ZEDO Rolls Out Quick Innovation Platform Strategy

Over the past year, we’ve launched a new platform strategy, largely in response to customer requests for a trustworthy supply chain, timely innovation, and higher ROI for their online ad spend. We are finding that our strategy of an end-to-end platform is working well, and we plan to dramatically expand development of new formats and expand sales to many new countries next year.

This will be exciting and provide new opportunities to all  our team members, especially in mobile, because many emerging markets will leapfrog the desktop altogether.

As a reminder, ZEDO’s strategy is to build three technologies: Publisher Ad Server – ZEDO Exchange and ZINC Platform for Agency Trading Desks to buy from. These three platforms are connected end-to-end. So if the ATD trafficks an ad into the ZINC Platform it goes into the ZEDO Exchange account (formerly ZAN), then into many publisher ad server accounts and then onto the webpage.

Thus, the creative goes through ZEDO technology from end to end.There are many advantages to this strategy.First, it makes the supply chain clean and trustworthy for the buyer, because malware cannot get in. Another advantage, both to buyers and sellers, of this strategy is that ZEDO is uniquely placed in the industry to innovate.

As we continually come up with new formats, which we may start calling Innovations instead of formats to better explain our strategy, we have to add them to all three technologies – and since all three are in our control we can add them quickly. This gives us a huge advantage over our competitors.

For example, a DSP  can only bid on whatever AdX or Pubmatic sends them bid requests for. If they have an idea of a new format, they would have to convince AdX and Pubmatic and then various publisher ad servers to support it.

It is  often slow and difficult to find new ideas for Innovations and then to build them: convincing several third party companies to agree and then build would be a huge multi-year exercise for our competitors like Turn, in this example. So the ZEDO end to end strategy uniquely allows ZEDO to win in advertising innovation. And the innovoation we focus on is to create “fundamentally better advertising.”

It has always been our mission to create fundamentally better advertising.

As this is a winning strategy in a changing online advertising landscape, we will roll it out very quickly over the next two years, launching  ZINC across the world.

Free Content is Important to Free Societies

What did you do immediately after you heard about the sad  Paris attacks last Friday? Perhaps you went to your social media platform of choice (Facebook, Twitter, Weibo), and saw some links to news sources that were on the ground in Paris. You then went to the sites themselves and stayed glued to one of them or switched among several of them, until you felt you had learned enough and saw that your loved ones were safe and the attacks were over. Here in the US, we watched video from France24, which was quickly deemed by Twitter to have the most reliable and least sensational coverage. We also checked on our friends in Paris through Facebook Safe.

What would you have done if those sites did not exist? That’s a rhetorical question, because in a crisis we are all hungry for information and we expect it to be out there, available, accurate and dependable. We would be stunned if, knowing the technology was able to connect loved ones and deliver news, we had to pay for it in a crisis or not have access to it at all.

And yet, running a social platform or a news organization takes money. Sending an American or a British or an Asian reporter to Paris, or even hiring a free-lancer on the ground, takes money. Paying for bandwidth takes money. For most news sites, that money comes from advertising.

We’ve spent most of the autumn debating what we’re going to do about ad blockers without thinking about the bigger picture. To us, Friday night brought that home. Yes, ads can be annoying and interruptive, and some that deliver malware or slow the browsing experience slip through, but without advertising we do not have free and open information. Without advertising we face the prospect of no news, news for which we have to pay, or government sponsored news.

In democracies, government sponsored news is not popular. Among millennials, paying for news — or indeed any media — is unpopular. And large segments of the population are not in an economic position to pay for news.

We’re not fans of ad clutter either. And we are working with the Online Trust Association and the Trustworthy Accountability Group and the IAB to do our best to clean up the advertising supply chain to prevent bad ads slipping through.

But we would like everyone to take a minute to reflect upon the value of a free press and help us keep it free by not resorting to those ad blockers.

Online Advertising Faces Big Change (Again)

After the week of handwringing and testiness that was New York Ad Week, we can at least all agree on something; digital advertising isn’t going to go away right now. Digital ad spend will continue to increase as TV dollars come online. Publishers are not going to allow themselves to go out of business, and brands are not going to find magical new ways to find customers and give information. But we have had that brush with death that should convince us our industry isn’t immortal.

