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Adam Rock

People Shopping Online

Why digital is so resilient in tough times

By | Ad Spend, main blog

As the lockdown eases, advertisers who went dark during Q2 are beginning to return, but what does the future hold? Is there pent up demand? Will those who shifted budgets to digital return to linear media?

There’s no doubt Q2 will be one to remember – pretty much every media owner dependent on advertising took a big hit. The New York Times revealed a 55% drop in ad revenue in May. The Advertising Association is forecasting a 16.7% decline in UK adspend year on year. IPG’s MAGNA predicts that print, radio and OOH will see 20-30% declines in 2020.

Linear media falls worse than the financial crisis

UK Print media is likely to suffer the most according to MAGNA (-28%) – physical newspaper sales were already in freefall and some freesheets are in trouble as there’s still an absence of commuters to pick up their product.

There’s a similar storm brewing for OOH. This week (25th June) – CityMapper’s CMI index shows only 26% of London moving compared to a usual week. Whilst out-of-home is expected to recover over the next few months, it’s unlikely to return to pre-lockdown levels while many companies continue to work from home.

TV has been popular with smaller advertisers during lockdown as costs have tumbled. One of the great ironies for commercial TV was that that while they achieved record audiences, those who wanted to advertise were thin on the ground. MAGNA expects TV to decline 17% YOY, but a strong Q4 could recover some loses.

Resilient Digital

And so, to digital. The good news for those of us working in online advertising is that most forecasters see the sector as by far the most resilient. IAB Europe recently reported that:

“…digital is looking to be the least affected advertising media, predicting a decline by -5.5% in 2020 in Europe compared to a stronger contraction (-21.3%) for other media.”

From a UK perspective, MAGNA have been even more bullish, predicting only a 3% contraction in UK digital ad sales due to the speed of execution – campaigns that were dialled down, can be dialled up just a quickly – and partly due the growth in ecommerce during the lockdown.

It’s certainly noticeable that FMCG brands who traditionally sold only through retailers have created online DTC channels. Want some Ben & Jerry’s? Go to their website as they now deliver to your door!

Sponsored Content formats

The reoccurring theme we’ve heard from our clients during lockdown is that there’s a great deal more to communicate post-Covid. From the new way brands are having to conduct business, to how they plan to help their customers navigate these unusual times, long form content can help guide consumers. As the UK unlocks, communication will be the key to successful business, and that communication is likely to be online.

Shopping on computer

E-commerce is booming: How business is transitioning online

By | Banner - Advertisers, main blog

Five weeks in, the impact of COVID-19 has already had a major impact on our buying habits as brands shift to online sales. Supermarket supply chains have largely recovered after initial panic buying and consumers have moved on – purchasing items to ease the burden of the lockdown.

At TAN, we reacted quickly, helping clients to repurpose campaigns that had a bricks and mortar focus by changing CTAs to e-commerce channels as retailers were forced to close their doors.

Unsurprisingly, online sales are booming with many dipping their toe in the water for the first time – non-food sales increased 18.8% during March compared to 2.5% last year. MediaCom’s Lockdown Diaries reported that there are:

“…many new shoppers online… March was a record month for online penetration. Annual penetration increased by 0.5%, an incremental 140,000 households. New online shoppers are older, have lower incomes and are more regional – demonstrating a broadening of appeal.”

What’s hot right now

While some retailers without an online presence are facing a challenging time, others are experiencing a mini boom. The latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers, revealed sectors that have experienced a big bounce as consumers adapt to the lockdown:

Beauty – 36%+
Electricals – 40%+
Garden – 90%+

Another interesting finding, and something that mirrors our own experience of pivoting campaigns towards online channels, is that:

“…multichannel retailers outperformed their online only counterparts for the first time since April 2019”.

As traditional retailers throw additional resources at their online channels it’s been interesting to see how brands have adapted to their high street doors being closed. Dixons Carphone’s shares jumped this week after the group revealed that UK and ROI online sales increased 166% in the five weeks to April 25th as consumers purchased laptops and other tech for lockdown living.

