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IOS11 Forces Ad Industry Innovation

Last week Apple announced IOS11 and with it the new version of its Safari browser. Now Safari is not at all the most popular browser, because most of the world uses Android, but it is a browser used by almost half of all web traffic in North America and a quarter of all the traffic in Europe. And that traffic is highly desirable to advertisers.

Apple, however, does not care about advertisers. Advertising isn’t its business model, because it sells hardware and software.  And to illuminate the cause of its unconcern:  Apple’s differentiator is security and privacy.

Remember when the F.B. I. asked the company to break into the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, who perpetrated the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif a year ago and the company refused? 

Bureau officials [said] that encrypted data in Mr. Farook’s phone and its GPS system may hold vital clues about where he and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, traveled in the 18 minutes after the shootings, and about whom they might have contacted beforehand.

Apple went to court and fought the government rather than write new software to compromise the iPhone’s security.

It only stands to reason that Apple would try to protect its users further by incorporating anti-tracking software into Safari; that’s right in line with its brand strategy.

Safari 11… intelligent tracking-prevention technology makes it harder for ads to follow you around from one site to another and for advertisers to keep track of your browsing habits over the longer term. One part of the approach is deleting even first-party cookies if it’s been more than 30 days since you interacted with the website that set the cookie.

This drove the advertising industry wild, with a coalition of industry groups publishing a letter last week telling Apple that Safari’s new settings would endanger internet economics.

Apple’s Safari move breaks [cookie-setting] standards and replaces them with an amorphous set of shifting rules that will hurt the user experience and sabotage the economic model for the internet.”

But the ad industry shouldn’t worry. We remember when pop-up ads were blocked, and the industry squirmed. We also remember when third party cookies began to be blocked in browsers, and the industry wrung its hands again. Now the blocking of first party cookies will be used as an incentive to innovate, because consumers have already sent the message that they hate retargeting and don’t want to be followed around the web by a pair of shoes they just bought.

And besides, not all first party cookies are blocked, and that’s because some of them are actually desirable for users. Those are the ones that make it possible for you to log into a site without re-registering each time. Safari uses a machine learning model, so if a user visits a site and logs in with Facebook or Twitter, a cookie will still be set to allow that user to log in again.

We are gradually moving toward an era of brand advertising, in which users will be shown content and incentivized to interact with ads for a reward. This gives users a choice,  and does not put all the power in the hands of advertisers and their ad tech to force an ad in front of an unwilling user, where it has rested for the past two decades.

 

 

Apple’s Doublespeak About Ad Blocking

The announcement that Apple was building hooks for ad blockers into Safari with the release of El Capitan and into its mobile platform with IOS9, combined with the forcefulness of Tim Cook’s big speech on how Apple respects the privacy of its users has raised the level of confusion or maybe pure hypocrisy around the use of consumer data to target ads to an astronomical level.

Who can blame the consumer for thinking large companies are “selling” their data, and with it their privacy to evil third parties.
Unpacking what Cook said: “of course Apple will not sell your customer data because we value your privacy and selling data isn’t our business model,” we look at it in juxtaposition to “come over to our iAd platform with your ad dollars because we have the best data about the most desirable users on our own platform. Of course Apple isn’t selling your data to someone else, because they’re using it themselves. And do you think the ad blockers will work for the ads served by Apple’s own iAd network? We don’t.

Facebook and Google aren’t selling your data either. They, too, are using it themselves to target ads. It would destroy their business model if they sold data at low prices instead of using it to sell advertising at high prices.

The language (data and privacy) with which the entire issue of free content, advertising and ad blockers is being presented to the consumer by the big platforms is misleading to say the least. Consumers are installing Ghostery and AdBlockerPlus not because they mind ads but because they fear surveillance and loss of privacy. But ironically, the issue isn’t privacy or surveillance. It is seeing advertising in return for free content.

We are long overdue for a broad conversation, probably best led by a collective of premium publishers, on the trade offs involved in keeping content free. We’re also long overdue for the kind of opportunity presented by native advertising and kick butt creative.

Why did users tolerate the kind of mass advertising presented on TV? Because television brought us the most creative content and creative moments in advertising. There were three components of ads during the Golden Age of advertising:
1. Ads weren’t targeted, so users didn’t feel threatened that someone was referring to them specifically.
2. Ads were clever and often compelling, telling memorable stories with high production values. Creative directors like Don Draper were prized.
3. Ads were often presented as sponsorships, in the way the Milton Berle show was “brought to you by Texaco.” Thank you, Texaco for bringing us Uncle Milty. Consumers understood: if you want to see this, you watch the ad and maybe end up humming the jingle.

Now the ad and the content are often quite removed from each other, leaving the consumer unenlightened about her role in the bargain.

It’s time to remind the consumer that there is no Uncle Milty without Texaco. We did it for TV and we can do it again for digital publishing.

Browsers Can Determine Whether Viewability is Measurable

We’ve been yakking about viewability in display ads for more than two years, and now it’s finally going to happen. When we first began to develop our high impact formats, we tested them with comScore, where they were judged 99% viewable. But the IAB’s Metrics That Matter initiative has upped the ante, and the Media Rating Council has given us a choice of eleven vendors who can help advertisers make more savvy buys.  But now we hear that some media buyers are going to specify 100% viewability, so we’re going back to the drawing board to see how best to get that last 1%. It may not be possible right now, but we’ll still try.

Since we’re now highly focused on both mobile and video, we decided to run some tests of our newer formats with Moat, one of the  companies certified by the Media Rating Council, to  see how well our mobile and video ads perform. (We’ll let you know.) In doing research on the vendors certified to test viewability, we found there are some differences in what and how they measure.

For example, some of the certified companies have no independent capability to measure viewability within cross domain iFrames, but simply offer publishers iFrame Bridge technology. Others leverage “Frame Buster” code, which allows for measurement within iFrames. And still others can measure viewability for some browsers, but not  in Webkit browsers. That means using their viewability technology doesn’t allow you to measure impressions in  Safari, Opera, and perhaps also Chrome.

When you combine the different browsers with the added complexities of video and mobile rather than simple  static display ads, you quickly realize that metrics will have to improve before viewability can truly be accurately measured across a multi-screen campaign.

What does this mean for advertisers? We think for now it means that 100% viewable is too much to expect for a campaign that may be running on many different browsers. Media planners are going to have to learn more about the subtleties of viewability before they begin buying on it, and they’re going to have to learn what is possible and what is pie in the sky for now.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all aim for making more ads viewable; it’s just that we should know where the line is between possible and impossible.

 

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