As MediaPost’s Joe Mandese writes in “AdBlock Plus Sticks By Its White List,” there were a variety of responses to the issue. For starters, Joshua Brandau, vice president-communications strategy at Pereira & O’Dell, said that as a consumer, he doesn’t like ad blocking. He explained that his 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,'" according to Mandese’s report.
AdBlock Plus Minster of Special Affairs Mark Addison, of course, had different ideas about ad blocking, as his company has seen more than half a billion downloads of its software extension that enables ad blocking. He maintained that the company’s goal is to advance, improve and clean up advertising. Noble goals, indeed, but AdBlock’s motives aren’t entirely altruistic: The company’s revenue model involves taking a 30% cut on companies that choose to be whitelisted with it.
During the panel’s Q&A session, Mandese asked why it’s ethical to charge the fee that’s rapidly being referred to as an “Internet tax."
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.
In answer to Mandese’s question on whether AdBlock Plus is influenced by what the companies on the whitelist pay, Addison said: “No, emphatically. The ads must conform to the guidelines as to what’s an acceptable ad.”
But is the fee ethical? To that question, Addison responded that AdBlock Plus has been sued by large publishers in Europe and managed to fend off five legal challenges to date over its Acceptable Ad program. “Our whitelist has been challenged. In the most recent settlement, the judge said the law is not here to protect the publishers’ business model. The court saw the white list as a trigger for innovation. Every aspect of our ethics is being tested and debated,” Addison maintained.
Addison said that consumers who download the blocker are opted in to AdBlock Plus’ whitelists unless they opt out. “If we do the wrong thing, they’ll go to another ad blocker and others don’t have a whitelist. Our users trust us to make a decision.” Addison said his company is very cautious about the audience:“We can’t alienate this very difficult, tech-savvy audience because they’ll move on to the next ad blocker.”
He also told the audience, “We’re just the agent for the consumer,” noting that AdBlock Plus is effectively giving consumers “voting rights” and a “seat at the table” of the online advertising marketplace.The Interactive Advertising Bureau has implemented its L.E.A.N. and DEAL programs, and while Addison believes they’re “a great start… a lot has been borrowed from us. They’re borrowing our narrative, and the consumer isn’t at the table at those discussions.”
Addison took pains to tell the audience that all of the guidelines for what represents an “acceptable ad” are debated and vetted openly in AdBlock Plus’ public forum. “We implement what the consumers say. It’s an open-source decision.” The company touts that it has about 22,000 volunteers around the world who contribute to the open forum.
Stephanie Mace, EVP customer experience strategy director, MRM//McCann, said the one of the problems is that smaller publishers can’t afford to pay to play on a whitelist.
Addison said monetization models will need to evolve: “Micropayments need to be explored,” he noted, citing Medium and Sharethrough which are handling native ads in an interesting way.
The bottom line: “Advertising is forever going to play a role. We’re hell-bent on trying to fix the advertising model. Advertising will always be a vital part of the Internet experience, and we want to help make it right,” Addison maintained.