Facebook Shifts Again

Facebook has decided, at least in 2018, to deprioritize publishers, leaving those who invested heavily in support for Instant Articles and videos with money that might have been better spent with the feeling that they have once again been betrayed by the social media behemoth.

Wasn’t it just two years ago that Facebook attracted publishers with the promise of faster loading Instant Articles, which were supposed to speed page loads for mobile devices? However, last year it told publishers it was going to prioritize video, and that great sucking sound you heard in the industry was from writers and print content creators going down the drain as every site pivoted to video. Well, as we’ve already written, the pivot to video was of little interest to site visitors, because they care a lot more about content than about format.

Facebook has now suggested that publishers NOT pivot to video, because they’ve found the monetization opportunities are not there. Again, we’ve already written about sites like Buzzfeed or Mic, who actually did pivot to video and are now facing the consequences of lost visitors and low ad revenues.

For the past couple of years, mass market sites have been at the mercy of Facebook’s experimentation. And of course Facebook is constantly experimenting, and is far more resource-rich than any of the publishers. Now that Mark Zuckerberg is in trouble over fake news, he’s much less willing to experiment with Facebook as a source of news. Our guess is that the last election gave him a crash course in the down side of being a media company, and now he’s going to crawl back into his corner and focus on connection individuals.

That doesn’t mean Facebook has become useless for advertisers, of course. It’s the publishers who will bear the brunt of this whiplash. Once again they will have to redesign their sites and give some thought to what might draw and audience to their own sites. That’s called audience development, and it was a mistake to put it in the hands of Facebook in the first place.

Oh, and if you were one of the few Facebook members who used M, its concierge messaging service, that experiment is also over.

The company is shutting down M’s services without even letting it leave the testing phase, where it had operated since 2015. The service once seemed to hold the promise of acting as a digital concierge, helping people book hotels, order food, keep their schedules and perform other tasks.

M’s technology, which was something Facebook used to learn about AI, will still be in the background in Messenger, which Facebook believes will continue to be a platform to develop chatbots for sales and customer service.

Are SSL Certificates Still Safe?

Now that everyone on the internet knows that SSL certificates are supposed to guarantee a certain level of security, it’s disturbing to learn that even information entered through an encrypted connection can be subject to phishing attacks. Phishing attacks on a a site with a SLL certificate are particularly dangerous because they are unexpected. However, as all of us who have been involved in the campaign against fraud and malware know, the bad guys are often ahead of the good guys in employing new techniques.

There are actually a few cases in which SSL certificates have been issued specifically for phishing purposes, but in most cases unwary innocent certificate holders find that they are unwilling co-conspirators by providing a phishing facility because their sites have been compromised by attackers. We subscribe to a list of known phishing sites, and we never serve ads to them.  We also do not hold or trade in information. It’s just not our business model and it never has been.

But it’s also worthwhile to alert visitors to other methods of preventing their personal information from getting into the wrong hands. Netcraft provides a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox that allows ordinary people to look up information about the sites they’re visiting and achieve some protection from phishing through prevention.

Interestingly enough, GoDaddy has a lower percentage of its SSL certificates used in phishing attacks than most of the other large Certificate Authorities like Global Sign, DigiCert and Symantec, because it hosts a large percentage of the certificates it issues.

According to Netcraft itself, it

first launched its anti-phishing system in 2005. All phishing sites are carefully validated before an alert is raised. Well over 39.6 million unique phishing sites have been detected and blocked by Netcraft’s system to date [December 2017].

Netcraft’s phishing feed is used in all major web browsers and it is also licensed by many of the leading anti-virus, content filtering, web-hosting and domain registration companies. At least three separate third-party studies have found Netcraft’s anti-phishing blocklist to be the most comprehensive feed available.

Netcraft’s phishing site alerts present an excellent opportunity for service providers to win new customers and reassure existing ones by taking a proactive stance against fraud.

This year, as we head into an environment in which information has been weaponized by governments, it is more important than ever that those of us in the online advertising industry we aware of the resources we have at our disposal to restore and repair online trust.

Better Ads in 2018 from ZEDO

For the past six months, we’ve been writing about efforts to make the advertising industry better, which are tantamount to saving free content on the web. After all, if the industry continues to ignore consumers, they will simply turn off ads. Many efforts are focused on this direction, including several promising blockchain startups aiming and the media buying process.

