Who is Responsible for Online Advertising in 2016?

As individual companies gain more control over what advertisements users can view, we have to ask ourselves – What is responsible online advertising?

On September 13th, in an attempt to answer this question, Adblock Plus added an extension to sell ads through their Acceptable Ads policy, a platform that launched back in 2011 as a way to lay out parameters for what makes an ad, well, acceptable.

What is Deemed an “Acceptable Ad?”

Adblock Plus, owned by German company Eoes, is an open-source free extension that lets users block advertising through a series of filters. To combat bad ads a step further, the company established an Acceptable Ads policy. Some of these rules, listed in the guideline, include placement on interface, distinction from other content, and size of advertising compared to “primary content.”

The new beta version of the ad-tech marketplace allows publishers and bloggers to pick “acceptable ads” to be placed on their websites. Instead of blocking all ads, “good” ads will appear as an alternative to the obstructive ads originally placed on the site.

The new marketplace gives publishers the opportunity to earn revenue, even if there are ad blockers in place. “It allows you to treat the two different ecosystems completely differently and monetize each one and crucially, monetize the ad blockers on on their own terms,” said Ben Williams, Adblock Plus’ operations and communications director, in an interview with the Verge.

Publishers earn 80 percent of the total revenue while Adblock Plus earns the remaining 20 percent. Revenue from their Acceptable Ads platform is the largest source of income for Adblock Plus. In addition to the marketplace, their Acceptable Ads policy whitelists advertisers that meet their standards of quality ads.

As of October of 2015, an independent board determines which ads make the cut. In a blog post written by Willems, he introduces a “completely independent review board to take over, enforce and oversee our Acceptable Ads initiative” through a nomination process that included commenting on the post. Since then, there has yet to be a publicly accessible list of the board members on their site, but they do have an open forum for discussion on proposed acceptable ads

Gatekeepers of Advertising

While Adblock Plus has set itself up as a gatekeeper for advertising content, there are other powerful tech companies that also play a great role in content consumption.

Although Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook isn’t a media company, there is no denying the amount of content that flows through these online platforms. Ad revenue in the United States has grown 20 percent since 2014, and 64 percent of that ad revenue in 2015 was earned just by Facebook and Google. In Q2 of this year, Facebook brought in $6.24 billion in ad revenue with a 1.13 daily users. Equally impressive, Google’s ad revenue was $19.1 billion dollars with 19 percent increase from last year.

Jason Kint, the CEO of Digital Content Next, a trade organization dedicated to serving high-quality content companies, believes these tech giants play a significant role in the way people consume and share information.

“There’s a leadership requirement that’s expected of ‘a Facebook’ or of ‘a Google,’” says Kint in an interview with MediaFile, “Even if they don’t consider themselves a media company, they have a sense of responsibility that goes much beyond just being dumb pipes and there’s too much at stake here.”

Who is responsible for advertising in 2016?

The open web allows for a constant flow of information, but individual players within the tech world determine how that content gets filtered and consumed.

For Adblock Plus, this means only seeing content that they deem fit for your user experience, but that only is one way to think about it.

For publishers, ad blocking is not the solution.

“Ad blocking is a symptom of a larger problem,” says Kint. “Quite simply, [the ad industry] has put billions of dollars into ad technology over the last decade and it’s led to a loss of focus on the consumer.” He points out that a rise in security issues, privacy issues, and user experience issues has led consumers to say ‘enough’ and block out ads all together.

From Kint’s point of view, it is the responsibility of publishers working with every other industry player to design Advertising 2.0, where “publishers, not platforms, must take the lead.”

Distributers and ad tech companies don’t have the same relationship with consumers as the publishers who directly provide news, entertainment, and information to the user, according to Kint. “So the publisher is in a deep position to actually turn this into a success long term as we build the web.”

And since the problem is rooted in the consumer experience, it is necessary to bring them into the conversation as well.

“Any effort to create transparency and consumer trust around ads is going to have to require a consumer voice,” he says. 

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