Outsourced Ad Ops Can Solve Publisher QA Issues

One of the reasons we have always offered ad operations to our publisher partners is because the publishers are so busy with other things. And the rise of programmatic buying and selling has made all of this more complicated and less transparent. As digital ad products get more complicated, they require more and more heavy lifting to make sure ads run as they are supposed to according to your own specs and industry standards. A new report from GeoEdge finds that some publishers’ ad ops teams are spending up to 40% of their time doing QA on creative.

In the old days, QA was only “does this ad really run.” But now, because of all the interest in brand safety,

quality assurance is really about risk management. The QA process entails getting detailed ad specs up front, clearly identifying stakeholders and responsibilities,  and effectively setting expectation for how an ad is supposed to work, whom it is meant to reach and actually meeting those expectations in order to insure a good user experience.

According to this report, part of the problem comes from conflicting priorities between the buyer (the agency) and the publisher. For the buyer, ad performance is the highest priority. But for the publisher, continued existence depends on monetization and optimization. Their goals are clearly misaligned.

Publishers ought to focus on their own needs, nor just follow whatever process the agency follows. And not spend so much time pursuing every new platform, to the detriment of QA. What good is it if you are on Snapchat if your ad doesn’t run the way it’s supposed to? Again, from GeoEdge, “the ad integrations that come with new platforms are more complex than publishers are accustomed to, making QA even more laborious.” Video and native ad executions are far more difficult than banner ads used to be. When a complex ad product changes hands among so many different teams, it’s easy for errors to slip through the cracks.

The highlight of this report for us was the experience of Forbes:

… who made a major advertising faux pas in 2016 when it released its 30 Under 30 list. Like most publishers starved for ad dollars, Forbes requested that those looking to view the list disable their ad blockers. Dutiful readers did just that only to open themselves up to malware ready to steal personal data, drain bank accounts and hold passwords hostage. With 56 million monthly unique visitors, this Forbes oversight was no small slip up.

But on our private platform, we can also do the ad operations, and with them, the QA. There is no danger, if you buy our ad formats and run them on our network, that malware can enter our closed system.

Admittedly GeoEdge is selling its automated verification solutions in this report, but the problems it identifies are real ones, and we’ve all been dealing with them in one way or another since advertising became digital.

 

Facebook Offers Publishers Another Chance at a Haircut

One thing is for sure: Facebook’s domination of both audience and of digital advertising spend has caused one set of problems after the other for publishers. Essentially Facebook, which does not like to identify itself as a media company, is trying to find ways for visitors to stay in its app rather than clicking through to a publisher site. This has frightened publishers, for obvious reasons. In fact, it has frightened them so much that they have begun to see Facebook as a true competitor rather than just a distribution channel. Every time Facebook makes a change, which is often, publishers stand to lose more advertising dollars.

To this end, many premium publishers have already gone to a subscription model to increase revenue. The New York Times allows ten free articles a month. The Economist allows three free articles a week, and the Wall Street Journal has a hard paywall. This in addition to advertising.

Now Facebook has jumped on that bandwagon as well. Facebook is going to allow people to subscribe to publications through its app. The feature will roll out by year’s end.

Although publishers have asked for this since the advent of Instant Articles, the details of how it will work and how publishers will be paid are not clear:

There are a lot of details to be worked out, including what the model would look like, what subscriber data publishers would get and how the revenue would be distributed. Facebook has moved toward a metered model, and while nothing is final, the latest proposal involves a metered model where users could read up to 10 articles for free a month before being required to subscribe. Publishers would be able to decide if each article is subject to that meter, free or behind a hard paywall, according to people familiar with the discussions.

There’s another big question: how will readers subscribe? If it’s through Instant Articles, Facebook will have to convince publishers who have already bailed on it. The move comes after many publishers, seeing no value from Instant Articles, moved toward Google’s Amp pages. The New York Times bailed early in the year, and even smaller publishers do not push all their content through IA.

Of course subscriptions could be sold through the App Store and the Google Play store, although Apple takes a 30% cut of whatever is sold through its store. And you’d expect Facebook to want a cut as well, so…

One thing is certain. Publishers who aren’t on the ball and using every technique at their disposal to maximize revenue will once again take some sort of haircut. And they’ll be spending the summer figuring out how short that haircut will be.

