The truth behind Acceptable Ads: What publishers need to know
September 11, 2023
If you’re interested in ad block recovery, you probably know about Acceptable Ads. You might even know that it’s used by nearly every major US publisher. What you might not know is that the majority of said publishers don’t work directly with the Acceptable Ads Standard. Instead, these publishers work with ad tech vendors that utilize Acceptable Ads in their solutions. Blockthrough, AdPushup, and Publir are just a few SSPs more or less acting as Acceptable Ads resellers. Despite its ubiquity, many publishers join the Acceptable Ads program without understanding some major aspects - for better or worse. Whether you’ve already joined or you’re debating joining, read on to find out what every publisher should know about Acceptable Ads.
The origins of Acceptable Ads: Eyeo, ad blockers, and ad filtering
Acceptable Ads - formally known as The Acceptable Ads Standard - is a criteria determining what kinds of ads are acceptable for users. The Acceptable Ads Standard was established by a company called Eyeo, and on the surface, it seems like an altruistic, objective initiative aimed at improving the digital ad experience. Incidentally, Eyeo also owns established ad blockers AdBlock and Adblock Plus, both of which are free to use. Yet Eyeo generates steady and impressive revenue, having made 60 million dollars in 2020. How?
A closer look at Eyeo’s revenue model reveals that the Acceptable Ads Standard may not, strictly speaking, be a product of selfless altruism. Eyeo makes (literally) millions by charging a license fee to publishers in exchange for adding paying publishers’ ads to a whitelist. The whitelisted ads, under the condition of Acceptable Ads Standard compliance, are then displayed to AdBlock and Adblock Plus users. While Eyeo claims that they typically pocket 30% of a publisher's Acceptable Ads ad revenue - a substantial amount - it’s unclear how much additional fees are accrued via their distribution networks of vendors and re-sellers. In reality, publishers likely pay over 30% of their recovered ad revenue to Acceptable Ads. This revenue model does not necessarily make the Acceptable Ads Standard inherently harmful. However, publishers, advertisers, and users alike should be aware of its (hidden) agenda and understand that the primary purpose is profitability.
Acceptable Ads’ main pitch
Part of Acceptable Ads’ big pitch is that their program centers on user consent. It claims that over 250 million ad blocker users have consented to see their white-listed ads, emphasizing that these users, having opted in to view ads, are more likely to engage positively with ads. These users are supposedly of higher value to publishers. As ad blocker users, they see fewer advertisements than standard Internet users, making them more receptive when they do see advertisements. Broken down, Eyeo has a two-part pitch. First, their users are more receptive to ads because they’ve consented to seeing them. Second, their users are more receptive to ads because they usually don’t see them. For Acceptable Ads to be more worthwhile than other ad block recovery solutions, both of those arguments need to be true. So are they?
Acceptable Ads and passive consent
If you really think about it, only the first part of their pitch differentiates Acceptable Ads from other ad block recovery solutions. Acceptable Ads differentiate themselves from other ad block recovery solutions because their users consented or opted-in to viewing advertisements. However, what many people don’t know is that all AdBlock and Adblock Plus users are automatically opted-in to viewing Acceptable Ads upon installation. These users did not actively consent to view any advertisements.
Screen recording of Adblock Plus’ installation process
Eyeo can still claim, with a degree of truth, that 250 million ad blocker users consented to see advertisements. However, none of those users actively consented, which means that AdBlock and Adblock Plus users are no different from alternative ad blocker users. Furthermore, although 250 million ad blocker users may have unknowingly consented to view advertisements, it’s unsure how many of those users remain opted-in. Data within Eyeo’s own Pagefair reports reveal that from 2021 to 2022, over 15% of Adblock Plus users actively went into their settings to opt out of viewing Acceptable Ads. It’s difficult, then, to determine the number of users currently opted into viewing Acceptable Ads, which then makes it difficult for publishers to accurately gauge how much revenue they can recover with Acceptable Ads.
Acceptable Ads’ declining recovery rate
The second part of Acceptable Ads’ pitch is that ad blocker users are more receptive to ads because they usually don’t see advertisements. This is true. But this applies to all ad blocker users, not just AdBlock or Adblock Plus users. In that sense, Acceptable Ads does not have any major benefits or distinguishers compared to other ad block recovery solutions. With all other factors being equal, the most important criterion for publishers evaluating ad block recovery solutions is the recovery rate. Because Acceptable Ads are limited to participating ad blockers, such as AdBlock and Adblock Plus, the recovery rate is just 15 - 25% of a publisher’s total ad block traffic. Users, skeptical of Eyeo’s paradoxical business model, have increasingly shifted to alternative ad blockers like AdGuard, Brave Browser, and uBlock Origin. As a result, over 70% of all ad blocker users are blocking Acceptable Ads.
Case study: Top global gaming publisher
On top of market data, Ad-Shield can verify Acceptable Ads’ declining recovery rate via our customers' data. Many Ad-Shield customers use both Acceptable Ads and Ad-Shield to increase their overall ad block revenue recovery. One such customer, a top global gaming publisher, experienced a 24.4% recovery rate with Acceptable Ads in 2021. In 2023, their current Acceptable Ads recovery rate is down to 20.8%. Effectively, they recovered roughly 15% less in 2023 via Acceptable Ads than in 2021. Meanwhile, Ad-Shield exponentially supplemented Acceptable Ads with a 71% recovery rate in 2021 to an increased current recovery rate of 77%, for a total recovery rate of 97%.
Acceptable Ads’ 15-25% recovery rate is insufficient to keep most publishers afloat in the long term. Whether it’s in tandem with Acceptable Ads or a complete switch, alternative/complementary revenue recovery solutions are required. Ad-Shield’s next-generation technology has been recovering over 90% of ad block revenue for publishers across the globe throughout multiple years. Our solution is Better Ads Standards-compliant, plus we give publishers the option to implement opt-out functions for their users. Unlike Acceptable Ads, our recovery solution is not limited to specific ad blockers. Further, unlike Eyeo, our core business is not to help blockers but to help publishers. To learn more about how we can help you, contact us any time for a free expert consultation.