Forget GDPR: Mobile Ad Spend Will Continue to Grow

As usual, the digital advertising world is about to change. Several factors have caused this next round, and only a minor one is GDPR, which proves to be something we can all get over by checking another bunch of boxes to say we accept cookies.

But companies have invested quite a big in getting ready for GDPR, and they’re not going to let that go to waste, so here are the ways advertising will change again:

1)Some publications are going to re-ignite direct sales, in the name of transparency and brand safety. Although programmatic will continue to grow, we’re already seeing the return of the I/O, which was a staple of the industry. To guard against misplaced advertising, I/Os specify context. This may seem very old school, but there’s benefit in having ads placed next to relevant content. Facebook and Google already know this.

2)Some players are experimenting with the block chain. There are at least three solutions that experiment with the blockchain. The first is the Brave browser and the Basic Attention Token (BAT) a way of paying content providers micropayments for traffic. No one is under the illusion that this will replace advertising, but it may co-exist nicely with fewer ads. There is also a startup called KindAds, a blockchain platform that wants to decentralize online advertising process by connecting advertisers directly to publishers to remove the intermediary service of ad networks.

And  there’s AdEx, which is attempting to boil the ocean.

AdEx is a blockchain-based ad exchange that seeks to minimize advertising fraud by providing a platform for advertisers to connect with publishers. AdEx also wants to solve the problems around lack of consumer consent, privacy concerns, and data misuse. For one, users get a dashboard where they can choose the kinds of ads they want to see, the firm uses blockchain technology to anonymize user data, it creates a data trail to verify clicks/views in ad campaigns

3)Industry groups are promoting transparency. IAB, the industry’s self-regulating body, has released a framework for acceptable ads, as has the Acceptable Ads Exchange initiative of Ad Block Plus, and several other trade associations. The goal of these efforts is to show consumers the industry can and will self-regulate.

In the meantime, we can be sure digital advertising growth will continue, because Mary Meeker has identified a $7B delta between the growth of time spent by consumers on mobile devices, up 29% since last year and growth of mobile ad spend, which is only up 26%.

 

Digiday Video Summit Reflects Industry Changes

The Digiday Video Summit took place the same week the standards of data privacy totally changed, and as a result it was a meeting of video publishing executives wondering what their next strategies would be and sponsors from the world of “monetization,” “advertising,” and “mobile targeting” who knew even less about the future trying to help them. It was truly a conference of the blind leading the blind, because there were precious few of the people who pay the bills — brands and agencies–in attendance. Those people are focused on the larger question of how they can use their customer data.

As a result, we heard several publishers say they are not going to launch in Europe until after GDPR shakes itself out. Others without a big business on the continent have decided to withdraw completely. In Europe, the Digiday Video Summit will be even more fraught, because it takes place there on June 5.

Whenever there’s change, there’s opportunity. We think the future lies in several different directions, some of which are being discussed at the Summit, others not so much:

Original content

There’s still a market for original video content, if it is good. Netflix and Hulu are testimony to that. And although they subsist on subscriptions rather than on advertising, Hulu at least is going to try allowing subscribers who don’t pay the ad-free premium to download their programs along with ads.

It’s interesting that no one has yet tried what Leo laPorte and Twit.tv have been doing for a decade now, which is  live TV content downloadable as podcasts, supported by advertising. Leo long ago decided that he was going to trade quality programming for scale, and like many podcasts he mostly does his own ad reads. Most podcasts are content to be audio only, and they go for a different audience than the video podcasts. We predict more niche video programming, which will find its own audience without much targeting, because the audience is already interested in the content. It seems so simple to run brand ads against specific video content, but we think the agencies and brands haven’t washed their hands of data dependence yet. It will happen. It will have to.

Branded Content

Branded content is a tricky one. If it’s really good, like Red Bull, it can foster deep engagement. But it’s important to have the right brand and a totally immersive experience. Many agencies have focused too much on data and metrics the past decade, at the expense of great creative.

Content Based on Videogames

Some of the speakers at the summit did talk about how video content could be generated from videogames and attract viewers who have been playing those games.

LCI

This is a new one, and so big that it already has its own acronym. It stands for Limited Commercial Interruptions, and it means fewer ads but higher ad prices. TruTV has been doing this since its rebrand in 2016, with great success. Its viewers spend more “tune time” and their revenues have gone up. Their audience is Millennials with incomes averaging $70,000 — a very desirable demographic.