ZEDO: A Safer Way to Buy and Sell Digital Ads

I was talking to a woman on our sales team in the midwest last week, and she said “you know, in the midwest many agencies haven’t even heard of ZEDO and ZINC.” In some ways, that’s not a surprise. We’ve been around since 1999, when we were founded as an ad server for publishers, and our headquarters then was in San Francisco. We later expanded to deliver out-sourced ad operations services, yield optimization services, and pretty much anything a publisher would need to increase revenue. But we’re a solutions development company, not a marketing company.

About three years ago, we started a division called ZINC and brought to market innovative high impact ad formats as the industry changed. We were, if I remember correctly, first to market with an ad called the “Inview Slider,” an ad that only appeared when a visitor was there to see it. we followed that with an equally innovative video format designed to be displayed by publishers with sites that didn’t publish video. The “InArticle” Video was quickly picked up by the industry and re-named “outstream.”

We went on to focus on mobile, developing an entire suite of ad formats that do not anger mobile users and get better results than any of our competitors. Along the way, we moved the company to New York to signal our entry into the advertising side of the digital media ecosystem.

Once in New York, we realized we had access to a new customer: brands and agencies.

Along the way we participated in a range of industry-wide initiatives, and realized that ad fraud and brand safety were becoming paramount in the minds of industry thought leaders, so we jumped ahead once again, developing a completely private, secure, end-to-end solution  — a platform on which our customers can buy innovative formats that are served directly to our premium publisher network without the danger of supply chain corruption.

At the same time, we eliminated several former partners with whom we worked until we realized they weren’t playing the game on the up and up and their networks were fraught with bots and malware. We also severed connections with some non-quality publishers.  And last, we partnered with a company that checks all the URLs to which we serve to make sure we serve ads in a brand safe environment.

All the while, we were heads down continuing to develop new technologies, and ignoring the elaborate marketing plans other companies user to generate transactional sales. We much prefer relationship sales. We’ve just developed our first slide deck in years. We’re coming out to build additional relationships.

You will see more of us now in the media world, because we have begun reaching out in the midwest, New York, and the west coast, doing somewhat more aggressive storytelling about what we have to offer.

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Reach is More than Just a Number

Once again we find ourselves ahead of the curve. Last year, we realized that the programmatic race to the bottom had indeed hit bottom, and we sensed a flight to quality. Fortunately for ZEDO, we had already developed a private buying platform for media buyers to use when they wanted to reach more than just “eyeballs.” Our private platform starts with our high performance ZINC formats — inView and inArticle –and allows brands to use those units on our premium publisher network.

Last year we also “cleaned house” with our publishers, eliminating anyone whose traffic might be non-human or fraudulent. We now have a completely clean supply chain and privacy policies strong enough to make us members of the Online Trust Association’s Honor Roll for the fourth consecutive year.

Now we are beginning to see marketers come to the realization that they want better targeting, even if it means compromising that old metric “reach.”

Advertisers are starting to understand that context and quality of ad units matter now more than ever. They are also starting to think of the audience as the currency rather than simply counting impressions. The head of digital for a major wireless carrier recently stated, “There are only 5 million people in this country who I can get to switch mobile carriers, so why am I marketing to 275 million?”

The rising popularity of private marketplaces represents a step forward for advertisers who are now able to transact directly with publishers to secure higher-quality inventory, particularly in mobile and video.

Indeed. Why pay to reach people who will never buy your product or service and perhaps run the risk that your haphazard targeting will be the last straw that forces them to block ads?

Premium publishers who use private platforms will also have the edge over social sites like Facebook and Snapchat, who are less transparent about their users than traditional publisher sites. Facebook and Snapchat (the walled gardens) have hundreds of millions of users, but are only slowly opening themselves up to scrutiny by media planners. Up until now, they’ve operated as if what they say about their audiences cannot be challenged, because they have highly desirable audiences in very large numbers. But as brands realize they have more hope of moving merchandise by going deep with the right audiences rather than broad with global audience networks, they will turn away from Facebook and seek their niche audiences.

