The White Lie Behind AdBlock Plus' White List

Ask a panel of ad executives how they feel about ad blocking as both consumers and industry pros and you’ll get surprisingly mixed responses. But not necessarily what you’d think they will be.

“As a consumer I think I don’t like it,” Joshua Brandau, vice president-communications strategy at Pereira & O’Dell, said in response to the opening question on the opening panel at OMMA San Francisco Wednesday.

He explained his consumer perspective was colored by his industry knowledge about how “the mechanism works” and the fact that he would prefer to “reward” the publishers that bring him online content, as opposed to penalizing by them by depriving them of advertising revenues.

“From a business perspective,” however, Brandau said, “I really like it, because it forces our industry forward.”

Brandau’s fellow agency panelists weren’t as explicit in their support for ad blocking, but there was an odd man out on the panel, AdBlock Plus Minster of Special Affairs Mark Addison, who, not surprisingly, was pretty keen on the role ad blockers are playing in the online publishing business.

Boasting that AdBlock Plus had just surpassed a half a billion downloads, Addison said the game-changing technology isn’t being driven by crass profit motives so much as it is by consumers who want to clean up online’s act.

“We’re just the agent for the consumer,” Addison told the digital media crowd, adding that AdBlock Plus is effectively giving consumers “voting rights” and a “seat at the table” of the online advertising marketplace.

It’s also giving big publishers a reason to pay AdBlock Plus in order to get “whitelisted,” which is ad block industry code for allowing their ads to be seen.

While Addison omitted the white listing fee, a review of AdBlock Plus’ about page says they charge big publishers 30% of the revenues they generate by being whitelisted.

Asked if he thought it was ethical that a company that develops software enabling consumers to block ads should utilize a revenue model that charges publishers to allow their ads to pass through, Addison side-stepped the ethics and instead noted it was legally defensible, citing a number of court rulings supporting its legality.

Asked explicitly about its 30% cut of the whitelist action, Addison said the fee is only applied to the “incremental” revenues publishers gain from being whitelisted.

Asked what those revenues were incremental to, Addison conceded those publishers otherwise wouldn’t have any advertising passing through to AdBlock Plus users without paying the fee.

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