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. 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.



SwipeUp is a Window into the New ZEDO

Our new SwipeUp mobile web format has begun to roll out in test campaigns. The ZINC team is selling it, and the ads are running on our premium publisher network.  It’s pretty ingenious, and because its so innovative it generates more than the usual engagement from mobile phone readers. When a user opens a web page that runs this ad, the ad tag loads on first touch. When the advertiser tag response is received, or after an interval that can be determined, 20% of the ad swipes up from the bottom of the page. The ad moves up or down on the next swipe, and the user can either engage with the ad or swipe out of it. Most significant, the user is always in control; the ad never “takes over” the page. (SwipeUp does, however, expand to fill the screen.)

These attributes have become very important as the industry tries to restore the trust of the consumer after the Wild West of desktop display advertising, which alienated such a large portion of the population, especially the all-important Millennials, that a fair number of them have opted to block ads entirely, especially on mobile.

Now the industry can keep investing in more and more sophisticated technology to block the blockers, but that would ultimately be self-defeating, because the users will just begin to despise all of us, advertisers and publishers. It’s much better to do what we’ve been trying to do: separate ourselves from fraudulent traffic, beef up our security, and be the change we want to see in the industry.

Although that has meant a re-alignment in our customer base on the publisher side, we can now be certain that there aren’t any more adult sites in our network, nor any malware on our platform. We are moving to a completely premium network. Many other industry partners have done the same, being proactive to stop the erosion of trust that peaked last year.

On the ZINC side, our Innovation Suite, led by our inArticle video format, and accompanied by inView, is landing us better and better campaigns, and we’re up over 300% year over year in revenue. We’re being used by every agency trading desk, and many major brands.

We’re building a trust network for the supply side to reach the demand side, and for the demand side to get greater ROI on its campaigns. It’s a pretty exciting time for us, almost like a rebirth into a different position in the industry. It will take a while for people to grasp how much we have evolved, but expect some further innovation from us this year.




Content, Commodification, and Convergence

We’ve reached peak content. There are now too many good TV shows, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu shows for anyone to keep up with. There’s also a glut of multimedia content aimed only at Millennials, including such sites as Buzzfeed, Mic, and Refinery29, or focusing on fashion. Every segment, vertical or horizontal, is feeling the pinch. Too much being produced, not enough time to consume it, a commodification of the attention economy.

Something will have to give, since there are only a finite number of advertising dollars to support all the content being produced. And where are most of them going? To Google, Twitter, and Facebook, the people who have the enormous audiences. Now, more than ever, advertisers worship scale. It’s not enough to reach the 5 million readers who really like what we’re creating; to get advertising dollars publishers have to reach 100 million readers. Even Yahoo, which does reach 100 million users daily, sees its existence threatened.

For publishers, survival is going to require convergence. Google, Facebook and Twitter already symbolize on side of that convergence: convergence of the audience. Although Twitter has “only” 300 million users, that’s more than any pure play media property can claim. And Facebook, with over a billion daily actives, is the big Kahuna. Last year, with the release of its Instant Articles feature, it began to draw traffic away from, rather than refer traffic to major news sites. The trend will continue in 2016, accompanied by Google Amp pages. As consumers, we will receive news curated by companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and even Amazon, whose Prime offering is beginning to define what video people watch.

Because Facebook is curated by an algorithm, however, it can’t satisfy all advertisers. Those who want to reach niche audiences must move in another direction. They must create unique and differentiated copy and target precisely the audience they want. Extreme sports is an example of movement in this direction, as is Glenn Beck.

It doesn’t take rocket science to predict that 2016 will be a year of both media and ad tech convergence, as sites aimed at Millennials seek to grow their audiences by acquisitions, and niche sites buy up their competitors. Tech journalism sites have already begun to combine, as last year’s purchase of Recode by Vox signaled. More of that is destined to happen, lest sites be forced to shut down like GigaOm. What will we end up with?

