How the Blockchain Might Help Advertising

The media industry is still a long way from realizing the dream of digital advertising: the ability to target customers and know whether the targeting or the messaging worked.  Although many metrics exist for measuring the effectiveness of digital ads, we still don’t now which ones are the best.
Wrap into that some industry specific problems like fraud and viewability, and you get a somewhat disturbing picture, one that makes brands reluctant to pour large dollars into digital. And yet, the largest demographic today is millennials, and they are digital natives. We’re just not going to reach them any other way than digital, and within digital, mobile, and within mobile, video.
So print is gone as a tool, as is desktop. Display is not far behind. The most promising forms of advertising today (and we say today because things change rapidly) are in-app ads, native ads, and incentivized ads.
At the same time these changes have been happening, the industry has been plagued with an epidemic of bots and click fraud. Because there isn’t much transparency during the online auction process through which ads are now bought and sold, advertisers have had problems finding out where  or even if their ads have appeared.
This has led to a new emphasis on contextual advertising: the ability to target ads based on where target customers might already be.
Blockchain might also help here, because blockchain transactions are both transparent and encrypted. Unfortunately, not enough is known about how blockchain could be used, so we’re just in the pilot stage. One problem with current blockchain implementations, such as those used in cryptocurrency, is the inability of today’s blockchains like Ethereum to handle transactions at the speed with which ads are currently served. We’re assuming this will be solved in the future, as it is a technology problem.
More important is the issue of customer experience. Taken by the ability to reach millions of people, advertisers decided they wanted to reach audiences “at scale” all the time, regardless of the wishes of those audiences. It has taken the better part of two decades for the industry to realize that — just like with print or TV–less is more. Loading up pages or streams with advertising has led to a boycott of advertising altogether by the 25% of consumers who run ad blockers.
In surveys of people who do run ad blockers, to them the most offensive part of digital advertising isn’t the actual ad, but the tracking of information and the sale of that information to third parties (data brokers). A common statement from about five years ago, “the value is in the data” overlooks how the provider of the data, the consumer, might feel about how her data is being used. This oversight has led to what Doc Searls calls the greatest consumer boycott in history — the boycott of digital advertising.
For consumers to trust advertising again, they have to be assured that their data will not be bought and sold against their will. This is the objective of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). While the GDPR nominally applies only to Europe, because of the global possibilities that come with digital advertising it has engendered compliance in companies that are not headquartered in Europe but may have European customers, like Facebook and Amazon.
Ideally, data privacy will one day be coded into a blockchain that guarantees each consumer the right and ability to control her own data and decide when to make it available. Companies like Digi.Me are already giving consumers the ability to control and share data at will, and when the blockchain matures, we will finally have a totally trustworthy advertising ecosystem again.

 

 

Context Becomes More Important in Flight to Quality

After content, context is now king. One of the reasons Facebook and Google advertising  have captured so much of the digital ad market is that they, especially Google, are able to target ads according to keywords. AdSense and Facebook use different methodologies, but they’re both known for their precise targeting. They have glaring weaknesses, however, especially as more and more digital advertising is video.

With video ads it is still a major problem is that so many ads run without context, even though they may be closely “targeted” to a demographic or a geography. They still run without context, because we don’t quite have the tools yet –nor the will– to provide video context totally programmatically.  Especially on YouTube there are many instances where we’re increasingly seeing pre-roll and mid-roll that has nothing to do with what the audience is actually wanting to see. This is not a plea for the old TV practices of selling sweetened cereal to youthful audiences, but a heads up to brands who care about “delighting” rather than alienating their customers.

A golden age is coming for contextual advertising, as a result of two things: 1) the realization on the part of brands that they’re threatened by Amazon and other services, and 2) the propensity of younger audiences to require corporations to reveal their values. To encourage brand loyalty, marketers will have to do what they should have been doing all along: buying travel ads on travel sites. sports ads on sports sites.

If you throw in the effects of GDPR, as a potential third motivator, we believe it is becoming increasingly important to brands to understand where their ads are appearing, as well as who the publications’s audience is. If I’m looking to fix my truck and I’m about to watch a video about suspension problems, I might be a millennial  in the midwest and white, but ads for sports, hot dogs, or video games are merely an interruption. Let me just watch how this guy replaces his front suspension so I can do the same thing to my truck.

What if I could see an ad for the right car parts,  for local mechanics, or even for new trucks? This is called contextual advertising, and back in the day when more ads were sold direct, as a media buyer I could be sure I was getting  that kind of context. As an advertiser, that would give me much greater potential ROI. It would also fix that feeling most consumers have that they’d just as soon skip the irrelevant ad as soon as possible.