Like every digital media conference we’ve ever attended, this one made ample use of the words “wild ride,” “rollercoaster,” and a one I had never heard before, “calamitous.” Nevertheless, the conference was pricey and the room was full. Things can’t be that bad.

 

Time to Re-Examine Google’s Ad Server?

After more than two years of saying very little about its preparations for GDPR, Google has now made several changes that reveal how things will change for the rest of the ecosystem. During a call with the IAB Europe GDPR Transparency and Consent Steering Committee, Google disclosed that it has a new tool in beta with some DFP and AdSense customers called Funding Choices.  Funding Choices limits the partners a publisher can share consent with to a dozen.

This is a similar consent tool to other Consent Management Platforms like Admiral and Sourcepoint. A full list of IAB-registered CMPs is here.

The Google consent interface greets site visitors with a request to use data to tailor advertising, with equally prominent “no” and “yes” buttons. If a reader declines to be tracked, he or she sees a notice saying the ads will be less relevant and asking to “agree” or go back to the previous page. According to a source, one research study on this type of opt-out mechanism led to opt-out rates of more than 70%.

Google’s and other consent-gathering solutions are basically a series of pop-up notifications that provide a mechanism for publishers to provide clear disclosure and consent in accordance with data regulations.

As a company that began its life as an ad server, we have been struggling to find out whether we play at all in this full-employment scheme for lawyers, since we do not hold data or sell it. The situation is made more fluid because publishers do not have to accept the Google solution, and large publishers like Axel Springer have developed their own CMP technology.

Another announcement made by Google last week seems to have made  multi-touch attribution attribution much more difficult, because as of May 25 google will no longer provide DoubleClick IDs for data from its had server and DSP, or Cookie IDs and IP addresses from its exchange.

According to Martin Kihn, Research Vice President for Gartner,

Without these IDs, exported DCM log files can’t be used to determine true reach and frequency or to build MTA models, which are by definition user-level. MTA is not the only way to measure the true impact of ads but is theoretically the most accurate and provides by far the most detailed results.

Of course marketers are scrambling. But didn’t everyone in the industry expect this? This, after all, is the objective of GDPR, to preserve the consumer’s privacy.  The consumer does not care about the accuracy of Multi Touch Attribution customer campaigns, and for Google especially there is no other alternative. Google doesn’t really have to care about its ad-serving business (DFP), which it acquired over a decade ago and which is responsible for a very small part of Google’s revenue.

And it’s not as though a company the size of Google can slip under the radar of the GDPR, because it has already been fined and I’m guessing that other than Facebook, Google’s going to be under the greatest scrutiny by GDPR enforcers.

Remember, not everybody has to use Google as an ad server.

 

 

Lost Trust is Hard to Rebuild

It was the mother of all ad frauds. A group of Russians working with the Kremlin and desperate to have anyone elected but Hillary Clinton set up a pseudo- ad agency with a budget of $1.25 million a month and bought ads on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, measuring viewability, comments, and engagement. The ads were paid for with fake Paypal accounts. In addition to their advertising campaigns, the group ran a cross-channel marketing campaign for Trump, staging rallies and counter-rallies and paying people to participate.

And although Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made a point of saying the results of the election weren’t swayed by all the bots and ads and phony grass roots efforts, how can we be sure?

Indeed, there are more ways to sway an election than just stuffing a ballot box. Thinking the election wasn’t influenced ignores the power of advertising to create brands. These Russians could sway the election by organizing massive rallies and making Trump appear more popular than he really was. That would create a bandwagon effect — something ad campaigns try to achieve all time.

As a result of this highly successful campaign, over a hundred “unwitting” Americans  participated in the Russian government’s effort to interfere in our elections, and our major social platforms were besmirched as they were ringing up the ad revenues. Until recently, Mark Zuckerberg did not grok the extend of Facebook’s complicity.

There are lessons for the online advertising industry in all this. We have all been busy reaching for scale. But we haven’t put sufficient controls on the messages we are sending, and we haven’t devoted enough time or effort to combatting ad fraud. News outlets desperate for ad revenues in a changing market were willing to run ads that annoyed consumers. Brands bought ads in places they should never have appeared.

What will be the result of all this, beyond indicting 13 Russians who will probably never be extradited? We suspect it will be a massive loss of trust in digital platforms on the part of consumers. And with it, an equally massive pullback from social media advertising on the part of brands.

We were long overdue for this correction. It’s another consequence of mishandling customer trust, as the use of ad blockers is. Our industry could use a giant dose of quality.