But our current favorite initiative is one we’ve discussed back in September 2016, when the Coalition for Better Ads first launched. In the past year or so, the Coalition has developed a framework to “save” the industry on the format side.

In January 2018, the Coalition will begin rollout of the Better Ads Experience Program, a voluntary initiative for industry participants to improve the online ad experience for consumers and promote marketplace adoption of the Better Ad Standards. Based on a framework developed by the Coalition, the Better Ads Experience Program will certify web publishers that agree not to use the most disruptive ads identified in the Standards and will accredit browsers and advertising technology companies that will assess publishers’ compliance with the Standards and filter digital ads based on the Standards.

The Program will maintain a register of certified companies that will not have ads on their sites filtered based on the Standards by browsers and advertising technology companies that participate in the Program. If compliance issues arise, certified companies will be notified and have an opportunity to address violations or to pursue review by an independent dispute resolution mechanism available through the Program. Additional details about the program, including the registration process, fees, and other details, will be released in January for review by companies that are interested in participating.

The Better Ads Standards currently have been developed for the desktop and mobile web environments in Europe and North America. The Coalition’s extensive consumer research identified the following types of desktop ad experiences beneath the Better Ads Standard: pop-up ads, auto-play video ads with sound, prestitial ads with countdown and large sticky ads. For the mobile web environment, the following types of ad experiences fell beneath the Better Ads Standard: pop-up ads, prestitial ads, ads with density greater than 30%, flashing animated ads, auto-play video ads with sound, poststitial ads with countdown, full-screen scrollover ads, and large sticky ads.

We support every industry initiative we can that is focused on improving and professionalizing our industry. Ask us anything you need to know about our formats and their compliance, and we’ll be able to help you.

IAB’s TAG Program Works, but Too Expensive

Just in time for all the changes in the global market that GDPR will bring next year comes the welcome news that Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) certified companies experienced 83% less fraud this year than the market as a whole. TAG, as you may remember, was an initiative we worked with two years ago when it was getting under way. This year, the group introduced Certified Against Fraud, a self-attested certification for companies that were willing to have  compliance officer who will inspect the company’s policies and priorities and tell internal people how to comply.

This year, 170 companies joined the program to combat ad fraud. Certain large advertisers have already said they will not do business with companies that have not been certified. IAB has also made the program mandatory for all its members in 2018.

A study conducted by The 614 Group assessed the rate of invalid traffic in 6.5 billion digital ad impressions executed by three large media companies — GroupM, IPG, and Horizon Media on behalf of their clients between July and October. Every impression was delivered through a TAG certified channel. So how did 614 Group know what the rate of invalid digital traffic is overall? They benchmarked it at 8.83% for display and 12.03% when video was included. On TAG channels the rate fell to 1.48%.

We’re thinking the one thing wrong with this TAG certification process is that it is only available to large industry players. Currently, it costs $15,000 annually to join TAG and another $10,000 to get certified. If IAB is going to require this next year,  they need to add a program for smaller players and startups, which I bet is where some of the remainder of their invalid traffic comes from.

And for smaller players and startups that are legitimate, the cost is prohibitive. Yet many startups have promising new ideas and technologies that marketers need to be able to try to get new ideas. On behalf of all those small but important and innovative players, who will help move digital advertising forward in the coming years, we intend to say something at the IAB Leadership summit in Palm Springs in February.

 

 

 

 

Publishers: Please implement Ads.txt

Ads.txt  is IAB’s newest fraud-fighting initiative. It stands for “Authorized Digital Sellers,” and the aim of the initiative is to increase transparency in the way that programmatic advertising is sold to protect buyers from spoofers.

It works by giving verified publishers and distributors an easy way to declare, publicly, the companies that they allow to sell their digital inventory. They do this by preparing and publishing the “/ads.txt” file, creating a public record of Authorized Digital Sellers and helping buyers to quickly identify which sellers are allowed to handle ad inventory for which publishers.

This makes it much harder for scammers to profit from selling fake inventory and gives buyers peace of mind that the ad space they buy is authentic.

By the time you read this post, over 100,000 ads.txt files will have been published. 750 of the comScore 2,000 will have ads.txt files and over 50% of inventory seen by DoubleClick Bid Manager will have come from domains with ads.txt files. Beginning in November, DoubleClick Bid Manager and AdWords stopped buying ads from ad networks / exchanges not declared on Ads.txt.

