Google Blocks Twice the Number of Bad Ads as A Year Ago

Despite the “moon shots” under development by its Alphabet decision, the Google organization still makes its living through advertising. According to its most recent earnings report, Google grew 8.3% this quarter, largely driven by search ads. However, the company is looking to mobile for new sources of ad revenue, and that’s not working quite as well (yet).  According to the Wall Street Journal, 

The search for new ad revenue comes with a downside: Users are seeing more ads, but advertisers are paying less for them. While ad clicks increased 36% in the quarter over a year ago, advertisers’ prices for those ads fell 15%. Both figures were the highest in at least three years.

The gap between the prevalence of ads and their prices was previously driven by the increasing share of mobile searches, because advertisers pay less for mobile-search ads than desktop ones. In the fourth quarter, the company attributed the gap to the growing share of YouTube ads, which generally earn less than ads shown above Google search results.

Google has also tried to preserve its reputation by culling out bad ads. Google said it blocked 1.7 billion bad ads in 2016, twice as many as in the previous year. That’s a pretty shocking comment on the state of ad fraud in our industry.

Ads that are misleading, inappropriate, promote misleading products or trick users into installing harmful software are generally deemed “bad,” Google said. The company also blacklisted ads that were once considered acceptable in 2015.

Payday loans that carry an annual interest rate higher than 36%, for example, were banned from appearing as Google search ads last year. The company was applauded for its move, as the measure was expected to cost Google millions in revenue. Yet digital loan sharks quickly adapted to Google’s newfound rule, as many loan companies now offer payday loans with an APR as high as 35.99%.

And there’s a new genre of “bad” ad called “tabloid cloakers.” Tabloid cloakers are misleading ads that feature “news” on their surface, but when clicked lead the reader to an unrelated selling message:

One example the company shared was about an ad showing Ellen DeGeneres and aliens. However, consumers who click on ads like this are taken to a site selling weight loss products, for example.

Google said it suspended 1,300 accounts for tabloid cloaking last year. In one sweep, the company took down 22 accounts that were responsible for displaying 20 million cloaker ads over a one-week period.

Can you imagine being Google and having to keep up with all these insidious trends?  And that’s before the company gets to dealing with fake news sites. We’re still a long way from a clean supply chain.

Brand Ads Work

It is not necessary to stalk a tiny audience to get results. Brand advertising, with good creative and a high degree of creative works even better, without offending viewers. We believe publishers should encourage their advertisers to offer better creative, which will then pull people to their sites as less comfortable techniques never will. Publishers need to get in a partnership with their ad partners, agencies need to stress creative, and the ad industry as an entirety ought to move back to brand advertising.

Although this year’s SuperBowl game was indeed worth watching in its own right, several people have commented in our social media feeds that they “teared up” during SuperBowl ads, specifically the Coca Cola ad. When was the last time you heard somebody mention an emotional reaction to an ad?

The NYT summary of the ads revealed how powerful they can be:

• Coca-Cola and Airbnb were seen as making political statements on Sunday with ads that touched on immigration and diversity.

• People were searching Google for ads from Budweiser and 84 Lumber and those starring Justin Timberlake and Justin Bieber.

• Fox and the N.F.L. have been trying to avoid overtly political ads, with Fox deeming one commercial “too controversial” last month for featuring a border wall — but that’s tough to do in today’s environment.

We cannot repeat this often enough. It isn’t advertising per se that people try to block. It’s ads that have no relevance to their lives.

SuperBowl ads are not finely targeted. They are simply targeted to the audience watching the SuperBowl, or even to an audience that doesn’t care much about the game, but cares about the sheer creativity invested in the ads, and will go find them online. The best example of that was the 84 Lumber ad. Who had heard of 84 Lumber before yesterday? And who would run a performance ad for a construction company?

But that’s not what 84 Lumber did. The company had three goals for the ad: One was to generate awareness, the second was to position 84 Lumber as an employer of choice, and the third  was to attract talent  to fill the number of positions 84 Lumber has open over the course of the year, its chairman and CEO said. The ad turned out to be more political after President Trump passed the immigration ban, and its ending had to be altered because Fox wouldn’t run the original, but the altered ad functioned as intended.

Let’s call this a cross-channel promotion, since SuperBowl ads can now be viewed outside the game itself. The ad was viewed 4,000,000 times on YouTube before the game, and the company’s site received 6,000,000 requests in the hour after the ad ran. The site was swamped. The ad accomplished its objectives, because now everybody knows who 84 Lumber is and what it stands for.

