The Strengths and Limitations of Programmatic

There’s a tendency lately to overrate what the garden variety of  programmatic can do. Indeed, as more and more of the market moves to programmatic trading, we sometimes forget that the highest and best use of programmatic isn’t to attract new customers; it is still for retargeting. Retargeting works.

There are now several forms of retargeting that have evolved over the years.  The first to emerge was search retargeting, which served appropriate ads to consumers who searched on certain keywords. The problem with that? We didn’t get enough scale. Too few users searched for your product.

Similarly, demographic retargeting  has its limitations, as consumers already know. It is best used to retarget existing customers or visitors, and sometimes serves an ad for a product a customer has just purchased. The severest limitation of retargeting — just like search retargeting — is for the development of new customers. Here, a different kind of data is required, and that often comes from the publisher. For customer acquisition and brand building, targeting actual websites with high quality users visiting them is still the best solution. The best targeting for expanding your customer base is still site targeting.

Thus actual site targeting, with ads served while the consumer is on a relevant website or a relevant section of a website, will work best. It works better than data to find the type of users that would visit a relevant site. As an example, if you are interested in a traveller it makes more sense to advertise on the travel section of a newspaper site than to choose the traveller category in a DSP. The DSP is using data to guess that the user is interested in travel. However targeting the travel section of the site removes the guesswork – we know the user is reading about travel. And further the user’s mind is on travel right at the point that he sees the ad. So site targeting works better – though it costs more and is difficult to find.

And that is why with our ZINC platform for media buyers we offer transparent and highly accurate  targeting of websites and sections of websites.  That really works well. Many can’t get hold of this inventory so will say that a DSP’s travel category is better and cheaper- but it isn’t better, just cheaper. ZINC’s transparent list of travel sites and travel sections will work far better – though it costs more it is worth it.

Effective Ad Placement

Where an ad appears on a site can often be a determiner of how well the ad performs. Traditionally ads at the top of a page were assumed to have the best performance. However, advances in both site development and ad formats mean that what was true in the past may no longer be true.

The graph below illustrates the performance of ads on a single site. We’re the ad server, and they have  bought our inArticle ads. We often conduct tests on our own formats to make sure we’ve told the truth about how they perform.

time-spent-grapgIn this case, the axis on the left represents the amount of time spent on the page, and each bar represents a part of the page measured in pixel height. The bars proceed from left to right, with the left most bar indicating the performance of ads at the top of the page and the right most bar representing the performance of ads at the bottom of the page. We’ve conducted this analysis on many of the sites on our premium publisher network.

Our analysis has shown that across a wide range of sites, users spend more than double the time with an ad located around an article than they do at  the top of the page. This demonstrates that formats like our inArticle, which runs a video within an article, can be much more effective than banners on the top of the page, which traditionally have been thought to be the most effective places to advertise.

One caveat to all this : all formats lose engagement as the viewer moves down the page. Even the inArticle format’s viewability will drop tremendously if it is placed below the 2000 px or 50% of the page.

Consolidate Your Vendors for Peak Effectiveness

You know things have become difficult for marketers when the President and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) admits that all the money  flooding into ad tech has merely caused more chaos. As a marketer  you certainly already know this as you attempt to deal with the tangle of new partners who come between you and the consumer. As a publisher you rail at the way every new middleman takes a small piece of the pie that represents your inventory.

It’s time for everyone to consider consolidating from the current melange of startups to a single larger vendor who can do it all.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is the display Lumascape.  Notice the sheer number of possible partners, and then take a look at the number of acquired and shuttered companies.

Display Lumascape

Display Lumascape

All this has got to stop. Marketers, the ones who pay the bills, must think about consolidating to a few larger trustworthy vendors and stop experimenting with startups that promise the Holy Grail and sell you stuff that doesn’t work as promised and doesn’t measure what you need measured.

Video Lumascape

The Video Lumascape

But you’re not relying on display anymore, are you? You are also using video, and you’re moving to mobile.

You will need fewer, bigger, better partners that can take you across desktop, tablet, and mobile.