Google also says that “DoubleClick Ad Exchange and AdSense publishers that use ads.txt are protected against unauthorized inventory being sold in Google auctions.” To do this, Google “crawls daily over 30m domains for ads.txt files.”

The rapid adoption of Ads.txt shows how much of the market is controlled by Google. But this doesn’t make the initiative less valuable. Domain spoofing has been a huge problem on both the supply and demand sides, and we are happy to see this initiative and help our publishers adopt it.

If you’re a publisher, you need to implement the ads.txt text file on your root domain, listing the exchanges that are authorized to sell your inventory and including your seller account ID for each exchange.

Your seller account ID, sometimes called your publisher ID or seller network ID, is the ID that’s linked to your account on an exchange or supply-side platform (SSP). This is important because this part can’t be “spoofed.”

When you take part in programmatic real-time bidding, this ID should be transmitted through the OpenRTB protocol as the publisher ID, along with the Publisher.Domain in the Publisher object. If you’re using a different RTB protocol, it might be called “seller_network_id,” member or seat ID. 

Ads.txt is also important for buyers, who are the ones paying the bills and the ones demanding more transparency. They have been almost literally throwing out money on online exchanges, and finding their brands in places that are destructive or irrelevant. No wonder they’re finally done with all this, and have demanded changes. Especially this year the ANA and the MRC have become loud players in demanding reform, and Mark Prichard of Procter and Gamble, the country’s largest advertisers, has been on a one-man tirade.

As a private platform, we’re individually secure, and as an ad server we have our protections in place.

We are getting there, folks. Digital advertising is too large an industry to be so rife with corruption. We need to clean up, and we will.

 

 

Market Maturity Means New Media Buying Standards

Contrary to popular opinion, digital display advertising does work, only not the way we think it does. In fact, consistent display ads create brand lift in the same way TV advertising does. And display used for brand lift is a “good buy,” allowing for many impressions at relatively low cost and contributing to availability bias– formerly known as top of mind awareness.

When we use digital display for performance advertising today, we’re using it incorrectly. We should be using it for branding instead. However, we have become used to digital display as only good for performance. By making poor media buying choices like the misuse of display ads, we continuously overlook efficient ways to spend our digital budgets.

Marketing has changed more in the past five years than in the past fifty, and some of the things we thought we knew, even earlier in the digital advertising era, simply are no longer true.

That is why all marketers are making the wrong decisions, despite data to the contrary. Or so says Adam Heimlich of Horizon after running a three year study on digital media budgets. 

Not only is almost no one executing effective digital media buys, the vast majority of big digital advertisers are on the opposite track, chugging like locomotives in the wrong direction. Many have arrived at zero lift.

Digital display is one of many areas of human endeavor where data is exposing conventions that yield suboptimal results. As in finance and baseball, data alone isn’t enough to convince most decision-makers to move away from orthodoxy in marketing.

Digital video, too, is often interpreted incorrectly. In video, it is not always smart to keep spending to create cross channel campaigns aimed at producing specified numbers of sales.

Here’s why: there’s a number in marketing called cost of customer acquisition. If you are looking at a sales number, and you keep spending until you get there, your cost of customer acquisition may very well drive you into bankruptcy. Especially if you are a retailer, bucking a global market trend toward online buying. Sure, you may eventually reach your sales targets if you advertise to enough people, but your ad spend will be unbelievably inefficient.

So we have to make better use of the data we already have, and develop algorithms that truly learn. Then we leverage those algorithms to make better media buys with less waste.

Heimlich advocates buying against the standards of the MRC and the ANA, and avoiding vendors who are not transparent:

By forgoing transparency, viewability and/or fraud protection, bad actors get away with appearing to deliver more value per dollar. How much this practice is fueling the growth of Google and Facebook isn’t exactly a mystery.

Advertisers’ finance and procurement departments should implement a compliance regime based on industry standards, with regular audits to keep marketers honest. This was very difficult before the ANA and MRC caught up to the marketplace. Now, it’s mature, and there should be no excuses.

Think about that the next time you are tempted to spend all your budget on Facebook.

Dependence on Facebook is Bad for Publishers and Advertisiers

Without giving it enough attention, both publishers and marketers have become too dependent on traffic from Facebook. Not that Facebook is going away any time soon, but an entire industry has given up control to a single platform. Single sources of supply are always dangerous, and Facebook has become very nearly a single source of audience supply.