In the consumer advertising business, just as in the public opinion business, lost trust is difficult to regain. We’d have been better off sacrificing scale to quality and using better targeting techniques, just as the social platforms would have been better off scrutinizing their advertisers more carefully..

It Will Soon Be Illegal to Sell Smart Home Info to Advertisers

Gizmodo has a marvelous article on the smart home and its continuous information stream entitled “The House that Spied on Me, ” written by a woman who connected all the smart devices (including her bed) in her home to the internet and then had a colleague “spy” on her by reading the data.

There were a number of pretty astonishing revelations, including the fact that the house gave up data even when no one was home. And that the data, which was almost completely what we refer to comfortably as “metadata,” (meaning it isn’t really describable in total detail), could piece together a pretty accurate portrait of the home’s occupants. The writer, who after all writes for a gadget magazine and can’t be that much of a privacy freak still lands here :

Overall, my takeaway is that the smart home is going to create a new stream of information about our daily lives that will be used to further profile and target us. The number of devices alone that are detected chattering away will be used to determine our socioeconomic status. Our homes could become like internet browsers, with unique digital fingerprints, that will be mined for profit just like our daily Web surfing is. If you have a smart home, it’s open house on your data.

I wouldn’t call that a positive result for her experiment.

Because I own more than one connected device myself (in my home the robots talk to each other), I’m more interested in how this new datastream will be affected by the new General Data Protection Regulation soon to go into effect in Europe (and by extension in the US) in May. It seems there are two especially relevant portions of the regulation:

Consent must be clear and distinguishable from other matters and provided in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language. It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it.​

And this paragraph, called The Right to be Forgotten

Also known as Data Erasure, the right to be forgotten entitles the data subject to have the data controller erase his/her personal data, cease further dissemination of the data, and potentially have third parties halt processing of the data. The conditions for erasure, as outlined in article 17, include the data no longer being relevant to original purposes for processing, or a data subjects withdrawing consent. It should also be noted that this right requires controllers to compare the subjects’ rights to “the public interest in the availability of the data” when considering such requests.

So this could potentially stop the data in your smart home from being used by publishers or advertisers for targeting and profiling. It also may mean that the value of many connected devices goes away.  Although most of them don’t keep data more than two days, they sometimes have built into their business models the right to process and sell the data. If that goes away, along with it may go many smart devices.

We’re in the advertising/publisher support business, so we don’t handle or keep data. We don’t have a dog in this hunt. And we have long been active in data privacy and anti-fraud initiatives. But many people around us in the industry depend on data for either their success or their business models, and we see some changes ahead.

Zuckerberg Sucks Air Out of CES for Brands

Any real news out of CES this week was drowned out by either the two-hour power outage that plunged the main hall into darkness or Facebook’s announcement that it was once again tuning its newsfeed to promote meaningful interactions among individuals at the expense of all the publishers who used it as a lifeline after all the brands left their sites to advertise on  FB. The brands, by the way, will also get the shaft.

Part of this seems to be a response to the fake news controversy from the last election. But here’s how Zuckerberg puts it on the site:

“One of our big focus areas for 2018 is to make sure that the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent.

We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. That’s why we’ve always put friends and family at the core of the experience. Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our well-being and happiness.

But recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.

It’s easy to understand how we got here. Video and other public content have exploded on Facebook in the past couple of years. Since there’s more public content than posts from your friends and family, the balance of what’s in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do — help us connect with each other….

The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being. We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos — even if they’re entertaining or informative — may not be as good.

Based on this, we’re making a major change to how we build Facebook. I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.

We started making jchanges in this direction last year, but it will take months for this new focus to make its way through all our products. The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.

As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.

For example, there are many tight-knit communities around TV shows and sports teams. We’ve seen people interact way more around live videos than regular ones. Some news helps start conversations on important issues. But too often today, watching video, reading news or getting a page update is just a passive experience.

Now, I want to be clear: by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.

Welp. This was more relevant than whether AR or VR will go mainstream first (best guesses are for AR because no glasses) or who will advertise what in our connected homes. We’ve never thought the digital media industry belonged at a gadget show anyway.

Agencies Merging in the Face of GDPR

One of the ways agencies grow is by buying smaller agencies. In theory, that gives them access to more clients, a fresh creative staff, and a way to create scale to ward off competitors. However, mergers and acquisitions are only as good as their integrations into the mother ship.  According to an article in AdExchanger,

There were 398 acquisitions in 2016 with a total investment of $14 billion.  The Big Six – WPP, Dentsu, Havas, Publicis, IPG and Omnicom – were responsible for 89 acquisitions, at a value of more than $3.3 billion.

