Ad Reinsertion

January 10, 2018
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Glossary

What is Ad Reinsertion?

As the name implies, ad reinsertion is the process of serving alternate content to fill the space left by ads that have been neutralized by ad-blocking software. Ad reinsertion is one of the many new methods that advertising companies have been testing as a response to the rise of ad blockers.

With ads serving as primary sources for revenue in digital spaces, adblocking software threatens the financial sustainability of advertisers and publishers alike. These problems become more pressing when you take into account the rapid rise in ad blocker usage. In early 2016, for example, almost 40% of internet users were already blocking ads, according to the Global Web Index. In the year prior, advertisers lost $22 billion to ad blockers in that year alone, highlighting just how big a challenge ad blockers can pose.

How Does Ad Reinsertion Work?

Most of the time, when ad blockers stop an ad, they don’t mask or block the individual page elements that would have contained the ad. This creates an empty space on the webpage, which advertisers can still access or manipulate using Javascript. With ad reinsertion technology, the void created by ad-blocking software becomes an opening to serve the same ad from a different, “undetectable” source, or to deliver alternate content that tries to generate similar returns.

But how does the advertiser know when to activate its ad reinsertion technology? The answer also lies in Javascript. Using Javascript code, it’s possible to detect the use of an ad blocker in a viewer’s browser and report any detections to the Javascript console. An advertiser can then include code that specifies alternative content in case the console registers a detection.

Alternative content can range from the same ad pulled from a new server that isn’t recognized as an ad source by most blockers, to an in-house ad, to requests for the viewer to turn off their ad-blocker. Sometimes, ad reinsertion may even be done with the permission or cooperation of the ad-blocker, if the blocker creator has struck up a deal with the advertisers concerned.

“Ad recovery” is the term used for the practice of rerouting ad serving connections to deliver the original blocked ad in the same space. “Ad replacement,” meanwhile, is the term used for the process of replacing the blocked ad with alternative content.

What Does This Mean for You?

As another potential solution to the ad-blocking problem, ad reinsertion offers advertisers yet another tool to shore up revenue streams. Compared to alternatives like “ad lite” environments and content denial models, ad reinsertion produces results that hew closest to the existing ad delivery and profit models. As the IAB puts it, ad reinsertion seems to present “the shortest path to revenue recovery.”

However, it’s worth noting that ad reinsertion has received strong criticism from many key industry groups. GroupM, one of the largest media technology groups in the industry, is one of ad reinsertion’s most prominent opponents, with the group characterizing ad reinsertion as “user-hostile” and likely to damage brand reputations. The IAB has tended to concur, noting that ad reinsertion might arguably be “the least consumer-friendly option available” for counteracting ad-blockers.

Much of the resistance to ad reinsertion stems from its apparent undermining of consumer choice and the effect that such efforts might have on audience receptiveness. Ad-blocker usage is a deliberate choice on the consumer’s part, and since ad reinsertion specifically aims to bypass or dismantle the ad-blocker, many critics see ad reinsertion as a kind of strong-arming solution.

On a related note, many ad reinsertion critics have also expressed apprehensions about the technology sending advertisers and consumers into an ad-blocking arms race. As ad-blockers shift to plug the holes created by ad reinsertion technology, and as the latter tries in turn to respond, both sides might well end up locked in a development trend that sinks time, effort, and resources into ephemeral and ineffective solutions. As the IAB again notes, “[S]imply beating the blocker may have short- and long-term consequences that have not been studied, and are difficult to project.”

The IAB, GroupM, and other leading industry groups also note that ad reinsertion is a stopgap measure at best, with no means of addressing the root causes of ad-blocker usage. Instead, such groups advocate more user-oriented solutions such as the IAB’s LEAN Principles initiative, the Coalition for Better Ads’ standards, and other alternatives that aim for enhanced user ad viewing experiences.

For all these objections, however, ad reinsertion has become a booming trade. Many companies have sprung up to offer ad reinsertion technology to advertisers, and the race to deliver refined ad-blocker circumvention solutions seems poised to continue.

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