  • ZEDO, a company that has been in the ad tech business since 1999, has a buy side offering in its ZINC division, and a sell side offering in our more familiar publisher ad server and operations services.
  • Over the years, watching the market evolve, we too have evolved, into a platform for easy and automated buying of our high impact, highly viewable premium inventory. We get consistent high marks for viewability from MRC-certified  vendors, and we are active in the Online Trust Alliance fighting against the distribution of malware and the commission of ad fraud.

And now we are developing new mobile formats for use both in a web browser and alongside applications. Here is the mobile Lumascape, with hundreds of additional companies to contend with. Don’t put up with it. Choose one partner you can rely on.

Mobile Lumascape

Mobile Lumascape

 

 

 

 

The State of the Media Industry

CollisionConf2014-301-1024x678New York (and London),  we’ve got a problem. At the Collision Conference in Las Vegas, there was both a Marketing Stage and a conference-within-a-conference called BrandX. We attended both, and came away with the feeling that there’s been so much change in the advertising industry lately that no one quite knows how to respond. The media industry is in a tailspin that looks a little like the one 20 year ago when the internet first became a household world. As an industry we responded too slowly then, and we have to be careful we’re not responding too slowly now.

The problem is the consumer. She’s disappeared, even though she’s in more places than ever before. We keep trying to locate her amidst the almost infinite media fragmentation. You, publisher, are part of that fragmentation. She’s hopping on your site and then off somewhere else before you get a handle on what she really wants. She no longer clicks on ads, although they may have have influenced her. So the price you can offer for your ads has gone down.

And you don’t have all the inventory you used to either, because of the new push for viewability. First you were put under pressure to re-design your site for mobile. So you went to a responsive design. But now, with some advertisers clamoring for 100% viewability ( and each advertiser giving you a different metric for what viewability actually means), you are redesigning again to make sure all your inventory can be tested as viewable.

You’ll wind up with less salable inventory, and your income may plummet further, as it did when you lost the consumer the first time.

If you’re lucky enough to have a site that targets Millennials, your problems are both larger and smaller simultaneously. You’ve got the great content that brings the largest demographic in the world to your site (18-34 year olds) but they hate ads. They’re cynical and turned off, and they let you know it. As a publisher, you’ve got the great content, but you can’t sell against it if you can’t prove your customers buy the products being advertised.

So you lower the editorial bar by going to “native ads.” Native ads are what you used to hate: content that is often created by or created by your own staff for brands. You have now redefined your mission: you are no longer a publisher, you’re in league with your advertisers.

But you have to get over this. The distinction between advertising and publishing is going away. There’s now only one category: information. Whether under the publisher banner or the brand banner, you’re giving the consumer, that hard-to-find and harder to win Millennial what she wants — good information on which to base a decision.

As an ecosystem, we’ve wrapped a boatload of terms around this new set of circumstances: programmatic, viewability, native, real time bidding, DSP, SSP, DMP and many more. But in the world of the internet, no matter what side we’re on — publisher or advertiser — we are selling the same product to the consumer. Information.

Perhaps we shouldn’t forget that.

Publishers Re-Designing to Take Mobile Seriously

Publishers who have traditionally felt themselves to be the curators and packagers of news are now re-thinking their roles yet again as consumers switch to mobile. In the days of print, there were one or two deadlines a day, usually morning and evening, at which time a new “package” of news was edited, printed, and distributed. The first switch to digital took those two aggregation points in the day and moved them online. Later, the “home page” emerged, updated more often but still considered the first place a reader would land.  More recently, social media and recommendation engines killed that arrangement as readers came from Google, Facebook and Twitter. And now, mobile has changed things yet again.

Premium publishers are redesigning their sites with less emphasis on the traditional home page and more on the way consumers on mobile “pull” news to themselves — on demand and in context. “Publishers have learned that the smaller smartphone screen has to be treated much differently than the screen of a personal computer. They also are grasping that allowing the consumer to select his or her news preferences has to be a priority,”  writes Michael Barris of Mobile Marketer.  “The big lesson here is that people try to access content where they want to, not where publishers want them to. Utilizing approaches like responsive design—sites that flex to the form factor of the device accessing it—allows organizations to create content once and distribute in as many places as possible.”