Trustworthy Accountability Group

The Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) has accomplished an incredible amount during its first year, including rolling out a TAG Registry, an Anti-Piracy Initiative, Certified Against Fraud, Certified Against Malware,  and updated Inventory Quality Guidelines. Now the work begins: to round up more participants. The early adopters are already on board: 127 companies are already TAG-Registered. To be registered, companies must complete a self-assessment and attest to having certain processes and procedures in place and a plan to keep them in place for the coming year. TAG Registered companies have been verified as legitimate participants in the digital advertising industry through a proprietary background check and review process powered by Dun & Bradstreet and approved by TAG. Once registered, companies are awarded a TAG-ID, a unique global identifier that they can share with partners and add  to their ads or the ad inventory they sell.

130 people, myself included, have completed Compliance Officer Training, and have been designated Compliance Officers for their companies.

I first became involved with the Trustworthy Accountability Group last January, when it held a meeting at the IAB Annual Leadership Conference. Because I’ve represented ZEDO for five years on several industry initiatives that fit our “high-road” approach to partnership with both advertisers and sellers, I attended the meeting and listened to the plans. I had no idea how fast they would move.

By the end of the year, TAG had released a suite of anti-Malware tools, including “Best Practices for Scanning Creative for Malware,” a glossary of terms that establishes a reference of malvertising types, and a Malware Threat Sharing Hub, where certified companies can join a trustworthy collaborative network that qualifies and tracks malicious ads.

The Certified Against Fraud program, which was the last to roll out,  is open to participation by buyers, direct sellers and intermediaries across the digital advertising ecosystem.  Requirements to achieve the TAG “Certified Against Fraud” Seal differ according to a company’s role in the supply chain.  These requirements are outlined in details in the Certified Against Fraud Guidelines.

Companies that are shown to abide by the Certified Against Fraud Guidelines receive the “Certified Against Fraud” Seal and can use the seal to publicly communicate their commitment to combatting fraudulent non-human traffic in the digital advertising supply chain.

When the group sent out its press release earlier this year on the first hundred companies to get registered, it reiterated its pledge to create industry transformation at scale. It was formed in response to multiple accusations by news sources and participants of lack of transparency. With TAG, the industry hopes to prove that it can regulate itself.

Germany’s BVDW Advocates for Transparency

In Europe, Germany is known as the country with the strictest privacy concerns. So it is no surprise that a Dusseldorf-based industry association has come up with a code of conduct for marketers, publishers, DSPs, SSPs, and data providers  that will bring some transparency to the programmatic market..

The Bundesverband Digitale Wirtschaft (BVDW) eV is a leading German advocacy group for companies  with digital business models, or who are part of the digital value chain. Anchored by member companies from various segments of the Internet industry,  it can provide a holistic view of the German digital economy and act as a spokesperson for the market. It’s a source of important information, facts and data for both those in the industry and those wishing to learn about it.

BVDW is committed to making the efficiency and benefits of digital services – content, services and technologies – transparent and thus promoting their use in the overall economy, society and administration.  Using the pillars of market development, market intelligence and market regulation, BVDW bundles leading digital know-how  to help shape a positive development of  what is now considered a leading growth sector in the German economy. However, as a central body of the digital economy, the organization also provides standards and binding guidelines for industry players for market transparency.

Over forty companies, including Adform, Appnexus, DataXu, Mediamath and Teads have signed the new agreement. Companies that are not members of the organization  can also sign, and signing companies are required to adhere to the code of conduct.

Companies that call themselves full stack providers will also be required to adhere to the standards, which stress transparency, safety and quality.

The aim of BVDW’s standards effort is to make programmatic more efficient and useful to German marketers and publishers by creating a controlled system. Germany is probably hoping to avoid the problems that surfaced  in the US, which deployed programmatic advertising without sufficient transparency, and caused many marketers problems, such as discovering their brands displayed in non brand-safe environments. Other issues like scanty metrics for determining ROI caused online advertising prices for programmatic to remain low years after they should have risen consistent with the number of consumers moving online.

We suspect that the focus group that created the code of conduct will have to continue studying the more complicated issues involved in programmatic, such as header bidding and programmatic TV:

The code of conduct is a first step to provide new impetus for the development of programmatic in Germany, says Julian Simons, deputy chairman of the BVDW’s focus group on programmatic advertising: “In a highly dynamic area such as programmatic, we cannot just establish rules within the market and then sit back. This continues to be a process of development, which will take current developments into account.”