Advertising must and will change. We don’t have a crystal ball any more than you do, but experience tells us these things are likely to happen in the near future:

1)The number of intermediaries in transactions will decrease. Each intermediary not only increases page load time and annoys privacy advocates, but increases the chance of fraud. This was discussed at a session on Cleaning up the Supply Chain, in which the participants talked about cleaning up bot fraud. One way to do that would be to buy direct, or to buy on a private platform that only admits premium publications and the advertiser who wants to buy them. We think this will be the wave of the future, and advertisers will feel much more secure buying this way. This, of course, does not exclude the automated work flow that came with programmatic, but it does stem the tide of fraud and solve the viewability problems.

2) Premium publishers will take another look at  how they position themselves as premium. The flight to quality started in the summer, when advertisers began to realize how much money they were throwing away on bot traffic. A recent study by Digital Content Next demonstrated that there was 89% less bot traffic in video and 75% less bot traffic in standard display ads on premium publisher sites. The key here is to define whether a site is premium. For a while, the notion of a premium publisher was almost lost in the race for sheer numbers.

3) Ad formats will change to be less interruptive and obstructionist. One enormous and welcome change is the end of support for Adobe Flash, which was a groundbreaking tool to produce rich media back in the day, but  has proven out to be more of a hassle than a help as the ecosystem matures. Yes, producing ads in HTML5 may be more costly at first, but if that ensures more security it’s a net gain.

4)Customers, as usual, will tell us what they want. As advertisers, we are going to have to take into account the data plans of our mobile customers, and design and buy ads that don’t use up 50% of a phone’s data plan. Our inArticle format never did autoplay audio, which has made it much more adaptable to mobile than other video ad formats.

5)At the end of the day, we are going to have to make it worthwhile for consumers to turn off the ad blockers and pay attention to ads. This was said many times, but we must make our ads better and more compelling. There’s no reason why the same people who used to watch the Super Bowl just for the commercials can’t learn to trust the advertising industry again. This will mean offering more choice in whether and how to track customer data.

We’ve had a brush with disaster that should have taught us something: we can no longer take the consumer for granted.

Switching From Google Ad Server Can Keep You in Business

Several weeks ago, Google announced the restructure of itself into Alphabet. If you don’t think that will make a difference for publishers using the Google ad server, you’re wrong. The more risky Google activities were split off into separate companies, each with its own CEO.
But they are still all financed by the same business: Google’s ad tech business. More than one writer has come to the conclusion that Google intends to “milk” its cash cow ad words and ad serving business to find things like life extension and autonomous vehicles.
What does that mean? For publishers, it means that Google will continue and perhaps accelerate its policy of just barely out bidding the highest bidder simply to get the impression. Google’s ad server doesn’t look for quality, it looks for numbers, but not publisher profit.
End-to-end technology.  On the other hand, ZEDO has always been a publisher ad server, and now we are one of only three companies that has an end-to-end technology. Now we are not only a publisher ad server, but we operate our own private exchange and buy-side platform. That kind of knowledge and control of the ecosystem not only filters out malware, but allows us to innovate and offer high impact formats (HIF) that make more money for publishers. Over the past three years, we have found that our  HIF are easy to sell. The advertiser can still provide  standard creative,  but we change it to something better dynamically on the publisher page. We do this for web, mobile web and in-app.
Free banner ad servingWe also serve and help sell standard banners to all exchanges. We know all the banner exchanges, like AdX, and can help a publisher make money from them. If ZINC can monetize some of the impressions, we often offer ad serving for standard banners at a low price – effectively free to decent quality publishers.
 One platform for HIF and banners. And we do the ad serving for both standard manners and our unique new formats in one platform. Google is taking a bigger and bigger % of the ad revenue. premium publishers are getting lower and lower %. Google reserves their best technology for YouTube,  so that they benefit most from the move to video ads.
Better Technology to Win Bigger Spends. With the ZEDO platform premium publishers have better technology to win video spends, win spends on high impact formats and so win back a fair share of online ad spends.
Globally admired tech support.
So if you are sticking with Google out of inertia, now is the time to think about whether that is in your best interest or simply Google’s.


Notifications : The Post App World Revealed

Hold on to your seats. Digital advertising is going to change again, as another consequence of the consumer shift to mobile.. I’ve just begun to watch the videos from the recent Notifications Summit held last month at BetaWorks in New York, and I can already see what this will mean for forward-thinking publishers.

