Adtoniq’s Gary Portney on the Rise and Impact of Ad Blocking

Jane O'Hara
Jane O'Hara
Adtoniq’s Gary Portney on the Rise and Impact of Ad Blocking

As the founder and CEO of Adtoniq, a proprietary permissions-based advertising platform, member Gary Portney specializes in helping quality advertisers and publishers continue to monetize their ad block users.

My recent interview with Gary offers insight into how and why users install ad blockers and how permission-based advertising can help publishers build user trust and ad revenue.
"Asking for consent works. And while counterintuitive on its face, ad block users interact, engage, click ads, and convert at much higher rates than non-ad blocking audiences."
Gary Portney, Adtoniq

What inspired you to create Adtoniq?

About five years ago, I realized that my online experience was being hijacked by poor quality disruptive advertising. Pop-ups, autoplay videos, and the sheer amount of ads were everywhere, and I had zero control. Then came programmatic advertising, which made a bad situation much worse. So I did what millions of others have done and turned on an ad blocker to get rid of them.

A year or so later, I started to read with some concern the impact ad blockers were having on advertisers and digital publishers. Billions of dollars were being lost; publishers were going out of business. It became so bad that people even started predicting the end of a “free internet” which is, in large part, supported by advertising dollars.

No one was budging from their positions, resulting in a seemingly intractable conundrum: the consumer doing everything to avoid ads, the advertiser and agencies pushing out huge volumes of crappy ads, and an increasing number of ad blocking companies ensuring a widening gap between them.

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention and as is often the case, the answer to bridging the chasm between consumers, advertisers, and publishers came down to a few simple ideas.

  • Instead of shoving ads down the throat of angry ad block users, why not ask for their permission to show ads and explain why advertising is important — and in some cases an imperative for the site's survival.
  • Make it drop-dead simple for a consumer to opt-in. Just one click, no safelisting or messing around with ad block filters.
  • Deliver contextual ads that are high quality and relevant.
  • Ditch all forms of behavioral advertising and tracking of consumers’ personal data — and let them know.
  • Make it easy for consumers to change their minds.

I started Adtoniq to do just this. The company’s mission seemed simple on paper but proved, in truth, to require very sophisticated technology to make it work.

What did the building process for your permission-based platform entail? Any unexpected surprises?

Fortunately, I knew people who were essential to getting the company going and had the right skill sets. I was also fortunate to have a team of advisers with profound industry expertise.

It took about two years to build and test our first commercially-viable product and prove our value with hard data, which we did. Today, Adtoniq enables permission-based advertising, connecting advertisers to previously unreachable audiences and publishers to new revenue streams. By putting the consumer first, we preserve the ad-supported web. Our company is almost completely virtual with a growing team of more than 15 staff across the US.

As for unexpected surprises, two stand out:

  1. The extent of the challenges caused by ad blockers. They don’t block just ads. Capabilities such as analytics, attribution, chat, and social media, to name but a few, are also blocked. So our platform has expanded to address these issues as well.

  2. While not unexpected, we have been blown away by the scale and positive response of ad block users giving their permission to see ads. We are seeing users opting in to advertising at rates of up to 50%, improving campaign CTRs at a rate 3–5X higher than non-ad block users and a 153% increase in conversions. Asking for consent works. And while counterintuitive on its face, ad block users interact better with ads than non-ad blocking audiences.

How does your direct-buy platform help publishers optimize their ad inventory?

Simply put, we help publishers unlock inventory they otherwise couldn’t, as ad blocking spans 22%-38% across the US population, and larger globally.

Take a site with 10 million browser visits a month. Even at the lowest ad block rate of 22%, that's 2.2 million people it can't monetize a month. With razor thin margins already, that could make or break a company. And if your audience is tech-savvy, well-educated Millennials, ad blocking rates can exceed 40%. Opening this up is a huge win for advertisers.

Ultimately, I believe permission-based technology that enables this is the right way and perhaps the only way to succeed.

How does permission-based advertising differ from safelists?

As mentioned above, we make it simple for a consumer to opt-in with one click. It’s not that safelisting doesn’t work in practice — and most ad blocking software allows users to temporarily disable itself for specific sites.

The key is that the onus is on the user to physically go into their ad blocker and find out how to do it themselves. With the limited time and attention offered by today’s digital consumer, most people would rather go somewhere else than go through this.

What are the most common misconceptions publishers have about ad blocker usage?

There are a lot of publishers that have no idea what their true ad blocking rate is. They are lulled into a false sense of security by their web and data analytics tools.They don't realize that ad blockers often block detection tools, so while they think they have a 5% ad blocking rate, it may actually be closer to 30%. You can't diagnose the revenue threat without first having accurate data.

What are the top brand safety concerns of the advertisers and publishers you work with?

Probably the most concerning factor for brands is having their ads scattered across hundreds of thousands of publishers. This opens the door to their brand appearing on nefarious and possibly illegal websites.

Then there’s the pitfall of using behavioral targeting, one of the primary reasons ad blockers exist in the first place. Consumers loathe this tactic, and brands are moving away from using it as a result. Street Fight emphasizes that transitioning to a content-based advertising strategy minimizes consumer complaints and may mitigate the impact of ad blockers and “do not track” technology.

The outcry concerning tracking, targeting, and capturing of personal data has resulted in more privacy legislation, from the CCPA and CONSENT Act in the US, to the GDPR in the EU, and more. Digiday reported that programmatic ad buying, which is largely behavioral, plummeted in Europe as a result of the GDPR, leading some US publishers to halt all programmatic ads on their European sites.

"There’s nothing worse you can do to turn off consumers than to ignore the reason why they use ad blockers and forcing ads into their online experiences. It’s a brand killer."
Gary Portney

How do you envision Adtoniq evolving in the next 2–5 years?

We see explosive growth. First, ad blockers aren't going away, far from it. All the prior attempts to address ad blocking just haven’t worked. They represent a substantial market that can only be reached through permission-based marketing. Second, the move towards contextual advertising and away from programmatic advertising is critical. All our ads, whether from direct buy campaigns or high quality ad networks, are based on the page content rather than consumer behavior.

We are planning a future in which brands will create compelling customer experiences that strengthen relationships with their target audience — driving better results for brand engagement, interaction, and conversion — by packaging and delivering content that allows customers to choose their journey and interact in a completely new and compelling way.

The inevitable expansion of regulations concerning data privacy offers us the opportunity to significantly expand our business.

Gary is the founder and CEO of Adtoniq, a proprietary permissions-based advertising platform that is helping companies understand and solve for ad blocking, connecting digital advertisers with this premium audience, and providing brand new revenue opportunities for publishers.

Thanks to Gary for sharing his time and expertise about ad blocking with our readers.

Jane O'Hara
Jane O'Hara

Jane is the Senior Marketing Manager at Kevel. She enjoys discovering user-first ad platforms and articulating the value of Kevel's ad serving APIs.