One large looming problem is the absence of both Facebook and Google, said to control 75% of global ad spend, as signatories to the compact.

 

For Digital Advertising 2016 Wasn’t That Bad

Many people are glad to see 2016 over. Not only did we lose a lot of famous people, like Prince,  through death, but we lost faith in our electoral system and perhaps in journalism as well. Since November,  democracies have been in a flurry of self examination. And in the advertising industry, we very nearly lost faith in our own business models.

But we believe the industry will pull out of this stronger than ever. Here are some reasons why we think 2016 wasn’t so bad and better days are coming.

1)When people began installing ad blockers, the marketing industry finally sat up and took notice. Several new industry groups were formed to try to sort out the reasons people have come to hate advertising. Those groups worked diligently through 2016 and came up with some pretty specific ways to clean up the industry and restore faith. Publishers revised their pages so they did not have as many ads and and the advent of  AMP pages sped up page load.

2)  part of the reason advertising became such a mess had to do with the birth of real-time bidding and the shift from direct to programmatic. In the early stages, adopters of programmatic off and didn’t know what they were buying. However media buyers have now become more educated about how to buy programmatically, and they’ve become smarter about what they buy.

3) A corollary to the last point is the emergence of many new techniques to take the blindness out of buying at auction: programmatic direct and header bidding are two of them. We are a participant in both

4)  Facebook began to show chinks in its armor as it had to report three different instances of mistaken metrics toward the end of last year. Some publishers began to question their commitment to the global platform, and to reignite ways to draw people  to their own home pages again. Brands and agencies, too,  began to question whether Facebook was really worth their investment.  Now we don’t think Facebook will disappear tomorrow, but we have our eyes on Snapchat and also on individual sites in dishes that seem to do very well,  such as travel, sports, and Lifestyle issues.

5) Digital video, especially out stream video, proved itself this year. Digital video spend  grew remarkably, and according to predictions will grow again next year

And one last word to the wise: don’t think you know what is going to happen this year. If you’ve been in the industry for any length of time you know that trends can turn on a dime.

Legacy Publishers Grapple with New Competition at CES

CES (formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show) is a wonderland of new gadgets, technologies, and possibilities. For the past few years, its focus has been on concept cars with huge screens that can drive themselves while the passengers watch video, and connected home devices that use microprocessors and networks such as wireless, Bluetooth, and NFC (near field communications) to make themselves smart. The connectedness of all inanimate objects around you is called the Internet of Things. The ubiquitous robots seen at CES are also part of the IOT.

In the same way your automobile can inform you that it’s running low on fuel, the most advanced refrigerators can both alert you that you’re running low on milk. But unlike the car, appliances can now connect to your home digital assistant (Apple Home, Google Assistant, or Amazon’s Echo) to help you order more.  This year’s most unusual Internet of Things products included a smart breast pump for nursing mothers and a smart toothbrush with a video camera that takes pictures of the inside of your mouth that you can share with your dentist — or your mom if you’re a kid. Yes, many of these gadgets are silly, and that’s part of the fun of CES. See also “Hair Coach,” a smart hairbrush.

But others are going to evolve into platforms through which brands will be able to talk to consumers. The most obvious platform so far has been the connected car, because now that all cars have display screens built into their dashboards there’s an opportunity to think of the car as “publishing” content to its passengers, whether it be diagnostics or entertainment. And where there is publishing, there is also a marketing opportunity. To that end, Ford has partnered with Amazon to use the Alexa voice technology in its cars next year. Other automakers have chosen to partner with Apple for its Siri technology, or Android for Google Assistant.

The car as a platform is forced to use voice technology because of safety concerns. However, household appliances are not limited that way, and in the next few years they will also become publishers of a sort, delivering information about themselves to consumers and collecting consumer data in return.

In 2017, there will be many other new platforms we can consider as publishers, and those publishers will hope to monetize through advertising — but not in the old way. It’s been twenty years since publishing began to become digital, and it is almost shameful that we’re still for the most part serving up digital versions of the same formats we used in print and TV: 15 and 30 second spots, and display ads on pages. We’ve begun to evolve with native advertising, but that’s just in its most rudimentary phase.