We’re making an appeal to the digital ad industry to think before buying and selling ads programmatically without context. One of the reasons consumers no longer tolerate advertising its its lack of relevance to the moment they are in. And that doesn’t have to be the case. With all the tools we have at our disposal — artificial intelligence, mounds of first party data, and great programmatic services, there’s no reason why we can’t do better. Both publishers and consumers deserve that.

Can Ads Work Without Targeting?

We’ve grown fond of thinking that we need data, data, and more data to have ads that work. That data bias has driven the creativity right out of the industry, and with it the consumer’s tolerance for advertising in general. And yet, many ads used to succeed and even still do, without targeting customers through data mining. These are the ads consumers didn’t mind, and they’re the ones that will survive GDPR, Facebook, and all the other horror stories about digital advertising.

“Old school” ads worked by simply raising awareness. Many pharmaceutical ads still work this way. They are usually bought in mass media, which pretty much targets everyone. And the message is something like “if you suffer from X, ask your doctor about Y.” Some of them, like one prize-winning ad for Vytorin, a cholesterol-lowering drug, gave even more detailed information to tell viewers that high cholesterol was due partly to genetics and partly to what you eat. But it was still information.

Some travel ads also simply give information. “Vacation on the beach for only $599 a week.” An ad like this makes almost anyone aware that this advertiser is offering a sale or a good value on a beach vacation. Airlines and hotels often advertise this way during slow seasons.

Yet other ads try to persuade. Occasionally, the persuasion is pretty overt. But ads can also signal things about products and services without being overtly persuasive. For example, SuperBowl ads very seldom try to persuade game-watchers of anything. However, they signal that the company that buys an ad is financially able to afford it, and thus is more trustworthy than some upstart brand. Or, if the brand is buying an ad for the first time, the signal is that there’s a new disruptive company in town, taking over from the incumbents.

Another way ads can work without targeting is by making promises. “If you buy this product, you will look like/feel like/live like the person seen in the ad.” Some of the promises are explicit, like automobile ads that promise a 100,000 warranty, and some are implicit, like the promises made by anti-aging products or skin creams.

A good brand knows that when it makes a promise, it has to keep that promise, or the brand will lose its good reputation. When an airline says its flights are 99% on time, it had better be able to support that promise, or we will soon see the end of the brand’s primacy in the consumer’s mind.

The last way ads can work without data-driven targeting is through context: in other words, by being placed around content that aligns with the brand’s philosophy, the consumer’s interest, or the type of publication. The best example of this is New Yorker ads, which contain a preponderance of luxury items and items that appeal to intelligent, educated people. These are audience-based ads, and they are not designed for a specific customer, but rather for a specific audience.

We have long attempted to persuade the industry that all this data can cloud, rather than clarify, the goals of an advertising campaign, and we are happy to see the industry coming around to this. We can have a very healthy advertising industry without over-using consumer data and violating consumer privacy rights.

 

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.

How to Make User Experience Better on Digital Sites

Ad blocking is not the end of the world for ad-supported digital content. In fact, it’s just forcing all of us to do better. It’s as if we received an industry-wide wakeup call while there was smoke but not yet an outright fire.

A combination of better ad formats and different KPIs for advertisers can save the current situation from getting worse, and can even repair the damage already done. ZEDO is always working on behalf of publisher partners to find ways to monetize and protect the viability of free digital content. We have representatives at the major industry groups, and a constant stream of input into industry developments.

For example, a recent Digiday webinar we attended on publishers and ad blockers shared the emerging best practices of premium publishers, which are really all over the place as they struggle to keep ahead of industry changes.  These publishers make frequent changes and perform lots of A/B testing to find out how to respond to consumer demand.

There is general agreement that asking consumers to turn off ad blockers only works a small percentage of the time. And charging for content only works in the case of very high value financial information.

But here is the good news: several publishers have simply used a technology to turn ads on for consumers who have installed ad blockers, and their page views have not gone down. They only turn on a small number of ads, and they’re careful how the place the ads and they try to serve ads that are truly engaging. This has told them that consumers often install ad blockers and forget they’ve done it, and don’t mind when the ads return. As long as the ads are not overwhelming. Further research has demonstrated that when people install ad blockers they do it to avoid tracking and slow page load times rather than to avoid ads per se.

We think that programmatic came in too quickly, making it too easy for publishers to stuff their sites with ads that cheapened the user experience. And users, who couldn’t get through a slow-loading site loaded with ads, bailed in droves, either by not visiting the site again or by installing ad blockers or both.