In a strange way, we’re going to end up where we began at the beginning of mass media. A few major networks will aggregate most of the consumer traffic. They won’t be ABC, CBS, or NBC; instead they may be Facebook, YouTube, and perhaps Twitter, Apple, or Instagram. They will certainly be mobile. And then there will be the verticals: sports, fashion, travel, finance, and tech. These will be like the old industry trades, with highly specific and differentiated content perhaps produced by brands like Red Bull, GE, or BMW.

The term “publisher” may come to mean something entirely new: a content creator who sends content to an audience aggregator. It’s going to be another fascinating ride.







ZEDO Among the First to Go Through TAG Certification

The distance between publisher and advertiser in any transaction, which has widened significantly with the growth of ad tech, is about to grow smaller again. There are several reasons for this, among them the move to private platforms and away from exchanges, the growth of more sophisticated buyers and sellers, and the perception among consumers that trackers violate privacy and slow page load times without delivering any value.

Yet another of the reasons may well be the cross-industry Trustworthy Accountability Initiative, which has spun off into its own entity, and is hard at work on ways to clean up the online media industry supply chain. Several previous standards are being rolled into the work of TAG, including the Inventory Quality Guidelines and the Open RTB standards. TAG has already begun to take companies through a process to become a trusted partner and receive a TAG seal of approval. To begin the process, a company must register, and must self-attest to intellectual property (anti-privacy) and transparent reporting practices.Eventually, self-attestation will give way to their party attestation.

ZEDO, always an early adopter, is deep into this process.

A company that has made it through the process will be given a TAG ID in a database, identifying it as a trustworthy partner with which to do business. Google has apparently already begun to pass these TAG IDs back and forth during transactions.

In addition to the TAG ID, each transaction between a buyer and seller will also receive an ID through which the particular transaction can be identified and reported. This will determine payment.

There has been a bit of confusion so far between the company’s TAG ID, which is permanent, and its Payment IDs, which will vary by transaction.

Remember, all of this has to happen in real tine, without causing noticeable slowdowns in the transactions, especially on mobile. This is why some of the middlemen between buyers and sellers will have to go away.

By next year, look for many companies to lay down the law, as Group M has already done, and refuse to trade with anyone who isn’t certified. The industry hopes to weed out the bad apples this way, before consumers get more annoyed than they already seem to be,

Computers Enter the Living Room — by Phone

We saw our first prediction of computers coming to the living room at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1996. Microsoft and Intel thought that the way to get the PC into every home was to make it a media server, and they collaborated on Windows Media Center on Pentium chip boxes. The vision: everyone would have a computer in the living room hooked up to the big screen, and that’s how we would view media in the future.

That vision was roundly resisted by ordinary people who saw the beige and gray PC boxes and towers as too ugly for the living room. And besides, computers were still much slower than the TV, which came on instantly and never crashed.

Nearly 20 years later, that vision has totally skipped the living room and  morphed into “TV anywhere,” a state in which viewers watch TV in the living room, all right, but it is increasingly being cast from mobile phones and tablets via Chromecast or Airplay. Being near a big screen isn’t essential to viewing content, and if we turn on the TV at all it’s often just to take images off our phones and look at them on a larger screen. We don’t care about TV schedules, nor do we think of the TV as the source of our only content. Increasingly, people are  watching TV either time-shifted or with the TV serving as a dumb display for the content from the mobile phone.

Much of today’s TV watching is “Over the Top,” streamed from online by people who have never connected to cable or satellite in the first place or who have “cut the cord.” This creates an interesting conundrum for advertisers. If viewers fast forward through ads using a DVR or watch something else on a mobile device while the ads play, what does this mean for TV advertising, which was for many years the most effective way to reach people?

About five years ago we predicted that rich media advertising could make online advertising as effective as TV advertising, and we set out to develop the products to do that. Admittedly we haven’t been alone, but if you think about it, our “outstream” format (which we had named inArticle before the industry landed on the term “outstream”) and our high impact formats have been instrumental in moving ad dollars from TV to online and now to mobile.

So in this season of making predictions, we think it’s safe to predict that with all the emphasis on data and metrics accompanying the shift from TV to mobile, we will soon be completely convinced by data that video advertising beats TV for marketers.




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!