A better example of what is to come in the future is Weiden+Kennedy’s effort to build a virtual cellular network for Verizon within a Minecraft game. The network allows players to make phone calls.  Call that a native ad, call it a sponsorship, call it a product placement, or whatever you wish; that’s how the market is headed and we need to spend time creating new formats to take advantage of the exciting new platforms. At last week’s CES, many brands and agencies were there simply to learn about new mixed reality techniques that can be used to talk to consumers.

At ZEDO, we’ve designated 2017 as a year of innovation for ourselves, as we begin to develop tools for our publisher and agency partners to reach consumers in new ways.

The Smart Hairbrush, one of the new IOT gadgets at this year's CES

The Smart Hairbrush, one of the new IOT gadgets at this year’s CES

 

Resolved: Go Deep, Go Niche, Go Real

This has been a year of self-reflection for the media and advertising industries. And trust us, it was long overdue.

A list of fake news stories from Buzzfeed that went viral last year showed most of them were not only about politics,  but revealed a deep media illiteracy that both fake news publishers and ad tech providers took advantage of.

BuzzFeed News used BuzzSumo to identify the top-performing Facebook content from 96 fake news websites, including the network of more than 40 sites exposed in a recent investigation. This list of English-language fake sites has been built up over the past two years of covering this topic, and was compared to this chart from the creators of Hoaxy to compile a more comprehensive list of pure fake news sites. Click here to view the top 50 hoaxes, and to see the list of fake news sites.

We won’t spend too much time on fake here other than to say advertisers have finally gotten hip to the fact that having their brand seen on some of these sites is counterproductive. Look for them to take some action this year, including more careful selection of vendors.

Fake news is the tip of an iceberg. Advertising thought it could just use the same metrics on digital that it used for years with TV and print, and that things would be just fine.

Not so. The historical metrics of advertising have been reach and frequency. Those were fine when  CPMs were high enough to make sure  both had natural limits. However, once advertising went digital, CPMs dropped, and amazing reach and frequency became possible. The number of global viewers of a digital video ad can be in the millions, or even the hundreds of millions. And because of relatively low prices for digital advertising, greater frequency became affordable.

All of this was exacerbated by Facebook, which purported to aggregate audiences and make better targeting possible. But look what has been the result: greater use of ad blockers by consumers bombarded by ads that may or may not be relevant to them, cost them money to view, and hog bandwidth resources, along with loss of power exerted by individual publishers with smaller, but more engaged audiences.

For the media industry to survive, it is going to have to re-think those metrics and be willing to pay for quality audiences, rather than just large audiences. Also, frequency caps are going to have to become more common.

Some publishers have already questions their deep involvement with Facebook, and what it will bring them in the future. And Facebook itself will begin to compete with publishers as it launches a monetization scheme for its live videos, which clearly mean a great deal to their product roadmap.

As usual, we continue to offer high quality publishers and outstanding customer service, breakthrough formats and technologies, and global ad serving and ad ops.

Happy New Year!

This year, resolve to go deep rather than broad, niche rather than general, and authentic rather than fake. You’ll win that way.

 

2017: A Different Year

Because we’ve been watching the industry since before the turn of the century — yes, we were founded in 1999 –we find it amusing to see people try to predict what’s going to happen in ad tech, despite the fast moves that upend the predictions year after year. 2017 will be no different, but we’re going to throw our ideas out there anyway.

  1. Facebook will find itself in greater trouble than ever after a year of disillusioning metrics for publishers and de-prioritization of their content. Analysts have said that the rise of “fake news” sites on Facebook corresponded with when the company tweaked its newsfeed algorithms to favor user-generated content over that from professional publishers. User-generated content turned out to be hundreds of sites generated by Macedonian teens who now are empowered to think they may have influenced the American election.
  2. Advertisers will thus re-think the percentage of ad spend they allot to Facebook, and spend more dollars on sites they know are premium and are still destinations for their targeted buyers.
  3. A confluence of changing ideas and necessity brought about by the percentage of people using ad blockers will re-define reach and scale, making the definitions more about reaching the “right” customer, and not just about reaching someone who will find the ads offensive or irrelevant and turn her ad blocker on again.
  4. Digital video CPMs will continue to rise, because video is the only way to reach viewers on mobile, especially on non-video sites. Outstream video will continue to outperform the market, and ZINC’s innovation suite will continue to outperform its competitors.
  5. More venture funded ad tech companies will run out of money without having found a business model that adds value to either the advertiser or the publisher, and they will be forced to either shut down or be acquired as revenue becomes the major source of expansion funding.
  6. The ad industry in Europe will be quietly preparing to leave London as new data privacy guidelines and the Brexit create business challenges that make staying in the UK more difficult and expensive.
  7. The nascent mobile advertising industry in Africa will grow faster than almost any other reason except perhaps southeast Asia, because of the rapid deployment of inexpensive smartphones.
  8. Snapchat’s IPO will cause a flurry of interest on the part of advertisers until they realize it has pivoted to be a camera company. Brands will experiment with it and not be able to prove ROI for a long time, if ever.
  9. Digital video advertising will finally get its due as a great way to do targeted branding campaigns.