At a recent conference at Harvard Business School on the future of advertising and publishing, the very first panel (Social Distribution, Advertising and the Free Press) questioned whether this industry, long part of democracy, can continue to exist since we have come to know about fake news. In fact, the opening comment from Emily Bell of the Tow Center for Journalism at Columbia was a question about whether we even knew what an ad was anymore. Everything  is an “ad”  in an era where content distributed to targeted groups of people can change minds and even influence elections.

We are in danger of having legitimate advertising conflated with political propaganda.  And our industry groups are not focused on this at all, they’re busy trying to lambaste Apple and Google for taking away cookies. Cookies are the least of online advertising’s problems.

What we in the industry know as ads are unimportant, given the use by Russia in the last election of actual content in Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds. It’s the audience that’s important, and the use of artificial intelligence to target that audience in a more and more accurate way with content that is not recognized as advertising.

These targeted ads on Facebook became problematic in the 2016 election: With such small and specific audiences, Carroll said, it was impossible for citizens and reporters outside the targeted population to even see what information or disinformation was being promoted during the election, and who was seeing it. This led to the feeling of a fragmented society that many experienced when they saw friends and family sharing falsehoods on social media that seemed to come out of nowhere. As Carroll put it in his opening presentation, Facebook had “put military grade PSYOP [psychological operations] weapons in the hands of anyone.”

Facebook has already begun to respond by instituting more transparency for not only political ads, but for all ads.

Even more important, it has begun a test to segregate posts from publishers into a separate feed, the “Explore Feed” and make them pay.

In six markets, Facebook has removed posts from Pages in the original News Feed and relegated them to another feed, Filip Struhárik, editor and social media manager at Denník Nwrote. That means Facebook’s main feed is no longer a free playing field for publishers. Instead, it’s a battlefield of “pay to play,” where publishers have to pony up the dough to get back into the News Feed.

Publishers in markets where this is being tested have already begun to see changes in their traffic, and it is being decried as a hindrance to the distribution of news.

Moreover, Facebook is going to Washington, DC to testify about what it knew about Russian ad buyers attempting to use “dark posts” to influence the American election.

With Facebook grabbing 77% of all growth the advertising spend from marketers, brands are getting themselves into potential hot water. Congress will probably do something to regulate all five big tech companies, and that could well produce chaos.

Publishers and advertisers should plan for big changes to come, and not be so dependent on Facebook either for advertising or for distribution. We did just fine without it in the past, and we can lower our dependence on it for the future.

 

 

A Moment of Thanks to All

Every year at Thanksgiving, I become reflective about the year that is coming to a close. It has been a tumultuous one for our industry, and for the world as a whole, but as the year draws to a close there is still much to be thankful for at ZEDO.

First, ZEDO’s incredible product development team.  Not only do our products  stay abreast of and even ahead of the industry, but they perform so well that when a customer gives us a chance to test against a competitor, we always outperform. This while taking the high road in an industry still fraught with malware, fraud, and misrepresentation.

Second, our sales teams, who never sell vaporware, but get us in front of the right customers so we can help people achieve their financial objectives on both the publisher and the advertiser side.

Third, our highly regarded support and implementation teams, for which we always receive compliments. We have always been known for our support, and this will never change because our customer relationships are not transactional — they’re personal.

Next, our customers, whom we prefer to think of as our partners. Indeed, some of our customers have been on a very long journey with us from ad serving at the turn of the century to serving advertisers with high impact formats on a secure platform today.

Fourth, our thirty party partners, the technologies that externally verify our ads to make certain we keep our promises.

And next, the industry associations we support, like IAB and the Online Trust Association, who keep on working to bring our industry greater professionalism, better research, and higher standards.

Last, but certainly not least, everyone on the ZEDO team who keeps the lights on and makes us who we are. When my friends ask me why I went into the ad tech business, I answer that it’s because of the great people I’m able to work with all the time — bright minds in a fast-moving business.

I hope you all out there in the audience remember to feel grateful for your families, your teams, your health, and your continued presence on this great planet whether it is Thanksgiving in your country or not.

 

 

Agencies Merging in the Face of GDPR

One of the ways agencies grow is by buying smaller agencies. In theory, that gives them access to more clients, a fresh creative staff, and a way to create scale to ward off competitors. However, mergers and acquisitions are only as good as their integrations into the mother ship.  According to an article in AdExchanger,

There were 398 acquisitions in 2016 with a total investment of $14 billion.  The Big Six – WPP, Dentsu, Havas, Publicis, IPG and Omnicom – were responsible for 89 acquisitions, at a value of more than $3.3 billion.

