3 mins read

Eyeo, the ad blocking specialist, pivots to join the ranks of ad exchanges

The old adage is “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”. But when an ad blocking company launches an ad exchange, who is joining who?

It’s taking me a couple of weeks to wrap my head around the announcement that Eyeo GmbH, which owns Adblock Plus, was getting into the programmatic space.  According to AdExchanger, The Acceptable Ads Exchange (AAX) has been in alpha testing since February with three DSPs (demand-side platforms).

Media buyers can bid for impressions served to Adblock Plus (ABP) users who have not opted out of seeing ads deemed in an acceptable format by Eyeo. It’s early days and too soon to see what kind of volume AAX can achieve.

The world isn’t clamoring for another exchange, but if it can deliver a unique audience – an audience that blocks ads from the other exchanges – it does have a compelling story to tell advertisers.

More importantly, it tells us just how misaligned publishers are from their consumers.

I’m not sure when the first person coded up an ad blocker. I’m sure there was a honeymoon period that existed when people saw ads and it was a novelty to see them. As the stories go, people even clicked on ads back then. Imagine.

At some point, however, the honeymoon ended and people started to figure out ways to make the ads go away. I recall at an early AdMonsters event, a presentation about ad blocking and people turning off JavaScript on their browsers to avoid the deluge of annoying ads showing up on sites.

As I recall, we all felt concern but at the same time there wasn’t much we could do about it. The consensus was these people who were blocking ads were radicals who didn’t believe in capitalism. What we as publishers missed was that people blocking ads weren’t protecting themselves from advertising: they were protecting themselves from us, the publishers.

As ad blocking usage has increased, doubling in the US since 2014, publisher rage has only increased. IAB Chief Randall Rothenberg famously went on a tirade at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting, about his hatred for the ad-block profiteers. AdBlock Plus had been uninvited from that very conference. They were not allowed to be one of us.

Eyeo’s Adblock Plus

However, with the launch of their exchange, they are now very much one of us. So low is the bar to entry into the ad tech space that a company that blocks ads can sell ads.

Eyeo’s positioning is not that ads are bad. It’s an interesting stance considering there are other ad blockers out there that seek to block everything that could be an ad. Instead, Eyeo hopes to be the arbiter of what a good ad is, protecting users from publishers who have forgotten about the user in our quest for advertising dollars. Eyeo isn’t wrong, and in many ways their potential success may be what we deserve. 

There is, however, a way to defeat the ad blockers who sell ads: renew our relationship with the people who visit our websites. The ones that understand there is a value exchange between a publisher who gives content away for free and subsidizes that content by showing advertising. The ones that want to root for us, yet instead we give them a terrible user experience in return.

It’s a conversation that we’re learning to have.  GDPR, the duopoly and ad blockers are all pushing us to rethink how we connect with our users. We as publishers have to heed the call to do the right thing. These relationships are ours to own. As Richard Foster wrote a few weeks back, we need to put the customer back in the centre. Design with them in mind first.

The alternative is to concede that relationship to another party who will decide what we are worth and writing our rules. Seems to me, that’s what we need to block.

Rob Beeler, Chairman, AdMonsters and Founder of Beeler.Tech