 

New Opportunities for Digital Publishers

If you sit around listening to some industry insiders whine, you’d think there’s no hope for the digital media business. However, people continue to be attracted to it as a business and as a calling, and if you look at the numbers, many publications aren’t doing badly. Even Gawker, forced into bankruptcy and out of business by Peter Thiel’s lawsuits, says its business was up 7 or 8% this year. Business, said beleaguered Nick Denton, is good. Gawker.com may be gone, but its 6 sister sites are doing fine under Univision. Other niche publications, like Thrillist, are also doing well.

According to Thrillist founder and VC Ben Lerer, who appeared on the Digiday podcast, there are many short term threats facing digital content companies. The keyword here is short term, which is how Lerer looks at ad blocking, the decline of effective display advertising, and the hegemony of Facebook. He swipes those common industry concerns away with a flick of the wrist, preferring to focus on what he calls “the massive change in distribution” that has happened because of online media, which he thinks is already making some people rich even as others suffer.

It’s like the 1980s when cable TV first started, he says. Cable TV allowed finer audience targeting than network TV, and provided gigantic opportunities for content creators who understood the needs of their niche audiences.

“The pipes are different,” he said. “It’s not as clean and easy a story, but it’s similar to where there was a large handful of companies that figured out how to make content for those pipes, there’s now an opportunity to make content for these new distributed pipes. The traditional TV companies, who you’d think would be are fundamentally not built to be the guys who win today because of the sheer infrastructure they’ve built to do something that’s not what they need to do in the future. It’s created an opportunity for a new breed of media company. There’s no question there’s a decline coming to television. Those companies are not built for shrinking.”

Lerer thinks the greatest changes in digital media aren’t coming on the publisher side, but on the agency side, where traditional agencies have built a cost structure based on shooting expensive 30-second spots for TV that will now be replaced by native ads on mobile. Those ads will be made by the publishers themselves, perhaps using their existing editorial staffs or through in-house agencies operating with a Chinese wall.

Lerer is not the only publisher who thinks good content will win the new distribution game, whether on Facebook, Snapchat or a publishers’ own site. Brian Lam, founder of tech review site “The Wirecutter” and former writer for Wired says that media companies without a mission will crash and burn.

Of his proposed expansion into the fashion vertical, Lam says “we’re not going to do it because it’s a business opportunity. We’re going to do it because we think we can be helpful, and there’s also a business opportunity. The business serves what we’re trying to build.”

Verified by TAG Gains Momentum

If you’ve been in the ad tech industry, you know that until a couple of years ago, although many people knew the industry contained fraud, nobody was really incentivized to do anything about it. And then, suddenly, the lights came on for the advertisers, who realized they were footing the bill for some of these fraudulent ads, and for the consumers, who realized that they were paying for ad fraud in malware and data costs. Now, with the new Verified by Tag initiative, ad fraud is at the top of everyone’s list of things to erase.

A survey conducted by E&Y for IAB revealed that in the $52b ad industry, $8.2 billion can be saved each year if the digital advertising industry worked together to eradicate corruption across the supply chain. Invalid and fraudulent traffic takes $4.6 billion out, internet piracy takes $2.5 billion, and malvertising takes $1.1 billion. Thus, every responsible company has a role to play in combatting fraud.

Last year, IAB created the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG). TAG is creating a meaningful seal of approval system for the digital ad ecosystem; it wants to be the leading organization promoting transparency. Because it was formed at precisely the right time, TAG has a fancy board composed of all the big players, from the Association of National Advertisers to  Mondelez to Facebook.

We’ve been working on the business transparency committee, which is developing the registration and payment ID procedures. We have also been working on incorporating the new Inventory Quality Guidelines. At present, companies can still self-attest about their inventory quality, but that’s going to change in the future, with independent audits replacing self-attestation. We want to be ready.

The TAG registry is a closed system of supply chain participants that demonstrate a commitment to higher standards of transparency. It’s called “Verified by TAG.”   “Verified by TAG” is the gateway to all of TAG’s other certifications, tools, and working groups.

We sent our Compliance Officer through a training program at which she was shown how to create a “Description of Methodology” for what processes, procedures, and controls we have in place to assure that our inventory is clean when it enters our platform, and the transaction between buyer, seller, and any intermediary who might be involved, is completely transparent.

We’re excited that the industry has finally come to recognize the importance of good business practices, even though this will entail a lot of work for our team as we increase the sophistication of our detection and reporting tools.