This is easy to fix. Don’t measure the old outdated stuff: how many ads served, how many ads seen. Measure engagement, which may be more difficult, but will ultimately produce the right rewards. We know we’ve ruined display advertising, so let’s not overuse video either. And let’s not think that all digital advertising is for direct sales; let’s make sure our sites are places where advertisers can place a brand ad and receive value. A smaller number of ads in engaging formats,  strategically placed and served to the right customers, can co-exist quite nicely with ad blockers.

 

 

 

 

2016: a Banner Year for ZEDO

For ZEDO, 2016 was the year  the ZINCbyZEDO Innovations Suite of video formats pulled out to lead the market in both completion rates and viewability. It was also the year we became known for our ability to outperform much bigger competitors, even those who offered customer incentives we didn’t match. At the end of the day, results count, and in head-to-head trials, we almost always emerged the winner. You can imagine how excited we are about 2017.

While ZEDO has long been known as one of the largest independent ad servers, ZINC is a relative newcomer to the scene. ZINC is a division of ZEDO that we launched three years ago for the express purpose of providing a secure, end-to-end platform for both advertisers and publishers to combat the obvious problems associated with programmatic buying: lack of viewability, downright fraud, and malware.

ZINC’s first attempt to penetrate the market came with the Inview Slider, a tasteful display ad that only appeared when a viewed scrolled down the page. It was very well received, but we knew we had to keep innovating, and last year, we were first to market with the inArticle video format, which we developed before out-stream was a “thing.” In fact, we called it “InArticle” because we felt that best described where it appeared and there was no other category. We think we actually invented this category.

And then a Nielsen Study found that when ads are viewed in an outstream format rather than as pre-roll, even skippable pre-roll, purchase intent is increased by 50% for the advertised product. Most important, outstream increases purchase intent by 74% among those critical millennials. Outstream also produces 60% brand recommendation on the part of millennials. This format overtook most other attempts to provide video advertising, because 44% of millennials felt it fit naturally with other content and made ads more likable.

Our own experience proved that outstream could be good for both brands and publishers, and it quickly caught on. Soon we were in a very competitive landscape, in which other companies also sold outstream. But ZINC’s outstream ads showed their advantage over competitors.  We saw 70% completion rates, very high for the industry, and certainly higher than the 8-12% for skippable pre-roll.

We also delivered scale, because we have 18,000 publishers in our network. We delivered 109 million monthly uniques and 80 billion monthly impressions, even after we spent most of the year purging our network of publishers we felt were not brand safe or appropriately premium.  Our CTRS were among the highest in the industry, between 1.25 and 1.3%.

Half way through the year, we launched a mobile FLIP ad unit, and three variations of a SWIPE up format. And we introduced a self-service platform.

However, one of the things we are most proud of is that we made the Online Trust Alliance’s Honor Roll for the fifth year in a row, having demonstrated that our policies with respect to privacy, data security, and native ad serving were aligned with the highest standards in our industry.

Bring on 2017!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

2017 Will Bring Differences in IAB Ad Formats

Strap on your safety belts, digital advertising will be very different in 2017. The IAB is in the process of creating new formats for online ads, reflecting both the LEAN principles it introduced last year and new aspect ratios that take into account cross-device campaigns. The new formats are in response to the shift to mobile, the demand of brand marketers for cross-device integrated campaigns, and new technologies such as mixed, augmented, and virtual reality, which debuted this year and will take over the market in fall 2017 when Apple releases its rumored tenth anniversary iPhone.

One other change that is suggested by these guidelines: we’re not going for scale and reach in the future. We are going for precise targeting that can be measured for attribution. Even in branding, we’re after the right customer, not just random eyeballs.

The draft is open for public comment until Nov. 28 and can be downloaded here. ZEDO has worked with the Online Trust Association to comment on the draft from a privacy, security, and malware perspective.

The following IAB Tech Lab member companies were part of the working group that created this draft: Aarki Grey Advertising Sizmek ABC TV Network GroupM Spongecell AdCade Gruuv Interactive Startapp Adelphic, Inc. Havoc Sublime Skinz AdGear Technologies, Inc. Ipsos TapAd Ansible J. Walter Thompson U.S.A., Inc. Team AOL AOL Kargo The New York Times Company AOL Platforms Mashable The Walt Disney Company Beachfront Media MediaCom The Weather Company, an IBM Business Bloomberg Merkle Inc Undertone CBS Interactive Micro Cube Digital Limited Unity Technologies Celtra Microsoft Advertising Unruly Cox Media Group MING Utility & Entertainment Group USATODAY.com Cyber Ideas Monotype Vertebrae Dow Jones & Company (The Wall Street Journal) Flexitive Vibrant Media ESPN.com Ogilvy Xaxis Flashtalking PageFair Yahoo Flipboard PGA TOUR YieldMo Flite PointRoll Zillow Forbes Media R/GA Gannett Responsive Ads Google Saatchi & Saatchi NY .

