If you want to start a shouting match at a tech conference, just bring up ad reinsertion. It’s this year’s hot button issue in technology.
But for all of reinsertion’s divisiveness, it’s still the hottest corner of ad tech in 2017. And for good reason: It’s recapturing millions of lost dollars for publishers already.
On one side of the table are adblock users who feel their choices are being overridden by an advanced ad tech which circumvents their adblockers. When unwanted ads appear on their previously ad-free pages, they feel as if their preferences “no longer matter”. From a user perspective, these reinserted ads have invaded their walled garden.
On the other side of the table are publishers who have the undeniable right to monetize their content. Publishers after all, work for profit as all businesses do. Without ad revenue most publishers wouldn’t exist. From their perspective, it’s adblock users that are the invaders — marauding across their digital real estate, raiding their intellectual property, and short circuiting vital monetization mechanisms. As the numbers of adblock users pass the 50% threshold for many websites, these invaders represent an existential threat to their livelihoods.
The line in the sand
Ad reinsertion has righted that imbalance for thousands of publishers by allowing them to recapture revenue lost to adblocking.
The divisiveness over ad reinsertion seems to come down to a single issue: “force“.
When publishers used to ask users to “please” disengage their ad blockers, those users were given options: They could choose to oblige the requests of publishers — or not.
Ad reinsertion, by contrast, asks no permission of users. It’s “force” — a unilateral call by publishers to control the integrity of their published work. It is a “like it or leave” ultimatum. Here is the content, with ads.
Ads have become the line in the sand for many publishers. The new mantra for many websites is a “no ads, no access” approach.
The Web may seem ‘free’, but it isn’t and it never has been. It was always paid for with user attention. And statistically speaking, all other monetization models work less well.
A new set of choices
2017 has brought with it several new developments in ad reinsertion. Most importantly are new “kinder, softer” flavors of reinsertion. These new types of ad reinsertion allow users to block ads on a per placement level.
ReviveAds, for example allows users to block specific placements for up to 30 days at a time. Regular readers of news sites can (for example) block all the ads on the homepage if they wish. These options are granted to readers by publishers, who can configure precisely how much leniency they wish to offer adblock users.
This softer strategy has proven enormously successful with readers — who statistically tend to block only a small percentage of the ads on a page even when they have the option to do so.
Why the new models matter
These newer, more user-friendly approaches to ad reinsertion are approaching the holy grail that publishers have long sought after: A middle ground between publishers and ad blockers.
All other models tried thus far (Acceptable Ads, adblock walls, paywalls) have all failed to empower publishers without antagonizing readers — or without having a meaningful effect on the rate of adblocking.
The problem is simple: Simply asking readers to disable their adblockers is a strategy that lacks any leverage. And serving “acceptable ads” does not appear to be a sufficient carrot to warrant whitelisting.
The brute force approach of unilaterally overriding all user choice, is by contrast a strategy consisting of 100% leverage — but risks alienating readership. This approach may work for some publishers, but the cost of losing readership may be too high for others.
Today’s more nuanced strategies of ad reinsertion mixed with user choice promise a new happy medium. One where users still have the option to block ads, and where publishers have the power to control the integrity of their published product.