For traditional publishers, this has been difficult, as they also have to deal with legacy audiences. The New York Times, for example, has redesigned its site to a long scroll containing all the former sections of the print newspaper on one page to be available to mobile viewers. It has also placed video on the front page,  although not typically “above the fold.”  There are four ad spaces on the home page, all small. The Guardian home page has only a single ad, proving that the publisher feels the editorial experience of a clean home page will be more conducive to getting a reader to click on an internal page. CNN.com, also optimized for mobile, has but a single ad on the landing page.

Why has this changed? Because the “front page” is not how the audience on mobile comes to the publisher. More likely, a visitor will come through an app like Nuzzel, which aggregates all the news your friends are sharing into a simple package of headlines. You, as the visitor, pay very little attention to where the news came from as you click on the headline from the Nuzzel app. That headline leads you to the NYTimes, but not to the site as a whole — only to the article you want to read. On that page are the best advertising opportunities.

This represents a sea change in the way advertising is valued, and also in what advertising will likely work. Ad formats and placements are being swiftly revalued for mobile advertisers, and this along with the growth of native advertising is making for yet another bumpy year in the publishing business.

 

Notifications: What the Apple Watch Will Mean for Publishers

It’s difficult to ignore the media hype around the upcoming release of the Apple Watch.Like most Apple products, the watch has engendered high expectations as to both its potential pricing and to what the Apple Watch will do that other smart watches already on the market do not. At the end of the day, the Apple Watch will not be much of a plus for publishers, and we’d better hope that it won’t be a negative.

Unlike the smart phone and tablet, which have proven to be a boon to publishers like Buzzfeed who know how to reach readers and viewers on the go,  the Watch won’t be appropriate for reading text or watching video.  In fact, at least in this iteration it will be more like an extension of your smartphone but with much less functionality.

And that’s where both the problems and the possibilities come in for publishers. The possibilities lie in the ability to notify consumers more easily about things they may be interested in. No longer will someone have to take his phone out of his pocket (or her purse) to learn about breaking news, nearby sales, or fast moves in the financial markets. The watch, in addition to being a step tracker, will also enable notification streams from any phone app that permits them. So far, it could be a net gain for publishers who know how to write clever headlines or headlines with urgency.

But here’s the problem: a constant stream of notifications, unless they are important, can drive users to turn off notifications entirely rather than be buzzed by non-stop interruptions. It’s not much more polite to keep looking at your watch during a meeting or a lunch than it is to get out your Phone to read notifications. The flood of notifications to the wrist could drive away potential visitors to a publisher site or a story, especially if your notifications get lumped into a category with trivial information and the watch owner throws out your baby with the bath water. The notification space could potentially become very competitive as every app developer vies for the watch owner’s attention. The news business will have to make on-the-fly decisions about how often to disturb people with information that may be important, and will have to swallow its pride and write even more “click-bait”ish headlines.

If we were Apple, we’d force developers making applications for the Apple Watch to cap the number of notifications any single app can send, so if a user chooses to receive notifications from a dozen different apps she’s not getting five an hour from each. This is a challenge, and we’re guessing it will take a while to solve. Writing notifications for the watch will be much like writing headlines for news stories and should be done with consideration for what the wearer of the watch really needs to see. It may come down to whose notifications are the most necessary.

Most tech industry analysts have agreed that Apple probably won’t be able do much more with its watch than most previous marketers of smart watches have been able to do, largely because of limited screen real estate, battery life constraints, and privacy issues.  Some of the functionality of any smart device is dependent on sensors, and the watch is also dependent on the state of sensor technology. Moreover, there has already been an announcement that at least in its early versions some of the health apps Apple planned for the Watch probably can’t be on it due to regulatory issues.

So whether the watch is successful will depend largely on the quality of the notification streams. And publishers, that’s your responsibility.

 

ZEDO Releases New Version of Popular InArticle Format

Good products are often improved once they have been introduced to customers who can give valuable feedback. That has certainly been the case with ZINC’s InArticle format, which launched a mini upgraded version last week.

When it hit the market, InArticle immediately became one of ZINC”s most popular high impact formats, because it allowed advertisers to scale campaigns with unduplicated reach. And now listening to customers has made InArticle even better. A new design, coupled with an entirely new version of InArticle for desktop browsers, makes this ad unit work better than ever before. The ad loads politely, does not autoplay audio, and clicks to full screen.

