The IAB’s Publisher Ad Blocking Primer: 7 Tactics For Protecting Publishers

We’ve all heard it. Ad blocking isn’t going away. In fact, according to a new eMarketer report, ad blocking has grown 35% quarter over quarter globally.

Viewers have made it clear they are frustrated by poor advertising experiences, and ad blockers are making it easier and easier for consumers to opt-out of them altogether. Data from Unruly’s Future Video Survey shows that 90% of US consumers would consider using ad blocking software. 

While many consumers feel empowered by the ability to chose whether or not they see ads on the web, few understand the far-reaching impact it has on publishers.

That’s why the IAB developed its Ad Blocking Working Group to provide insights into how publisher and advertisers can respond to the proliferation of ad blockers. Unruly has been advocating non-interruptive advertising since inception in 2006 and is part of the Working Group which recently released the IAB Tech Lab Publisher Ad Blocking Primer, providing some new gadgets (or at least gadget blueprints!) for your publisher tool belt.

The IAB’s guidelines in how to deal with ad blocking are known as DEAL, which this set of recommendations falling under the Lift and Limit section of DEAL.

If you don’t have the time carved out in your schedule to read the full 25 page report, we’ve broken down the key takeaways.

Read with caution! It’s important to note that the IAB, as well as Unruly, DO NOT intend the guidelines to serve as a list of recommendations. Instead, it gives publishers a huge range of options that can be used to mitigate the effects of ad blocking, as well as detailing some important pros and cons of each.

1. Notice 

Whenever a publisher detects a visitor using an ad blocker, they serve a message in an attempt to get the user to disable the ad blocking software. The messaging can vary widely, from simply asking nicely to explaining the economics of how advertising is supporting content creation.

This is the lowest risk approach a publisher can take, but it’s also the least likely to have a significant effect on advertising revenue.

2. Access Denial 

In this scenario, the publisher either restricts all content or limits the content available when an ad blocker is detected. Effectively, the user then has to disable their ad blocker in order to view the publisher’s content.

This is quite a risky tactic for publishers that have non-exclusive content, as users are likely to then go to other sites where they can view the same story, rather than disabling their ad blocker. This approach is probably best employed after a period of simply notifying the user.

3. Tiered Experience

 By creating a lower tiered user experience for those that are using ad blockers, a publisher can retain traffic from viewers that are using ad blockers while still incentivizing people to turn off their ad blocker. Examples of this would be only giving access to a set number of articles a day, restricting certain editorial sections entirely, or forcing an ad blocker to wait 90 seconds to see a piece of video content instead of a 30 second pre-roll ad.

This is a much more complicated approach for the publishers and adds new operational and development complexities. Additionally, this runs the risk of users associating the publisher’s brand with a poor user experience. So it’s very important that it’s clear that the experience is a direct result of a consumer using an ad blocker.

However, this could be an ideal tactic for publishers thinking about transitioning to a subscription-based model in the future.

4. Payments from Visitors

Whether it’s micro-payments or regular donations, this tactic is the first that deals directly with subscription models.

In this scenario, a publisher would need to be prepared to drastically change its revenue model. As a result, the risks are extensive, including coming up with a new pricing/payment model, extra operational costs, the likelihood of seeing a large drop in its user base, as well as decreased social interactions.

However, this has proven to be effective for some legacy brands and could be very effective for a publisher network providing access to a wide array of websites through a single subscription.

5. Ad Reinsertion

Simply put, this means that a publisher would use technology to bypass ad blocking and put their ads back on their website. 

The risk here – aside from forcing consumers into advertising experiences that they have expressly opted out of – is that ad blocking software will inevitably adapt to these reinsertion methods, leading to a continuous game of cat and mouse. While the immediate benefits of reclaiming revenue are clear, this will simply result in evangelizing even more ad blocking users and developers.

6. Payments to Ad Blocker Companies 

Certain ad blocking companies are now allowing publishers and other ad companies to reclaim blocked impressions for a fixed-rate fee, given they meet certain minimum requirements. Eyeo GmbH, the company behind the ad blocking giant AdBlock Plus, has popularized this business model by charging large companies 30% of revenue reclaimed by allowing ads through its browser extension.

While this will likely result in short-term revenue gains, the obvious long-term problem associated with this practice is that you are directly funding the technology that is restricting your advertising revenue in the first place.

Additionally, as a result of this policy among very popular (and profitable) ad blockers, much more robust open source ad blocking software is gaining traction among the ad blocking community, who feel betrayed by the corporate interests of ad blocking businesses. The aim of this new tech is to prevent all ads, with no interest in improving advertising experiences for consumers or supporting publisher interests.

7. Payments to Visitors 

This means that the user is provided some sort of reward – whether monetary, aesthetic, etc – for spending time with the advertising on the site.

While this has proven a successful model for games and a myriad of mobile apps, this strategy is still largely unproven for publishers who rely on monetizing news stories and other editorial content.

The biggest and most obvious risk here? Fraud. If there is something for the user to directly gain, you can bet that a certain subset of them will try to game the system and take more than their fair share. For this reason, among many others, this tactic has the potential to drastically increase operational complexity and create new costs altogether.

In conclusion

The age of interruption is – or rather, needs to be – over. Ad blocking is on the rise because consumers have been burned time and time again by poor advertising experiences. In many of the tactics mentioned above, publishers could quite easily contribute to an ever-worsening user experience. In fact, we can hardly call such strategies “solutions”.  Publishers need to lead the charge in effecting real change.

Publishers have been backed into a corner by ad blocking technology, which continues to eat away at advertising revenues. How do publishers cope with these ever-increasing losses? For some, the immediate reaction may be to make the experience of users that are not ad blocking even more advertising-dense, thus exacerbating the issue and driving more consumers toward the ad blocking camp.

Instead, publishers need to engage with their audiences to find an equitable exchange of value and content. Meanwhile, the industry as a whole needs to focus on creating collaborative advertising experiences that benefit advertisers, publishers, and consumers alike.