Figures through September showed 291 acquisitions this year. And in this game of agency supermarket sweep, many of the targets come from the data, digital and programmatic aisle.

This could prove tragic in the long run. The good news is that at long last agencies seem to understand that digital, data and programmatic are capabilities they need to have. But they are one step behind in the race to the future. As a result of coming new data privacy regulations, such as the European GDPR (Global Data Privacy Regulations), many marketers have data at the forefront of their minds, but for the wrong reasons. They know they are going have difficulty using it the way they did in the past, because now the consumer will be in control of her data.

What the big agencies really should be doing is studying up on those regulations and coming to grips with the limits that will be placed on the use of data in the future. Agencies are usually headed by people who may know the creative side of the house but don’t keep very good tabs on data. There will be an amazing culture clash when the data-driven geeks arrive in the house. There will be equally big problems because programmatic itself is coming under scrutiny for brand safety issues and ad fraud. So far, the geeks and the creatives have been kept separate, in separate companies. If they come together under one roof, that holding company will have to tighten its controls to make sure that the data flowing through its acquisitions is in compliance with the new regulations, or the fines will be significant.

So what the agencies will need now is a new cadre of management familiar with aspects of the business that have been lumped into a separate bucket called “martech.” And they will probably have to beef up their compliance departments as well.

In the rush to integrate acquisitions and learn more about how to manage data, guess what will get short shrift again? True creative, the kind that makes advertising users want to see.

Another Attempt to “Fix” Digital Advertising

Everyone is trying to “fix” digital advertising.  And now the “geeks” who “disrupt” things have entered the picture,  which always reminds me of how the geeks  realize healthcare, too, is broken and needs fixing. But the geeks don’t know much about healthcare and have a tough time building products that really offer value to that industry, and the same thing will happen in advertising.

A few months ago, we learned about the launch of the Brave Browser, a browser that blocks ads and pays content providers with something called a Basic Attention Token (BAT), which is a form of digital currency. As a visitor to sites,  you buy BATs and they are paid out to content providers in micro payments when you use the browser.  Although we’re following this, we’ve seen too many attempts to replace advertising to believe any of them will work. People want their free digital content.

Now we’re seeing another attempt to use the blockchain to fix the digital advertising ecosystem. This one is called Papyrus, and it doesn’t attempt to replace advertising, but merely to make it safer and more transparent. It hasn’t raised its money yet, but here is an excerpt from its whitepaper:

The Papyrus project aims to provide just such a next generation ecosystem for a fair exchange of value between users, publishers and advertisers. We aim to deliver a postIndustrial marketplace where users control which ads they want to see, who has access to their personal information and market determined compensation for their data, attention and actions. In the decentralized Papyrus digital advertising market ecosystem, all parties will be incentivized to find equilibrium between their interests and resources to obtain maximum value for themselves or the organizations they serve.

That sounds fair. It takes into account the publisher’s need to have revenue, and the user’s need to control of her data, in addition to the advertiser’s need to reach its markets.

Its objectives are laudable:

Preserve sensitive data that users want to keep private while still enabling precise audience targeting using appropriate data processing; Compensate users directly for voluntarily sharing their personal data; Build a sophisticated value-based reputation system that significantly decreases the level of non-human traffic and other types of fraud between participants; Minimize the risks for advertising businesses from excessive government regulation, criminal attacks and security breaches; Increase the agility of all business processes by enforcing everything in real-time via blockchain smart contracts and state channels 3 to eliminate transactional bureaucracy, corresponding offline paper work and the need for traditional bookkeeping; Create an economy that incentivizes the developer community to produce more and more efficient applications that solve practical tasks in advertising; Dynamically balance the interests of users, publishers, advertisers and developers for smooth, accelerated and economically viable progress towards new and more efficient advertising products.

However, scanning the team we think that the company is probably located outside the US, which means the tech stack may be first rate, but the marketing will be slow.  Adoption of the blockchain won’t happen tomorrow, but it will probably eventually happen. While this is nothing to think about today, but at ZEDO we constantly think of both today and tomorrow. It’s how we keep our product development teams ahead of the game.