Notifications are the things you get on your smartphone that can be useful, distracting, and finally annoying. Usually apps default to setting certain notifications to “on;” to get rid of them a user must make a change, similar to ad blocking, in a settings section three screens down from the home screen. New smartphone owners take a while to learn how to turn noisy notifications off, but eventually they make decisions about which to leave on and off.  There is just too much clutter coming to the home screen, and consumers don’t want to see it.

The conveners of this summit postulated that we are changing from an app environment (the phone owner downloads the app and must open it to interact with the publisher) to a notifications environment where information will be pushed to the consumer without her going to an app. Certain notifications require a user to open the app to read the rest of the content, but others do not. Some sites, like Nuzzel, are designed to be pretty self-contained. Eventually, most apps will not require users to open them to receive information.

The move to notifications has been hastened by the uptake of wearables; there isn’t much more than a notification that can fit comfortably on a watch face. So we see notification streams all day long, much as we used to see Facebook and Twitter streams.

But most important, the move to notifications empowers the consumer even more than mobile did, and even more than ad blocking does.

We can foresee a day when the consumer could really be in charge of all the information that comes to her by learning to use notifications and learning how to filter out the distractions and the noise and receive only the most important information.

Part of this will entail  a shift in advertising to permission-based advertising:  asking the consumer whether she wants to see an ad — which would be asking her if she wants to receive information — for a particular brand at the current time. The consumer will have the choice: yes, I’m in the supermarket and I want to see the weekly specials; or no, I’m driving and I only want to receive breaking news that’s relevant to my family. She would no longer be forced to page through or scroll through irrelevant ads to reach what she needs.

Smart publishers have already begun the shift to native ads, in which content creators are paired with brands. We expect this to continue in the future. All publishers should prepare for a day when the consumer is in full control of what she sees.


IAB’s Lean Guidelines Are Overdue

Last week the  IAB finally decided it was better to the join people who complain about slow page loads and annoying ads than to try to beat them. Simply put, it would have been a losing fight. The people have spoken, and the people are the visitors to publisher sites and the target audience for advertisers. So IAB is going to put out a set of new guidelines designed to solve the problem the industry thinks consumers have with ads.

Under the acronym L.E.A.N. — light, encrypted, ad choice, non-interruptive — the program will roll out over the next six months. The idea is to get publishers to clean up their sites, relying less on obnoxious ads that slow sites to a crawl and scare the bejesus out of users.

The IAB puts the burden on publishers to make their sites load faster and the user experience less off-putting.

But we have been a publisher ad server since 1999, and we have never found publishers to be unconscious of their user experience. In fact, most publishers are not willing to try new advertising formats that they think might spoil that experience. However, as CPMs went down, publishers were forced to try new things, and that’s where the breakdown occurred.

It’s wrong to blame the entire rejection of advertising that ad blocking software represents on the publisher. The advertiser also has to shoulder part of the burden. And one of the largest global advertisers, Pepsi, has decided to rest the blame on the shoulders of ad agencies who have not re-thought the creative formats for digital advertising.

Last week  an executive of Pepsi pointed out at the Association of National Advertisers meeting that he hates ads, and that not only is the agency model broken, but we may have to do away with the very word “advertising” and re-invent the way we reach consumers.  “Can we stop using the term advertising, which is based on this model of polluting [content],” he said.

“My particular peeve is pre-roll. I hate it,” he added. “What is even worse is that I know the people who are making it know that I’m going to hate it. Why do I know that? Because they tell me how long I am going to have to endure it — 30 seconds, 20 seconds, 15 seconds. You only have to watch this crap for another 10 seconds and then you are going to get to the content that you really wanted to see. That is a model of polluting content that is not sustainable.”

What will happen? The same thing that happened when pop-ups dominated advertising a decade ago. Consumers began to block them in the browser, and they gradually fell out of favor with advertisers. Perhaps that will also happen with pre-roll.  We are still feeling our way to the “right” kind of advertising to serve to consumers. Ad blocking software will help us get there faster.


Don’t Blame Advertising for Slow Page Loads

I downloaded Ghostery today to see what’s really slowing down the web pages of my favorite publishers. I did it because tomorrow Apple’s going to release IOS9 with its built-in hooks for blocking ads. I wanted to see how ads slow page loads, since one of the biggest reasons given by consumers for blocking ads is a disappointing web experience due to takeovers and slow page load times.  The second reason was lack of relevance in the ads they were being asked to see.