Born Online

Online only brands were naturally already set up for the situation we now find ourselves in. Whilst fashion has been one of the hardest hit sectors, Boohoo has reported a year-on-year rise in sales during April. A Boohoo spokesperson told the BBC:

“Sales of tops have gone up in particular, with everyone wanting to look smart on Zoom calls.”

Bring on the booze

Other notable success stories include those selling alcohol – the sector was up 22% in March (Kantar) with Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant, Berry Bros. & Rudd having to temporally stop taking online orders after its biggest day of digital sales. If a 300-year-old business can adapt, then hopefully other more traditional retailers can follow suit.

Preparing for reopening 

Obviously not every business can transition to pure online sales. Larger purchases, such as buying a new car or home, require multiple touch points usually ending with a physical viewing in person.

Let’s look at a car purchase journey. Detailed Google research conducted over a period of months on one user revealed that she had over 900 digital engagements before committing to the purchase.

With that in mind, assuming lockdown restrictions are eased, even over a period of months, now is the time to build awareness in the upper funnel as consumers spend more time online ahead of physical visits. Doing the brand and prospecting work now will ensure you are ahead of the game when reopening commences.


Social media Likes

Brand safety is back in the spotlight (again)

By | main blog

Back in 2017, we published a piece on our blog about a growing scandal in online advertising. Has programmatic become problematic? went on to be one of our most read and shared posts and looked at the risks of buying RTB inventory on the open market and not fully understanding the content your ads were appearing next to.

Ads for some of the world’s biggest brands were found alongside highly questionable content on sites like YouTube. Advertisers scrambled to pull their campaigns, shifting budgets to more brand safe channels.

A familiar pattern

Fast-forward to 2019 and a new Wired investigation has revealed that the site’s problems haven’t gone away. Their research found brand’s pre-roll video ads appearing next to content popular with and commented on by pedophiles. Again, when alerted, advertisers including food giant Nestlé and Fortnite creator Epic Games pulled campaigns.

Why is it so hard to police?

The problem adversely affects any site containing UG (user generated) content. Only a couple of months ago popular micro blogging site Tumblr was pulled from Apple’s app store because filters had failed to spot illegal images that had been uploaded.

Just this week, far right activist ‘Tommy Robinson’ had his Facebook and Instagram accounts deleted for spreading hate speech. In short, despite technology improving all the time, it’s hard to guarantee brand safety on any UG site that is retroactively policed.

Knowing where your ads are 

One way of migrating the risks of your content appearing in places you’d rather it didn’t is moving towards trusted publishers via a programmatic direct or a PMP deal. Indeed, Econsultancy reports that that both media agencies and publishers are looking to reduce their reliance on open exchanges this year. From a publisher perspective, it reduces the risk of poor quality or fraudulent ads appearing on their site and for advertisers, increases brand safety.

The benefits of premium inventory

Aside from brand safety, new research from Newsworks / AOP shows that ads seen in a premium context are viewed for 17% longer and with 29% higher levels of engagement than ads on social sites such as Facebook and YouTube.


Man on laptop

A beginner’s guide to ads.txt and CBA

By | Banner - Publishers, main blog

Programmatic advertising has grown at an astonishing rate over the past few years, enabling advertisers to reach their desired audience, efficiently and at scale. The desire for reach has led to many collaborations between publishers, exchanges and AdTech partners, but it’s also made the online advertising ecosystem incredibly complicated and at risk from fraud as more and more parts are added to the chain. The answer? Authorised Digital Sellers, otherwise known as Ads.txt

So, what is ads.txt?

Introduced by the IAB in 2017, ads.txt has been well received by publishers in the UK with an adoption rate of 83% among top 1,000 domains (Jan 2018). It’s essentially a text file, approved by the IAB, which enables publishers to prevent unauthorised sales of their online inventory by listing all the companies that they do allow to sell it. The publisher adds a simple text file on their web server containing all the companies they’ve authorised to sell their inventory.

