Notifications Penetrate the Lock Screen

The battle to win the attention of mobile customers will be won and lost in the notification space. Before checking our Facebook news feeds, in the future we will check our notifications on the divice of our choice. So as I said in an earlier blog post, the future Facebook News Feed is the notification feed.

 Therefore app makers have an interest in pushing out as many notifications as they can get away with in order to capture as much engagement as possible from their users. However, anyone who has installed dozens of apps knows that  bombardment by constant notifications can cause disengagement instead:  turning off  the notification stream entirely becomes the user’s only refuge. Thus app and platform developers are struggling to find out what level of notification (chime, ping, lit up home screen) users will tolerate.

One of the deciding factors is whether the information is relevant to the user. Relevance often depends on the context — that is, relevant to the time, place, and headspace the customer is in. Knowing that, during the recent Paris terrorist attacks, the NBC-owned Breaking News app issued three levels of notifications: the first went to people in the geographically determined neighborhood of the attacks, the second was an emerging news story to a broader audience, and the last was a global alert.

An app called The Breaking News app turns the traditional publisher reader relationship around by bring an alert directly to an intended recipient rather than to a mass audience. Its goal is to deliver the most relevant information to someone at the time they need it. It isn’t looking to rack up page views.

“Did we target this person with something new they need to know right now,” said Cory Bergman, co-founder and gm of the app. “By really focusing on marrying speed and relevancy, the higher the open rate becomes, the more relevant the notification, the more visitors we get to the app. There’s notification fatigue, and the more straightforward we are, the more loyal they are to us.

A similar theory is behind Facebook’s new Notify app, which launched recently. Notify offers users a choice of  publisher pages and topics to follow, and sends notifications when something new is uploaded. For sites that publish often during the day, users can choose the most popular story or the story of the day. Allowing people to choose what they would like to see makes them sign up for more notifications and visit sites more often. Facebook is doing a revenue share with the publishers who are on Notify.

In the early days of the internet, A company named Pointcast tried a primitive form of push notifications to the desktop, only to find that users thought them obtrusive and ignored them. After a highly touted launch, Pointcast went down in flames. If notifications are over used and not relevant, there is a risk that the whole notification space will also go down in flames!

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.

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.


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.


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.


Don’t Penalize AppNexus for Cleaning Up Fraud

Like everyone in the industry, we were surprised to hear that AppNexus had filtered out 65% of its traffic as fraudulent. That’s a pretty big number, and yet we don’t think the industry should be as quick to condemn the company for not taking action sooner as some people on Twitter have done. There’s evidence that Appnexus has been working on the problem of fraud for at least a year.

Last year, at ExchangeWire’s ATS in Paris, Geir Magnusson, AppNexus CTO, identified seven different types of invalid traffic

  1. Non-human generated impressions
  2. Non-human generated clicks
  3. Hidden ads
  4. Misrepresented source
  5. ‘No quality’ site – site’s whose sole purpose is to serve ads
  6. Malicious ad injection
  7. Policy-violating content, e.g. porn, piracy

And said “what our industry needs is an open and unbiased discussion of the issues in depth to create a common understanding of the problem and the best ways to tackle it. As a technology company, our job is to work with both buyers and sellers to build the tools for them to tackle the problem effectively, and that is exactly what we are doing.”

He then said the company also had

several distinct teams focused on the problem. We have a team of data scientists who are continually developing new algorithms and methods for detecting invalid traffic. Our anti-fraud analysts engage with customers and others sources of information to help track down bad actors and learn of their ever-evolving techniques. Finally, we have an inventory auditing team that audits the inventory brought to the platform.

A year later, the Trustworthy Accountability Group has come into being, and the issue of fraud has come front and center, which is why AppNexus reported its numbers at the ATS event in London. There’s now a forum in which to do that. The numbers were reported by one of the AppNexus data scientists, which does underscore the fact that Magnusson was telling the truth a year ago.

The snark on Twitter from the industry does no one any good. AppNexus has set a high bar, and everyone in the industry will have to cop to the ad fraud problem before we get it cleaned out. There will be many more reports before our supply chain is cleaned up and becomes as trustworthy as it needs to be to support the dollars spent.

The good news? AppNexus’s chief data scientist said CPMs didn’t suffer because advertisers are willing to pay more for higher quality. After the filters were employed, view-through rates also rose 75 percent, while post-click conversion rates surged 130 percent as a direct result.

We’re convinced that without fraud, the entire industry will do better.





Good-bye :30 Spots, Hello Digital Video Creative

Seriously? Digital  is now the second biggest advertising market and we’re still using 30-second spots? Has anyone really thought this through?

The research on whether people will watch video online, and for how long, is in. While we used to think two minutes was the outer limit, we now know that it’s over five for a good story, especially on a tablet. Younger people have moved from TV to digital in large numbers, and even little kids reach for the tablet before the TV. In theory, this could change the delivery of advertising, allowing for both longer and shorter ads, and unleashing new powers from creatives.

To keep up with their customers, brand advertisers are shifting their metrics from CTRs to completion rates. Completion rates are not a function of time; they’re a function of good story telling. A good story keeps people engaged and produces more brand recall than any 3o-second spot ever did. If we get away from the limitations caused by time, we’ll be a lot better off. Without the temporal limits of TV, we can tell different kinds of stories.

