hong Kong, but that last finding needs a little context, and a shift in how we think of ad blockers.

eyeO, parent company of AdBlock Plus and AAX, has been switching its language from ad blocking to ad filtering. (This is where we note that both eyeO and AAX are regular sponsors of AdMonsters events.) So think about using ABP as a negotiation platform between users and… Well, the digital media landscape at large. 

A user leveraging an ad filter is giving a signal to all in the supply chain that, “Hey, I’ll deal with ads, but they have to meet this non-irritating criteria, and targeting has to be limited.”

A third party is an apt partner for this because managing preferences on a publisher to publisher basis would be annoying for the consumer, while the use of programmatic fill in indirect sales would make it difficult for publishers to ensure preferences are met. An intermediary like an ad “filter” enables demand sources (like AAX, which has a revenue share model) that only comply with “acceptable” ad practices.

You could also argue that all advertising should be on that “acceptable” level, making an ad filter gratuitous, but come on—we know that’s not going to happen. This is also where that first point comes in—the majority of Internet users don’t seek out ad blockers or filters. “Intense” advertising doesn’t repulse them—they might even appreciate it. So advertisers should have the opportunity to hit them with potentially exciting (or potentially annoying) creative.

Long story short, the paper has a point that ad filters can serve a useful purpose in the ad industry, and can even deliver some efficiencies when it comes to user experience. Saying that’s “good” for publishers is a bit much considering the past (and the fact users can still use ad blockers to block any and every ad), so we’ll suggest, “Not all bad.”