A decision by Adblock Plus to launch its own ad-selling business looks to have backfired early doors as questions circulated around who would be supplying the technology to power it.

After coming from virtually nowhere to stake a claim for being Europe’s most popular ad-blocking tool, Adblock Plus took things one step further this week by announcing the launch of a platform that allowed publishers to display ‘pre-approved’ ads on their sites.

This was made possible by a partnership with ComboTag, whose supply-side technology would power one half of the system. The other – the demand side which broadcasts the availability of ad space to brands and agencies – attracted a great deal of attention, as reports from the Wall Street Journal suggested ad giants in Google and AppNexus would be lending a hand.

AppNexus has since distanced itself from the claims and, according to Business Insider, suspended ComboTag from its platform, insisting it “does not work with companies like Eyeo”, which owns Adblock Plus.

Closing the back door

Although steps have now been taken to separate AppNexus from the seemingly toxic Adblock Plus brand, a statement from the former indicates that at least some contact had been made between the two, and a messy situation to deal with.

“ComboTag issued today’s announcement without our knowledge or authorization,” it read. 

“The only AppNexus contact with whom they previewed details of the initiative was a junior support manager who is not authorized to sign off on it. When the story posted today, we promptly informed ComboTag that we would not allow Eyeo on our platform, even through the back door.”

A quick search also reveals that AppNexus and Google, which itself has claimed not to know about the partnership, are the only demand partners attached to ComboTag. 

However, a partnership with a company labelled by IAB chief Randall Rotherberg as an “extortion racket” would seem like an easy way to sever ties. 

A toxic brand

Such a reaction can be owed and perhaps justified by negative press as a result of partnering with Adblock Plus, whose means of generating revenue has attracted a huge amount of controversy over the last year.

Big-name servers like Google and Criteo are said to have paid the company to have their ads ‘whitelisted’, despite an insistence that inventory that passes through its filter is done so on merit. 

That said, the tool is now used by some 100 million users worldwide, has evaded court action on several occasions and appears to have prompted an industry-wide discussion regarding the reasons why browsers are taking to it so willingly.

Objectives like greater relevancy and timing combined with a less-intrusive approach have been touted as ways of preventing tools of this ilk from harming the ad economy, with a damage bill ranging from $27 billion to $35 billion depending on which reports are to be believed.

Experts’ view

Despite this, words from Juan Margenat, COO of ad tech platform Marfeel, would suggest the impact may have reached its peak, given the movements of Adblock Plus and confusion around its principles. 

“They were very smart by becoming a filter for ads claiming that they were bad for users and they reached a very big and highly desirable target group – the young, tech savvy population. 

“What they are forgetting is that their tech savvy users can uninstall them as fast as they installed them in the first place, which is what I would do since they have proven to be unfaithful to their original spirit.”

IAB UK’s CEO Guy Phillipson has also had his say on the matter, labelling the move as “cynical” and alluding to an air of desperation given the dwindling rates of ad blocking.

“The fact is, in the UK ad blocking has stalled. It’s been stuck at 21% throughout 2016 because the premium publishers who own great content and provide a good ad experience, hold all the cards. More and more of them are offering ad-blocking consumers a clear choice; turn off your ad-blocking software or no access to our content. And their strategy is working, with 25% to 40% turning off their blockers.

“So with their original business model running out of steam, Adblock Plus have gone full circle to get into the ad sales business.”