 

Depth Replaces Reach for Small Publishers

With the coming of  2017, expect native advertising to take a sharp turn to e-commerce. Buzzfeed rolled out its gift guide newsletter in late September, but now we expect all new product reviews to include ways to buy the product that’s reviewed. And actually, this kind of native advertising makes a lot of sense, because it doesn’t annoy the consumer. Presumably, if someone is reading a product review, they’re considering whether to buy the product, and if they decide to buy it, an affiliate link or a shopping cart might just simplify things. And both publishers and advertisers are looking for ways to stop consumers from blocking ads.

This Christmas is going to be the big “tell” for both mobile advertising and e-commerce. Not only will Buzzfeed, whose readership is primarily young women, use native ads to sell products on its site, it will go further into tailored newsletters, moving into verticals like medical, grammar, and even people whose vocabularies include curse words.

And Buzzfeed is not alone. Before Gawker Media was sold, Nick Denton admitted that he got about 25% of his revenue last year from e-commerce.

What does this mean for traditional advertising? Not much, because the percentage of ads that are amenable to e-commerce is limited. Most large advertising spends are focused on branding. However, what it means for publishing is another story.

It means every publisher doesn’t need to go to Facebook to find an audience. Small publishers who go deep into verticals with affinity groups can do very well with small audiences that are very faithful. Take Brian Lam, a former journalist who now publishes The Wirecutter and Sweet Home. The Wirecutter uses product reviews to drive sales. Here’s what Lam, who used to work for Wired and Gizmodo, says:

Everything we choose is an award-winner, and we don’t focus on presenting you with anything but the things we love.

Consider them billboards for electronics and everyday things. The point is to make it easier for you to buy some great gear quickly and get on with your life.

Lam is transparent about the fact that he gets an affiliate commission for every product he sells. While his business model wouldn’t support a large organization, it does fine for his small team, and it earns him a loyal following among gadget geeks.

And what’s at the top of his site? A single banner ad for an HP laptop. And on Sweet Home, a single ad for an air purifier. Nothing to turn readers off, and something the readers might also want. Everything else on both sites is a product review.

We think this represents the future of advertising. Fewer ads, well-targeted, not looking for gigantic reach, but for depth of targeting.

 

 

ZEDO Launches ZINC Self Service Ad Buying Platform

This week ZINC by ZEDO announced its new ZINC Self Service platform, which allows advertisers and agencies to buy ZINC’s unique advertising. For the advertiser or media buyer who buys on Facebook or Google but who wants to also try something that will stand out more, with the same creative, this self-serve offering will be a real help. Because there is no lengthy process and no contract, the advertisers can even be a small restaurant or a micro-enterprise. This is the first time that the many advertisers that buy on Google and Facebook can also run their existing video or display ads on unique formats that are 100% viewable and really will be seen by users.

ZINC is a better and cost efficient way to build brand on digital because it is 100% viewable and 100% fraud free and only needs existing creative and ZINC innovation in the delivery of the ads.
The new self-service platform makes it easy to buy advertising and pay using a credit card – without wasting time. Once a campaign is set, the buyer receives regular reports of performance. The reports are updated in real time – every fifteen minutes.

The ZINC platform allows buyers to target ads to the IAB contextual categories of publishers. Targeting is determined by the text content of the page on which the user is seeing the ad. The buyer can set a daily budget, or a lifetime budget, and target a specific geography. She can also add a title and description to the ads to give users more context, which attracts the right users to see or click on the ad.  Further precision targeting is offered through choices that include banner or video formats running on mobile or desktop, delivered like native ads to improve the campaign’s performance and provide a higher ROI.

ZINC Self Serve provides the same safeguards to the advertiser’s brand, ensuring ads are always served on 100% bot-free brand safe environments, that we provide to our large clients. We are the first choice of advertisers who are already buying on Facebook, because with little effort they get advertising that really makes them stand out from their competitors.