Last week Adblock Plus, the world’s leading ad blocker, announced a shift in strategy that caught the attention of the digital advertising industry: It’s about to launch a beta of its own ad-tech platform. The company that has made its name, quite literally, by blocking ads, will now serve ads that it deems acceptable to Adblock users. This creates an interesting dynamic, wherein one company gets to decide which ads are worth serving. Users of the popular app were none too happy, and took to social media to display their displeasure.
Changing the stated purpose of the company could cause those users to stop using the app according to Marfeel COO Juan Margenat, who told PerformanceIN that Adblock Plus had been “very smart by becoming a filter for ads claiming that they were bad for users, and they reached a very big and highly desirable target group—the young, tech-savvy population. What they are forgetting is that their tech-savvy users can uninstall them as fast as they installed them in the first place.” He called Adblock’s new initiative “unfaithful to their original spirit.”
It also creates a dangerous precedent for one company to determine which advertisements are acceptable and which ones aren’t. Guidelines put forth by an organization like the International Advertising Bureau, a group compromised of more than 650 media and technology companies, is a much safer bet to set these guidelines. The newly announced Coalition For Better Ads, led by members of the IAB and leading tech companies like Google and Facebook, could also play a role. Whereas Adblock Plus is using its “whitelist” as a way to profit from its users and ad suppliers, the IAB and Coalition For Better Ads set guidelines to help users and advertisers find the path to less intrusive and more educational advertisements.
Ben Williams, director of communications and operations at Eyeo, a parent company of Adblock Plus, said in an interview with the New York Times, “It’s just the words we use for it that are confusing people. We are called Adblock Plus, and for branding reasons, we are not going to call ourselves something different. But if we could, we would call ourselves something like ‘web customizer,’ because that’s really what we want to do for our users.” It’s quite an unusual approach that Adblock is promising one thing through it’s branding, but now wants to give the user something else entirely. Users that download the app to block ads will now be highly disappointed.
So what does it mean when Adblock Plus, the leading ad blocker, is now running its own ad-tech platform? The sudden shift in business strategy has certainly raised the eyebrows of their users, the media, and those associated closely with company. Staying true to a mission and vision of a company is integral for the business success of any company. This dramatic shift in strategy will definitely have people watching closely to see how the company performs.
What we do know is that a middle ground has always been the best approach – unobtrusive, targeted ads are still the answer to monetization for publishers.