Q&A with ID5: Blockthrough

  • Posted by Alex Taylor
  • On Aug 19, 2022

In this issue of ID5’s Partner Q&A series, we sit down with Blockthrough’s Head of Strategy, Graham Michels to ask him seven questions about identity and preparing for the oncoming changes.

What is the series all about? The Q&A with ID5 series invites its publisher, advertiser, and platform partners to share their insights on the big questions and hot topics circulating the digital media industry today. Tune in each month for new editions featuring thought leaders and experts from across the space.

Tell us about yourself and Blockthrough?

Over the last 10 years in ad tech, I’ve worked across multiple sides of the ad tech industry. My journey began at a publisher rep house, bringing DSPs into the Canadian market and managing media buying for them. I eventually moved into product leadership roles where I managed and scaled Canadian mobile DSP and location data products.

Eventually, I decided to find a career path that led me back to a publisher-focused company that added actual, differentiated value back into the ecosystem. This led me to Blockthrough.

Blockthrough is the market leader in adblock revenue recovery. We enable publishers to develop a healthier relationship with their adblock users and monetize them using a lighter, consent-based ad experience compliant with Acceptable Ads.

My role as Head of Strategy at Blockthrough has me wearing many hats, including building out our own demand ecosystem, leading initiatives to increase RPMs on the publishers’ recovered demand, and tackling new industry initiatives, such as the pending changes to identity.

How much of a concern is the deprecation of traditional identification methods such as third-party cookies and MAIDs (mobile advertising IDs) for Blockthrough?

Blockthrough relies on restoring publishers’ demand in an adblock environment, and the majority of that comes through programmatic channels. Any large-scale change to how people are programmatically bidding has an effect across our network. That being said, we are ensuring that all the proposals for new types of identifiers are supported by Blockthrough.

Reliance on the cookie has led to a reliance on Chrome users, who make up a large portion of the monetization, as they are largely non-existent in Firefox and Safari. Any shift away from cookies, or more specifically into buying on either contextual signals or identifiers that span different browsers and into mobile web, should help with our monetization efforts. 

We will also have our own audience for advertisers to bid on. The presence of an adblocker is enough of a signifier about a user that we wouldn’t need to layer on additional data points. MAIDs are less of a concern, as adblocking is not very prevalent in-app environments.

Blockthrough has been blazing the trail as a leader in adblock revenue recovery. What steps have you taken to ensure the same level of service in the post-cookie and MAIDs era?

We have a wide variety of publishers who each have their own unique stance on how they will pass identifiers and monetize users in a post-cookie world. Our role is to ensure that we support all of the new identifiers and that all the appropriate information is being passed into the adblocking environment, as it is in the non-adblocking environment. 

We currently have a framework in place for buy-side entities to target the Acceptable Ads audience directly, without leveraging third-party cookies. Now, we are educating brands with a high audience overlap in an effort to drive extended reach and incremental sales. These efforts will ensure that our publisher partners’ inventory is valued appropriately from the buy-side, in order to protect their existing revenue streams. 

In your 2021 Adblock report, you state that 67% of US internet users believe that the quality of advertising has either decreased or stayed the same in recent years. What does this mean for the state of digital advertising and how has this evolved as we work through 2022?

For Blockthrough, this is an opportunity to show how a better user experience can drive positive outcomes for the entire advertising ecosystem. We’ve seen the benefits firsthand–users enjoy a preferred Web experience, publishers retain their audiences and monetize appropriately, and advertisers benefit from increased engagement resulting from fewer ads on page.

In our recently published 2022 PageFair Adblock Report, we revealed the perceptions about ad quality, 82% of adblock users prefer a lighter ad experience by default over receiving prompts to disable their adblocker or whitelist a site. This highlights an opportunity for publishers to engage their adblock users by creating a non-intrusive, respectful web experience.

What development in the world of identity has surprised you the most over the past 12 months?

Many vendors have cropped up in the space, touting assurances for publishers in the cookieless age. These solutions may involve reinjecting behavioral-level targeting data where third-party cookies are not available. 

It will be interesting to see how these evolve and scale once Chrome joins the list of lower market share browsers that already block 3P cookies. I think the idea of attempting to recreate a cookie-based system is a flawed approach for several reasons. 

First, while in certain circumstances some practices may work, this is more of a loophole than a solution, and I doubt the longevity of such products. Second, it’s against the spirit of why we are all going through these changes. For a sustainable advertising ecosystem going into the future, there needs to be user trust and transparency, and we support any initiatives that accomplish that.

As we near the Chrome deadline, the entire industry is scrambling together to figure out the necessary procedures to put in place. What do you think is the perfect remedy for tackling the identity crisis?

Even though the Chrome deadline has been pushed into 2024, it’s still not likely to see a single silver bullet approach for tackling the identity crisis. 

For publishers, the strategy will largely depend on access to customer first-party data and direct relationships with brands and advertisers. Maximizing access to first-party data and reinforcing advertiser relationships, whether that be through direct buying or programmatic deals, will be key to understanding and increasing the monetization potential of a given audience. 

Many legitimate publishers will see this as an opportunity to get closer to the media planning cycle with their audience and value proposition, as opposed to relying on that audience to match up with third-party cookies flowing through their programmatic pipes. 

What is your advice to publishers starting out their cookieless preparations?

Leveraging first-party audience data such as email addresses is not an option for all publishers. 

Those that can’t leverage subscription data should focus on building and reinforcing bridges to advertiser partners. In the absence of user identifiers, publishers can leverage brand campaign learnings to package their inventory for the right advertisers and sell at a premium that still supports the return on ad spend that brands are seeking. 

What is your main point of focus for the year ahead?

Over the next year I will have two main focus points: 

First, increase RPMs on the publishers’ recovered demand. This includes leading initiatives to ensure we are supporting all of the new identifiers being proposed to replace cookies, as well as any initiatives that the browsers take on themselves. Second, continue to build out our own ad stack geared towards providing demand that is compliant with Acceptable Ads.

The latter, Blockthrough Demand, has grown from an idea to a full-fledged product over the last year. It creates a significant amount of revenue for a publisher’s adblocked traffic. We would like to continue surfacing this inventory via PMPs for agencies, trading desks, and marketers. While people install adblockers for a variety of reasons, they still share a lot of common attributes. By enabling buyers to target adblock users, in particular, we can surface those attributes to them in a post-cookie environment.

We will continue our business development efforts with brands and agencies to provide education on this uniquely engaged audience. We’ll also identify ideal brands and audiences with significant organic overlap. As media buyers were previously unable to target these users directly, leveraging a PMP with Blockthrough will enable them to drive incremental reach and gauge performance against this segment accurately.