How do buyers check?

Ads.txt protects programmatic buyers from spending budgets on counterfeit inventory. It’s pretty simple to ensure you’re buying the genuine thing. Simply add /ads.txt to a website to ensure that you are buying from authorised digital sellers of a particular domain. For more on how to add or check ads.txt visit

Other industry Initiatives 

Partly in reaction to the rise of ad blocking, the industry has come together to form The Collation For Better Ads. It’s aim is to improve online advertising for consumers in order to secure revenue streams which fund free content and valuable journalism. Our non-interruptive native formats conform to CBA guidelines. You can find out more at

How TAN supports industry initiatives 

Our non-interruptive native formats conform to CBA guidelines and all of our creative specs detail our support. Our publisher team fully supports Ads.txt, working with publishers to ensure they include the relevant Ads.txt files within their sites, signalling to programmatic buyers that this inventory is authorised.


fake news

Why ‘fake news’ is good news for real publishers

By | Native advertising, Uncategorized

Probably already a frontrunner for phrase of the year, ‘fake news’ is the phenomenon everyone from politicians to publishers; tech companies to the man on the street, is talking about.

Whilst the blame for fake news has been laid squarely at the door of Facebook, indeed it’s forced the world’s biggest social media platform to fact check some of the content on its site, it has caused publishers to take stock and consider the quality of third party content on their own websites.

That content is invariably ad tech, from standard display units, to native advertising, video providers, and content recommendation. Are the ads being run trustworthy? This is particularly important in the programmatic age where they could have been served through a myriad of exchanges.

If not knowing where an advert has come from is a problem for publishers, the reverse is now true for advertisers – not knowing where your ad will actually be served has become a real issue. A recent Times investigation led to some of the world’s biggest brands pausing all programmatic advertising as their ads were found on websites apparently funding extremist groups.

Finding audience at the expense of losing control of the environment, suddenly doesn’t seem quite as smart.

Native: One size fits all?

Native advertising as a term encompasses everything that ‘mirrors the form and function’ of the property it sits on – from a promoted Facebook post or tweet to a sponsored article within the editorial feed, right through to content recommendation.

Because of this execution, trust has never been more important. And there lies the problem – how can a user uploaded misleading ‘get rich quick’ headline, clicking out to a dubious website be lumped into the same category as the lauded New York Times content for Netflix’s Orange is New Black?

Time to grasp the opportunity     

So where does this leave native advertising? There’s no denying how important it’s become for publishers – The Atlantic makes 75% of its ad revenue from sponsored content, Condé Nast Britain, over half of its digital earnings. But this is from high quality, clearly labelled articles – a world away from some of the clickbait washing around the web.

BI Intelligence estimates that Native ads will drive 74% of all ad revenue by 2021. Whilst this will be led by the dominant social platforms, one interesting nugget is that:

“Sponsored content, which is categorised separately from native-display due to the direct relationship between publishers and brands in creating the format, will be the fastest-growing native format over the next five years.”

The renaissance of traditional publishers    

Traditional publishers have a challenge to adapt to the digital world, but the one good thing to come out of the past few months is that, in the words of Luis Hernandez, ‘…fake news is making real publishers look good’. Sites with paywalls like the NYT have seen a surge in subscriptions and UK national newspaper sites a 16% year-on-year uplift to 31.5m daily uniques (Dec 2016).

Why premium sites need premium ad tech     

So here’s the question for publishers: You’ve worked hard to build the trust of your audience. Why would you do anything to diminish that by running poor quality ads, clicking out to some questionable places?

The real value for premium publishers is in running high quality, clearly labelled, stay-on-site sponsored content which maintains trust and delivers value to both the reader and the media owner.

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The rules of native engagement

By | Uncategorized

It’s always a sign of acceptance and maturity in any activity when someone comes up with a rule book; and that’s just as true for the phenomenon of native advertising.