Mobile is a great place for video ads. Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti once said that his site was for the bored at work, bored in line audience, and those are the people who will watch a video that tells a good story, even if it’s conceived and even executed by a brand. In fact, IAB just did a study of video watching on mobile devices:

 many respondents said that they’re watching more video on mobile devices than they were a year ago, including 50 percent of those surveyed in the United States, and 42 percent in Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.

They’re not watching 30-second clips, either. In fact, 36 percent of respondents said they watch videos that are five minutes or longer on a daily basis. (That’s not a majority, but it’s more than just a tiny sliver of the audience.)

The IAB says that viewers in China are particularly open to watching movies and TV episodes on their phones. In addition, 37 percent of respondents in China and 35 percent in Singapore said they’re watching less TV due to watching more mobile video.

We suspect that next year publishers will be seeing many new in-app and in stream formats that don’t look like 30-second spots.


Does Video Advertising Work?

The consensus forecast in the ad industry is that video advertising has been the big opportunity for 2015. Although “cord cutting” is not increasing as quickly as some trend spotters have predicted, we have now bred a generation of adults who have never been connected by a cord . Millennials simply never order cable in the first place; they use their TVs, if they have them, as giant displays for Chromecast or Airplay.

We’ve known for a while that Millennials also watch TV on their mobile devices, and that they were willing to watch videos longer than two minutes.  In fact, this year all other market segments seemed to go mobile at once. For a while the ad dollars didn’t follow the viewer behavior, but now Adexchanger’s Data Driven Thinking columnist says, “…based on… discussions with major brands, agencies and advertisers, TV advertisers hope to shift roughly 30% of their $70 billion TV ad budgets to digital video by 2015. That would increase the US market to $21 billion, up from $6 billion in 2013.”  Based on information half way through the year, the actual numbers will be bigger.

These budgets are big enough that we must now begin to measure how well digital video advertising works. The rating system for TV, GRPs, hasn’t been a good measurement for quite a while, although we didn’t have any reason to complain about that before digital advertising unlocked the power of actual data. When TV first came on the scene, GRPs measured who was watching a show, and thus you’d know who was watching the ads. But since 1999, when Replay TV first introduced the DVR with its ability to skip ads, GRPs have become less and less an accurate measure of whether a TV ad led to a sale.

We hope that with the tsunami of ad dollars to mobile video, we won’t make the same mistake we did with digital display — turn it into a platform for performance advertising and drive publisher revenues down through the floor. It has taken us more than a decade to recognize that brand lift is a valid objective for online advertising. Now, with mobile video, we should come around much faster to realize that the best way to measure online video ROI might be against TV ROI, which is an apples to apples measurement. TV, of course, has been justified for its capacity to produce brand lift as well as just performance. Digital video, executed well through formats like our inArticle video,  will do the same.



Viewability: In the Eye of the Beholder

As the media industry gets ready to shift from paying for impressions to paying for viewability, knowledgeable observers on both sides have already figured out that it’s difficult for advertisers and publishers to come to an agreement on whether an ad was indeed viewable.  Each side measures viewability from its own perspective. The current situation sorely needs to be resolved by someone who can see things from both perspectives. That’s us here at ZINC.

ZEDO’s geneology is as a publisher ad server, but on its ZINC side it sells high impact formats to ATDs and agencies. As a result, we always know when our publisher partners’ ads are viewable because we serve them. We can always tell whether the actual location of the ad unit is in view. And – as you know – we create ad units for high viewability and are consistently measured as number one in viewability nationwide.  However, because we serve both sides of the ecosystem, we have no troublesome third parties in the middle.  This allows us to get better results for our advertisers’ ad verification  technologies – it gives them better and cleaner data.

Here is what Ad Exchanger says is the weakness in measuring viewability solely from the buy side:

When viewability is measured on the buy side, the viewability solution sits with the advertiser’s ad server. Since the ad server is responsible for serving each and every creative, it’s very easy to know exactly when to start the viewability clock and determine when the creative is rendered for at least one full second.

But due to ad environment challenges, like unfriendly, cross-domain iFrames, advertisers can’t measure every ad unit in every environment, which means some percentage of ad impressions is simply unmeasurable. If a vendor reports that 60% of the ads were in view, with a 70% measured rate, what value do the remaining 30% have? 

The  problem is that the advertiser doesn’t ALWAYS know if the creative was viewable – they can’t always measure. The advertiser’s ad server misses some viewable impressions because it can’t figure out the iframes, read the urls, decipher several stacked ad calls or understand certain browser-device-combinations.

So one side is counting only what they are 100% sure of, and ignoring the rest. The other is counting everything – but why should anyone pay for its (higher) numbers?

Since publishers are measuring fully owned inventory and not dealing with foreign ad environments, they have no difficulty determining whether the location of an ad unit is in view. Put another way, publishers can reliably determine the location of all ad units throughout their web properties virtually 100% of the time.  …

I’ve seen discrepancies … reach up to 20%. 

This is nuts. While one side measures only what they are 100% sure of and the other side with better information measures more, how will we ever achieve a consensus set of measurements?

The only way to achieve better measurement to have your creative  served by a vendor who is also the publisher’s ad server.  That is the advantage of buying from ZINC: one                                           platform from the advertiser end to the publisher end. ZINC provides better viewability – as every agency and ATD finally seems to know.  ZINC allows quality  third parties (e.g. Moat, DV, IAS, Comscore) to better  measure viewability for the advertiser.
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