Let’s see how this all works.

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 12.32.54 PMToday the New York Times home page had 11 trackers. Of those eleven, three had to do directly  with the serving of the ads: Doubleclick,  Dynamic Yield, and Facebook Custom Audience (because the Times is a FB partner for in-stream native content). The rest were either analytics, site optimization, or beacons. Those are all third party trackers. And we don’t know whether they are companies the Times has asked to track its users, or whether they are sent by some other party gathering information.

Now look at a page from Ad Age.Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 12.28.52 PM On this page, there were 18 trackers, only four of which were for the advertising. The rest are for the targeting. What can we learn from this? Well, in our own case (although we weren’t serving an ad on this page in this case), the ZEDO ad server delivers asynchronous tags, so we’re not the influence on page load times. Doubleclick for publishers allows a choice of synchronous or asynchronous. So the publisher has a choice whether to risk a slower load time.

But then we have those trackers. From our vantage point, it looks like the amount of tracking that’s being done is, indeed slowing down page load times and making privacy-minded consumers angry in the process.

Worse yet, if the number one or two complaint by consumers is that the ads they are receiving aren’t relevant to them, what’s the good of all that tracking anyway?

We are going to have to re-think the way we collect and use data if we are going to save mobile advertising as a viable form on monetization for publishers. The first step, we would assume, would be for publishers and advertisers to examine the number of vendors they use and move as quickly as possible to an end-to-end solution like ours.  That would entail re-educating media planners, who do not consider these issues in buying campaigns although their bosses probably do.

If publishers and advertisers simply cut the number of vendors they use and stick with their own customer data, we can preserve free content on the mobile web.

ZEDO Has the Secure, End-to-End Private Buying Platform ATDs Need

Making the ad industry supply chain safe is going to involve getting rid of some middlemen who opportunistically take advantage of speed and automation to make the industry dangerous for all of us honest players. Yahoo’s recent experience with malware raised the awareness of the advertising industry to the dangers of using too many vendors. It is now impossible to ignore how much ad fraud is still going on, and although the work of the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), a cross-industry initiative, is just getting started, wary publishers are already looking for a way to guarantee a clean supply chain as advertisers ask all sorts of questions..

Fortunately, we anticipated the move to consolidate vendors, although we thought that would be more for cost and time saving, rather than for security. That’s why we developed  the platform to link  our high impact format buyers on ZINC to our private network and our publisher ad server at ZEDO.  Our platform was designed in response to requests by Agency Trading Desks for a private, direct way to buy high impact formats on premium publications with the transparency of direct buying and without the risk of an insecure supply chain.

Here’s how it works:

We have a secure buying platform that an agency trading desk can log into that includes a private exchange  only for our unique ad formats. We built the exchange especially for differentiation, and for higher performance than most digital ads, but now we realize we have an important message about security, because on the supply side, the supply comes only from the ZEDO publisher ad server. Because we’re a large publisher ad server, and have been one for so many years, we can provide our own fill — we can create all the impressions on the publisher page. We don’t buy from anyone else, so no bad stuff can be introduced, and thus we service both ends of the ecosystem.

Agency Trading Desks love this clean end to end platform. More important, our  control over the whole supply chain allows us to innovate constantly, which we have always done.  Since our founding, we have prided ourselves on being ahead of the technology curve.
Right now, we’re being told we have the best formats in the industry, and because we have a large development team, our products get better every month in response to customer requests. For the past few years,  we’ve launched 2-3 new formats every year, and this year we have a new format for apps, and one for mobile video. ATDs love the fantastic formats and clean supply chain.
We’re now seeing articles about the need for the industry to evolve to end-to-end platforms. We’re already there.


All Ad Tech isn’t Evil

Ad tech is getting blamed for everything that is wrong with digital media today. And when the pundits speak of “ad tech,” they are lumping in everything from ad servers to RTB platforms to DMPs (Data Management Platforms) to SSPs (Supply Side Platforms) to retargeters to data trackers. But as usual, these generalizations throw out the baby with the bath water.

We also don’t like what consumers mean by “ad tech,” — programs that distribute malware, gather personal information and sell it, or slow down web sites with trackers.