Closing the full screen takes the user to a a landing page, a feature that’s on by default but can be turned off. Sound comes only on mouseover, and the unit can be closed by clicking a close button on the top right hand corner. Sound starts only upon mouseover.

For VAST, the video continues to play in a smaller (160×120) window in the right rail when the user scrolls past.

Earlier versions of InArticle for Desktop had used an outsourced player, which we thought was too slow, because it downloaded a 234KB file to the desktop. It also had only limited customization capability.

We made the decision to build our own player, which greatly improves the performance of InArticle. InArticle 3.1 is faster than ever before, too. Because it stays ready with the video ad, it is 2x faster to deliver the ad and makes for an improved overall experience.

Version 3.1 of InArticle runs on ZEDO’s own flash player, which is VAST 3.0 and VPAID 2.0 compliant and only 73.5 KB in size. It also has an API-based design, permitting greater customization.

The unit works the same way it always did, only better. We’ve answered some customer concerns with this version. The unit now uses the full width of the article, can be skipped using a close button, and keeps the aspect ratio intact. A 16:9 ad will now always be shown with the 16:9 dimension. 4:3 ads will be shown with 4:3 player dimension only for an article width 6 pixels or less, and this value is configurable. In the leave behind, if the video is finished a complete view is counted.

When the user scrolls back to the top of the page, the leave behind disappears and the larger unit continues playing. For VAST, after the video is finished the unit stays open with an advertiser messages that clicks to a landing page. There is also a replay icon that appears at the bottom right after the video is finished, although if the user replays it, no event is tracked.

If a publisher prefers, the unit can also be configured to close after the video is finished, although this is not recommended. Version 3.1 tracks all IAB defined VAST events.

Version 3.1 also enables passbacks. If the VAST tag returns a NULL response, the unit passes back and serves the next partner. If the VPAID tag fails to serve a video, the unit passes back and serves the next partner, and if the VPAID tag returns a NULL response the unit passes back and serves the next partner.

We have several campaigns running the new version already. For more information contactadsales@zincx.com .

New Advertising Formats Rescue Publishers

Nobody wants the publishing industry to go away, but current conditions sure make it difficult for it to survive. It used to be that advertisers had to come to publishers to reach potential customers. Now, however, all kinds of tech companies sell customer data, and the publisher’s audience appears to have become less critical to the targeting process. Thus, there has been an almost constant erosion of the power of the publisher to impact ad buys, even as his reach increases. The New York Times has 31 million online subscribers, a number unheard of in the print era. But to an advertiser, that could be nothing compared to a Google or a Facebook, who reach billions.

To survive in the programmatic environment, publishers have had to drop their CPMs. from double to single digits. The survivors have already made the shift, and the new startups are unburdened by legacy cost structures (you may remember printing presses).

Yet there are still ways for legacy publishers to survive the commoditization of  what appears to be an infinite supply of  inventory.

One way is through video ads.  There is a relatively small supply of pre-roll to run against video content, and it is so limited that advertisers who want to run on video sites can’t get the reach they need without resorting to other forms of publication to get enough scale. On the other hand, video is increasingly popular with consumers, who watch it on mobile devices in ever-increasing numbers.

Advertisers who want to run video to reach large audiences must find other sites.

On these sites, smart publishers can either create content specific to advertisers , which we think of as content marketing, or   allow advertisers to develop their own content to fit the existing content of the publisher, which  is called native advertising. With either native advertising or content marketing, the simplest thing for an advertiser is to be able to repurpose existing  TV ad content into a standard IAB space.

However, there’s still no guarantee that the ad will be seen, as the statistics say that 50% of video ads go unwatched.

We have the answer to this problem with ZINC’s InArticle video format, which runs on your site in a standard IAB unit, but gets 25% higher CTRs than a typical video ad because it can expand to full screen and leaves a 1×1 reminder at the bottom of the page.

Our InArticle format,  sold directly or programmatically, allows advertisers to reach new audiences across new channels at scale. Our publisher partners have been very satisfied with the high CPMS this format is able to command, and advertisers are thrilled with our viewability metrics. We’ve got first rate video ad viewability partners who help our publisher partners provide the metrics they need to sell successfully.