Figures through September showed 291 acquisitions this year. And in this game of agency supermarket sweep, many of the targets come from the data, digital and programmatic aisle.

This could prove tragic in the long run. The good news is that at long last agencies seem to understand that digital, data and programmatic are capabilities they need to have. But they are one step behind in the race to the future. As a result of coming new data privacy regulations, such as the European GDPR (Global Data Privacy Regulations), many marketers have data at the forefront of their minds, but for the wrong reasons. They know they are going have difficulty using it the way they did in the past, because now the consumer will be in control of her data.

What the big agencies really should be doing is studying up on those regulations and coming to grips with the limits that will be placed on the use of data in the future. Agencies are usually headed by people who may know the creative side of the house but don’t keep very good tabs on data. There will be an amazing culture clash when the data-driven geeks arrive in the house. There will be equally big problems because programmatic itself is coming under scrutiny for brand safety issues and ad fraud. So far, the geeks and the creatives have been kept separate, in separate companies. If they come together under one roof, that holding company will have to tighten its controls to make sure that the data flowing through its acquisitions is in compliance with the new regulations, or the fines will be significant.

So what the agencies will need now is a new cadre of management familiar with aspects of the business that have been lumped into a separate bucket called “martech.” And they will probably have to beef up their compliance departments as well.

In the rush to integrate acquisitions and learn more about how to manage data, guess what will get short shrift again? True creative, the kind that makes advertising users want to see.

Another Attempt to “Fix” Digital Advertising

Everyone is trying to “fix” digital advertising.  And now the “geeks” who “disrupt” things have entered the picture,  which always reminds me of how the geeks  realize healthcare, too, is broken and needs fixing. But the geeks don’t know much about healthcare and have a tough time building products that really offer value to that industry, and the same thing will happen in advertising.

A few months ago, we learned about the launch of the Brave Browser, a browser that blocks ads and pays content providers with something called a Basic Attention Token (BAT), which is a form of digital currency. As a visitor to sites,  you buy BATs and they are paid out to content providers in micro payments when you use the browser.  Although we’re following this, we’ve seen too many attempts to replace advertising to believe any of them will work. People want their free digital content.

Now we’re seeing another attempt to use the blockchain to fix the digital advertising ecosystem. This one is called Papyrus, and it doesn’t attempt to replace advertising, but merely to make it safer and more transparent. It hasn’t raised its money yet, but here is an excerpt from its whitepaper:

The Papyrus project aims to provide just such a next generation ecosystem for a fair exchange of value between users, publishers and advertisers. We aim to deliver a postIndustrial marketplace where users control which ads they want to see, who has access to their personal information and market determined compensation for their data, attention and actions. In the decentralized Papyrus digital advertising market ecosystem, all parties will be incentivized to find equilibrium between their interests and resources to obtain maximum value for themselves or the organizations they serve.

That sounds fair. It takes into account the publisher’s need to have revenue, and the user’s need to control of her data, in addition to the advertiser’s need to reach its markets.

Its objectives are laudable:

Preserve sensitive data that users want to keep private while still enabling precise audience targeting using appropriate data processing; Compensate users directly for voluntarily sharing their personal data; Build a sophisticated value-based reputation system that significantly decreases the level of non-human traffic and other types of fraud between participants; Minimize the risks for advertising businesses from excessive government regulation, criminal attacks and security breaches; Increase the agility of all business processes by enforcing everything in real-time via blockchain smart contracts and state channels 3 to eliminate transactional bureaucracy, corresponding offline paper work and the need for traditional bookkeeping; Create an economy that incentivizes the developer community to produce more and more efficient applications that solve practical tasks in advertising; Dynamically balance the interests of users, publishers, advertisers and developers for smooth, accelerated and economically viable progress towards new and more efficient advertising products.

However, scanning the team we think that the company is probably located outside the US, which means the tech stack may be first rate, but the marketing will be slow.  Adoption of the blockchain won’t happen tomorrow, but it will probably eventually happen. While this is nothing to think about today, but at ZEDO we constantly think of both today and tomorrow. It’s how we keep our product development teams ahead of the game.