But we think there’s a difference between tracking, which consumers think of as a violation of privacy, and giving useful information.

For example, we are an ad server. As an ad server, we don’t track anything, we simply receive information from advertisers and publishers and serve an ad. We’re a back end technology that isn’t sexy and doesn’t violate anyone’s privacy. That’s how we started.

We also have a private platform. A private platform, too, doesn’t track any personal information. It simply allows an advertiser to buy our high impact formats and be sure they’re going to our premium publisher network without any extraneous influence on the supply chain. If everyone did what we did, consumers wouldn’t be turning on ad blockers.

But they are, and that’s why we spend time with the Online Trust Association, listening to its members speak about what we have to do to preserve advertising as a way to keep content free. Ironically, even the people who make ad blocker software know that advertising won’t go away, and content should continue to be free.

How do we make this happen? Both advertisers and publishers need to learn more about their customers. That involves actually serving them once they are acquired, and talking to them to find out what they truly want to see.

For example, I’m looking for a new car. I no longer buy cars based on horsepower, or even gas mileage, and heaven forbid looks. I buy them for consumer safety technology, which involves movement in the direction of autonomous driving. I also buy them for their in-car media platforms: how much and what kind of software does this car have to help me be productive even in a traffic jam?

But most car salesmen can’t talk about those features in a new car, and most ads don’t feature them. Instead, the ads feature sleek bodies and voiceovers about speed.

When advertisers begin to make ads that actually make consumers familiar with the characteristics of a product that the consumer would actually use, advertising will be helpful again, and consumers won’t be tempted to block it. That’s why there’s such a movement toward native advertising.

But there are two kinds of native ads: one is native to the format of the digital publisher, and means the ad looks like whatever else the consumer is receiving in his or her stream. Promoted Tweets fall into this category. The other is native to the content of the publisher, and means the ad contains information that might be helpful to a consumer making a decision.

Both of these “native” concepts are most suited for brand advertising, and less for direct response. And isn’t that the way advertising was intended? As a way to offer consumers valuable information about products they might want, in a location where they already are?

Let’s go back to that future, and consumers will turn off the ad blockers.




Ad Blockalypse Really Happened

Last week something happened that really goes to the heart of what’s occurring in the advertising industry now. If it is given the attention it deserves, it may well change the way the ad industry operates, and we think for the better. It raises ethical questions, economics questions, and freedom of speech questions.

Here’s what went down. A well-liked technologist, Marco Arment, who created Instapaper and Overcast, released an ad blocker called Peace into the Apple app store on Wednesday, the day of the IOS9 update. Within 36 hours, he had made $138,000 in $2.99 downloads. His app was the # 1 in the App Store, and the next four top selling app were also ad blockers.

But then he pulled the app. It had taken only a couple of days for him to realize that he was not only blocking ads on his own site, but also those of one of his good friend and colleague John Gruber, publisher of the small site Daring Fireball.  In general, ad blockers will be far more deleterious to  small publishers like Arment and Gruber than to the giants. The giants will get around them by buying “native ads,” ads that look like the content they’re being seen with.

So he wrote a blog post saying that “it just didn’t feel good.”

Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have. Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.

Peace required that all ads be treated the same — all-or-nothing enforcement for decisions that aren’t black and white. This approach is too blunt, and Ghostery and I have both decided that it doesn’t serve our goals or beliefs well enough. If we’re going to effect positive change overall, a more nuanced, complex approach is required than what I can bring in a simple iOS app.

What constitutes a more nuanced approach? Well, one solution we’ve been espousing for a long time is better creative and less aggressive tracking. Advertisers do want  trustable tracking if they’re going to spend money, but some of the techniques used, such as retargeting, are more offensive to consumers than others. “If you’re creative, people will share your freakin’ ads,” sad Owen J.J. Stone on this week’s TWIT podcast. To us, this goes to the heart of the matter.  Advertisers have spent the last decade focusing on data to the exclusion of emotion, which is what makes people respond to ads in the first place.

We don’t really have a dog in this hunt. Instead we are a consistent innovator in the space of better advertising for all parties. We have an end-to-end platform on which advertisers can easily buy clever ZINC formats, and place them across premium publishers. It works well: we steer away from annoying users and instead drive continual innovation of fundamentally better ways to advertise.

To learn why our end-to-end platform is better for continual innovation in online advertising, just ask us.