Reimagining Monetization in a Post-Advertising World

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Article ImageFrom rock-bottom prices to ad blockers, advertising is a tough way to monetize digital content. It always has been, of course, but the challenges are increasing in an environment in which content consumers are becoming more demanding, less patient, and jaded about the exploding number of intrusive ads they find themselves dealing with across a wide range of devices. Add into that mix the challenges presented by the duopoly of Facebook and Google, and the stranglehold these platforms have on the majority of ad dollars, and display advertising as a business model becomes nearly untenable for publishers.

Are publishers moving into a post-advertising world? The short answer is “yes,” but it’s more complicated than that. It’s not that advertising has gone away or even that it will. It’s more that the ways in which publishers earn revenue to support their business operations are changing in a digital information environment.


The Impact of Ad Blocking

As consumer frustration with intrusive ads grew, solutions to their frustration emerged. Namely, in the form of ad blockers—browser add-ons and apps that literally made these intrusive advertisements invisible, never to be seen by the consumers being targeted by marketers.

From a marketers’ standpoint, ad blockers were evil. Not only did they keep their target consumers from ever seeing their messages, but they also served to withhold valuable digital analytics that could help advertisers identify people who might be interested in their products or services.

From a consumer’s perspective, ad blockers were the hero. They eliminated those pesky pop-ups, banners, and messages that increasingly took over their screens and ruined the user experience. Ad blockers also eased, if not entirely eliminated, concerns about data security and privacy.

In 2016, Digiday forecast that ad blocking would cost publishers $35 billion by 2020. In an effort to fight back, publishers including Forbes and Business Insider have taken steps to block the ad blockers, according to an article by Anthony Muller on Marketing Land. Others were less aggressive and simply made appeals to consumers to allow their messages to come through. Muller highlights some “tricky techniques” that publishers began to use to boost the odds that their content would be seen:

• Multiple scripts running that would auto-load and insert a new ad if another one was blocked

• Using their own servers as ad servers, which “tricks the blockers into thinking the ad is not really an ad”

• Blocking the ad blockers themselves from viewing their non-ad content

And then Adblock Plus emerged and has evolved into a nonpartisan, third-party solution that doesn’t block all ads, only those that don’t meet minimum standards that have been adopted by Adblock Plus after gathering extensive input from users. But control still remains in users’ hands. They can choose to accept the ads that Adblock has deemed to be acceptable, set up their own filters, or choose to eliminate all ads.


Combating Ad Blockers

In the midst of all these shifts, publishers have found themselves struggling to ensure that their content makes its way to their target audiences. The solutions, regardless of the form they take, have one overriding similarity: They’re all designed to reward quality content and minimize, or eliminate spammy content.

Over time, standards have emerged, developed originally by a private company—eyeo—but later moving to an independent committee format—the Acceptable Ads Committee—with members coming from three coalitions: user advocates, for-profit members, and expert members. The committee’s goal is to “create new and exceptional ad standards that improve the user experience for ad-blocking users while, just as importantly, delivering real value to content publishers and advertisers.”

According to the Adblock Plus website, “Acceptable Ads are ads that aren’t intrusive or annoying. They are respectful, don’t interfere with content, and are clearly labeled with the word ‘advertisement’ or its equivalent. In order for an ad to be an ‘Acceptable Ad’, it must adhere to standards that have been set forth by the Acceptable Ads Committee.”

Publishers can also work with companies like Blockthrough, which allow them to monetize adblock users through a shared-revenue recovery process. Blockthrough takes a percentage of what’s recovered; the publishers get the rest. An interactive tool on the company’s website allows publishers to estimate the amount of revenue recovery they might be able to receive on a monthly basis. The company helps publishers recover revenue they’ve lost to ad blocking by working with them to create safe, non-intrusive ad experiences.

Marty Krátký-Katz is CEO and founder of Blockthrough. He is a member of the Acceptable Ads Committee. The company was founded in 2015 and, initially, worked by
attempting to circumvent the ad blockers. That wasn’t a sustainable model, Krátký-Katz says. The ad blockers were quickly onto efforts to circumvent and would simply make changes to avoid circumvention. “The technology might work one month and the next month, it wouldn’t work,” he says. “It was like a game of whack-a-mole.” Blockthrough, consequently, shifted its focus. Krátký-Katz says the best solution was to provide an ad experience that solved the problems that were driving users to block ads in the first place. Providing a white-listed ad experience, delivered to viewers in a way that doesn’t require them to turn off their existing ad blockers, could be the solution. That is, he adds, what users prefer. “And because it generates revenue for publishers, it’s a win-win scenario,” he says.

Recently, Blockthrough announced the acquisition of PageFair, a company that has provided free ad-block analytics to publishers. The combination of the two companies, according to Blockthrough, “creates the industry’s most comprehensive and effective ad-block recovery platform—a crucial component of the programmatic stack that helps publishers recover lost revenue, while delivering more acceptable ad experiences to users.” PageFair, Krátký-Katz says, was the first pioneer in the ad-block recovery space. “They’re really the company that invented ad-block recovery,” he says.

Despite efforts to ensure that consumers get higher-quality, more relevant ads delivered to them, publishers and others are realizing that digital advertising alone, just like traditional advertising alone, is not going to boost and sustain their revenue over time. They need to consider a variety of other ways to monetize their content. And they are.



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