 

 

Programmatic isn’t a Synonym for Low CPMs

Are small publishers having difficulty keeping their CPMs stable with programmatic? According to Brian Fitzgerald of Evolve Media they are:

The overall marketplace has been putting pressure on brands to move into indirect programmatic channels at lower CPMs. Smaller sites have really been feeling the pinch. There’s a shrinking pool of people viewing ad inventory on PCs. Audiences are moving to mobile and publishers have to deal with less real estate for ad space. It’s only going to get worse. Now we have more issues of non-human traffic and non-viewable inventory.

We believe this doesn’t have to be the case. Because Evolve Media is rolling up small publishers, offering  them economies of scale, it’s in their interest to think that CPMs will be lower with programmatic.  Actually, things are much more nuanced, and changing every day as ads become more mobile and video ads become more common. Yes, brands are moving into programmatic. Yes, customers are moving to mobile, and the screens are indeed smaller. But that doesn’t mean advances like mobile video ads and high impact formats don’t take up the slack left by the abandonment by consumers of their PCs.

For one thing, people outside the industry are still confusing programmatic with real time bidding (RTB). They’re not the same. RTB is an auction, while programmatic is simply an automated work flow process. So there’s no real reason why programmatic itself would lower CPMs, unless your only use of programmatic is assigning your remnant inventory to RTB exchanges.

Our publishers, on the other hand, receive opportunities to offer  ZEDO’s high impact formats, display and video ads that are polite, unobtrusive, and engaging — but at the same time 99% viewable with measureably  higher CTRs. Our ZINC division sells premium brands and agencies campaigns that run on a premium publisher network that is growing daily.

For another, what Evolve calls “economies of scale” is really the ability to present a brand to a single market segment at scale — in this case either men’s or women’s lifestyles, since that’s what all their aggregated sites present. So it’s  a matter of better targeting. And that can be done with combinations of large and small publishers.

More precise targeting always produces higher CPMs for a publisher, which is why niche magazines and sites are not suffering the way many general publishers are. Local publishers are also faring better under programmatic, because in many cases brands want to pinpoint customer locations on mobile.

A combination of good targeting and engaging high impact formats can help a publisher of any size command the CPMs it wants.

 

 

 

 

What is the ZEDO Exchange?

While  publisher-side ad serving was our core business  since our founding in 1999, the part of our business that has been growing most quickly for the past year has been the ZEDO Ad Exchange, our simple, scalable way to  manage both advertisers and publishers conducting business in display banners, videos, mobile, high impact formats and smart programmatic integrations. ZEDO Exchange allows Demand Side Platforms access to the premium high-quality display and video inventory of our premium publisher network.

For advertisers, the ZEDO Ad Exchange offers the best click-through rate in the industry, along with the best of all worlds — instant pricing and availability of ad inventory on newspaper web sites. We’re different from other exchanges and ad networks, because the only ad inventory we offer is avails from our high quality publisher network, which consists of premium brands you already know and trust who are integral parts of local communities and national conversations.

We’re both innovative and smart about the way we run this network: we not only offer high impact formats, but also make sure that the advertiser gets viewable impression where they count — on premium sites.

On the publisher side, ZEDO Exchange is designed to make sure that all  publishers that use ZEDO for ad serving get a fair price for their inventory. This is one of the reasons we do not work on the RevShare or CPC model. We only work on a flat CPM model with our publishers. ZEDO Exchange will pick up inventory only if we meet the agreed CPM. We can also sell impressions to multiple RTB buyers and get maximum CPM from the highest bidder. (ZEDO’s Supply Side Platform (SSP) is Open RTB 2.0 compliant.)

Our Demand Side Platform (DSP) is a single, unified platform from which to manage all aspects of a campaign using a single account (Display Banners, Videos, HIFs, RTB & Mobile). Since all the publishers are linked in one master account, this provides media buyers with maximum efficiency.

Publishers may opt in simply by clicking the “Join ZEDO Exchange” link on their reporting and trafficking UI, or they can give us a heads up via email. After opting in, integration with ZEDO Exchange is very simple. ZEDO has built a smart back-end linking process that makes sure  publishers do not have to spend time trafficking tags or tracking campaigns. Everything is done automatically, and ZEDO Exchange reports will be displayed directly under the Reports section of the Publisher’s ZEDO account.