Facebook’s Problems Illuminate Dangers of Scale

As if all the new blockchain companies trying to fix digital ad transactions weren’t enough, we will certainly face more scrutiny in the buying and selling of ads since it was revealed that a Russian troll bank connected to the Kremlin propaganda machine bought $100,000 worth of ads on Facebook during the last election. This was admitted by Facebook, which probably means it’s the tip of the iceberg. Underneath is an iceberg that could harm Facebook if the election revelations are looked at as part of  a pattern that includes Facebook’s recent gaffe with data reporting.

That gaffe, reported by CNBC,  was discovered by a Pivotal analyst,

Facebook’s Ads Manager claims a potential reach of 41 million 18- to 24-year olds and 60 million 25- to 34-year olds in the United States, whereas U.S. census data shows that last year there were a total of 31 million people between the ages of 18 and 24, and 45 million in the 25-34 age group, the analyst said.

“While Facebook’s measurement issues won’t necessarily deter advertisers from spending money with Facebook, they will help traditional TV sellers justify existing budget shares and could restrain Facebook’s growth in video ad sales on the margins,” said research analyst Brian Wieser, who maintains a “sell” rating on the stock with a price target of $140 for year-end 2017.

While the incorrect reporting of data is something Facebook itself has to fix, the propaganda problem is more difficult to address.

There is a lot of hand-wringing going on in our government and in our newspapers wondering how the Russian ad buy could have happened. But we in the industry know exactly how it could happen: Facebook Ads Manager. Anyone with a credit card  and a Facebook account can use Ads Manager, and several people making relatively unnoticeable buys of about $10,000 each could easily have the benefit of Facebook’s super-targeting abilities to hit very specific people with very appropriate messages that would resonate enough to cause them to change their behavior patterns or — we wonder — their votes.

Thus, the same specificity that brands love can be perverted by political organizations to manipulate minds.

How should we think about this?

In Europe, the GDPR addresses some, but not all of this by giving consumers more control over their data. However, we haven’t yet seen any expert analysis of how this would apply to Facebook, which is not a conventional publisher. In fact, Facebook has been reluctant to think of itself as a media company at all. In the face of these recent discoveries, that’s one thing we think will have to change. We may see the return of the ugly word “platisher” as we in the industry try to address these concerns.

 

2018: The Year of Data Security

It doesn’t take much to predict that 2018 will be the year of enhanced online security. We were headed toward more emphasis on consumer privacy anyway, but the massive Equifax data breach forced every consumer to face what geeks have known for ages: that left to their own devices, the companies that collect, handle and sell our data do not care about keeping us safe. We have to be in charge of our own data security. This event will change the thinking of just about every American on the internet, and since the Europeans already relish their privacy and have begun to take steps to enhance it, we can look forward to a real difference in how marketers, developers, and publishers operate online.

Here’s what we think will happen in 2018:

  1. Apple, which has made security a differentiator in its products for a long time, will block cookies automatically in Safari 11.  All the major marketing trade groups are fighting this, saying they are “deeply concerned” with Apple’s plan to override and replace user cookie preferences with a set of Apple’s own standards. This is called “Intelligent Tracking Prevention,” will provide consumers the gift of a 24-hour limit on ad retargeting. So that pair of shoes can only follow you around on the internet for 24 hours.
  2. A new browser, Brave, developed by the inventor of Javascript and the former CEO of Mozilla, loads news sits two to eight times faster than Chrome or Firefox by blocking ads and trackers by default. Through Brave’s use of blockchain technology, it pays content creators viewed through its browser in micro payments.  The block chain is coming to advertising in other use cases as well, mostly to make the digital media supply chain more transparent. We predict Brave will catch on with the geeks who favor ad blocking and security, although the general public probably won’t know it exists.
  3. The big Kahuna of changes is the launch of the Global Data Privacy Regulation in May 2018.  The GDPR, as it is lovingly referred to, affects how marketers can interact with European consumers: they can only market to a consumer who gives permission. Because this regulation was passed by the European Commission, it carries the force of law and if you violate its terms you can be liable for a hefty fine.

Although the UK is in the process of Brexiting the EU, because its companies handle so much data from EU members it will follow the conventions of the GDPR.  America will be dragged along kicking and screaming, because most online businesses do not have a convenient window into where every data point comes from, it will be easiest simply to comply.

4. There will be a major business opportunity here as small businesses who haven’t paid much attention to these issues in the past re-examine how they handle customer data or who they partner with.

5. And then there’s the obvious windfall for companies that sell data security solutions, which will not be far more appealing.

There may also be a change in advertising from an emphasis on performance ads based on data to brand ads, which do not involve having to violate privacy by tracking consumers around the web.