Among many other changes, the new Dynamic Standards vary according to weather and geography, as well as demographics. Also, pixels are gone, replaced by aspect ratios, so the ads can be used across screens.

Developed by the IAB Tech Lab, the revised portfolio is based on HTML5 technology and comprised of flexible display ads, mobile ads, video ads, native ads, and introduces guidelines for new content experiences like virtual reality and social messaging ads.

The IAB also expects ads to contain emojis and stickers. Guaranteed will be user choice according to the LEAN Principles of lightweight, encrypted, AdChoice supported, and non-invasive advertising.

In some ways, getting rid of pixels will make it easier to create one piece of creative and deploy it across screens. Although we already support this capability, we’re in the process of getting absolutely every piece of this IAB guideline into our product roadmap so we’re ready for it when it comes. Because we are known for fundamentally better advertising, we want to continue to lead the market.

We Lead in Outstream for a Reason

S1The biggest complaint in the advertising industry as we drop further into Q4, its busiest season, is the lack of video inventory. Everybody wants to run video ads, because video completion rates are higher than the CTRs on banner ads. Especially on mobile, consumers seem to have more patience with video ads than display ads. However, when they speak about video inventory many brands still mean content on high-trafficked video sites like YouTube on which they can run pre-roll. There is indeed a scarcity of that.

However, pre-roll is not the best way to achieve results with video ads, as many other companies have already discovered. The unfortunately- named “outstream,” video ads on text sites are the best performers.

In this department, ZINC is the market leader, having been the first to market with this format.  We launched what we called inArticle video almost three years ago, before the term outstream even existed, and we also initiated the term “polite” for these ads, because they only came into view only when a reader scrolled down to them, and they were also easy to close or scroll past. As  a result of the precautions we take, our ads are not intrusive.

Not only that, we never have used auto-play sound, another reason we feel comfortable calling these ad formats “polite.”

We constantly win buys away from our competitors (and there aren’t many), because we get higher viewability scores with resulting higher rates for publishers. Even the competitors are asking us how we win so many good buys.

Here’s how: we have a better format, better technology, and a better premium publisher network. We have tested our viewability with third parties, and we’re at 93%. To be a market leader, you not only have to be a technology leader, you also have to be cognizant of consumer attitudes, and you have to run on only premium publishers. That’s us.

Yes, this is a self-serving post. Every once in a while we have to sneak one in, because not enough people know what we do.

 

 

The New Rules for Native Advertising

As a publisher, now do you avoid sullying your brand with the “slew of sewage” most editorial writers think comes with native advertising, and yet keep some of the revenue that flows from native for yourself?  For the Times, known for over a century as “the gray lady,” the reputational damage of going native could have been disastrous, and yet the category has grown so quickly that there’s no way not to participate if it wants to survive.

So the Times jumped awkwardly into native, and now its agency had $35 million in revenue last year, and will create 100 campaigns this year. Yet, the Times does not have the feel or the reputation of Buzzfeed, whose branded content is often offensive to more sophisticated audiences. Its native content is still recognizable as being from the Times.

Here are some good tips that the New York Times has learned from experience that can be applied by other publishers.

1)First, if you establish an in-house creative unit to produce branded content that will run in your publication, give it a separate name: the Times’ unit is called T Brand Studio, and calls itself an agency.

2)Next, begin with an innovative campaign to run in the publication that showcases both the agency’s and the publication’s multimedia capabilities. In the case of the Times, a campaign for Netflix won over some of the wary Times newsroom occupants.

3)Match the quality of the branded content with the quality of the editorial content.

4)Bear in mind that advertisers don’t necessarily need publishers to get reach anymore, but if you have high levels of engagement from your readers, you can sell your advertising for higher prices.  Reach is going out of style in favor of engagement. The Times’ subscription model promotes reader engagement, and that helps the ad sales, too.

5)Do things that Facebook cannot do. Scale and data are Facebook’s purview, but narrow targeting is best at a publication.

6)Programmatic, video, and content-based ads are growth pillars, and display is not. Focus on the areas that grow. Mixed reality could come next.

7)Raise the bar on innovation in accordance with the specific KPI for the brand. What kind of NBDB (Never Been Done Before) campaign, will get the CMO on the cover of AdAge? Those are the kinds of KPIs brands come to an agency with.

8) Raise the bar on quality to match that of your publication.

9) Label it properly so if visitors choose to engage with it they know that they’re engaging with.

10) If a brand asks for creative that can be run elsewhere, you’ve hit the jackpot. You are then a fully-functioning agency, and can be an actual profit center.