In this case, the guardian of all that is good is the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), who have been watching the growth of native for some time. Perhaps waiting in case it just fizzled out like another fad or was destined to be a long-term part of the marketing and publishing landscape. In any case, they have now published the first native ads guidelines.

The latest UK numbers are, according to IAB and professional services consultants PwC, that native accounted for a spend of £216 million in the first two quarters of 2014; that’s over 20% of the total display ad spend – hardly fizzling out! In fact, a number of players on both sides of the advertiser/publisher border have dropped display ads altogether and have thrown their hats very decisively into the native ring – even one of the internet’s opinion-formers, BuzzFeed.

Given that extraordinary level of growth and market share, it was inevitable that native sponsored content would attract the attention of the authorities. The good news for the industry is that the rules in this first part of the guidelines are actually based on customer research and effective good practice.

The danger with native content has always been that if a reader doesn’t know that the content they’re reading is commercially targeted, there is the danger of resentment against the publication and against the advertiser for a perceived deception. So guideline number one is unequivocal: publishers must “Provide prominently visual clues to show that pieces are native ads and not editorial”. They suggest a mix of logos and typographical design tools, such as fonts and shading, to differentiate between editorial and native content.

Well, there’s no argument with that, nor the requirement that publishers must add labels to indicate the commercial relationship, along the lines of “Brought to you by…” or “Paid promotion”. Research carried out for the IAB shows that trust increases with the transparency of the origin of the content and, as trust and engagement are the goals of native advertising, these guidelines really are just good practice.

Those who have been carrying the native advertising torch for many years know that when native content is good, i.e. of value to the reader, labelling and transparency of origin are not bureaucratic annoyances but signs of respect.

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Native advertising takes on TV

By | Marketing, Native advertising

It doesn’t seem possible that TV only managed to win the lion’s share of advertising revenues from the long dominance of newspaper and print media as recently as 1999.

But even more surprising is that TV is widely predicted to lose the media crown, after a reign of less than twenty years, to digital marketing propelled by digital’s jewel in that crown, native advertising.

According to Bloomberg, digital advertising will grow by 15% in 2015, to a massive $163 billion and taking 30% of ad spend. More dramatically, the media research arm of Interpublic Group, Magna Global, forecast that digital will reach an amazing 38% of global ad spend, equalling TV but on a growth trend that will have digital watching TV in its rear view mirror in no time at all.

Magna Global’s earlier predictions had seen TV holding out for longer, but the speed at which digital is grabbing budget has called for a major re-assessment. Much of this is down to the change of viewing habits, which have moved away from TV at home and are now firmly engaged with mobile content on the smartphone.

The individual figures give the new perspective; in 2014 there was a 72% increase in global mobile ad spend, while TV is barely keeping up with economic recovery; only a 3% growth was forecast for 2015 and 6% for 2016.

If that continues, and UK media research group ZenithOptimedia are predicting as high as 38% per year for digital growth in 2014-17, and there are going to be serious structural shifts in how advertisers reach their audience.

Of course, part of that growth is accounted for by the growth in the medium; smartphones have still to replace earlier generation phones in many markets but the process is speeding up, with fewer non-smartphones manufactured. So some plateauing is inevitable in the future, but not until mobile options can reach all users and link to all social media. It is, after all, only two years since Facebook started the change by introducing mobile formats, which makes the growth rates even more impressive.

Within digital, only native advertising really does away with the issue of screen size. There’s a lot of evidence that people have developed the ability to screen out display ads, which means resorting to dynamic devices such as explosive appearance or flashing images to attract attention; invasive and intrusive tactics that risk a negative reaction.

Native advertising, on the other hand, relies on the consumer opting-in to the content, attracted by relevance and topicality. It will be very interesting to see in 2019 – if the pundits are right in their predictions that digital will be nudging ahead of TV – just what percentage of that digital spend will be native ads and sponsored content.

The next five years in digital marketing are going to be incredibly exciting, with new formats appearing that can scale to any size of screen and populated by a new generation of creative content.

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Mobilising native content

By | Native advertising, Technology

Native content and the smart phone, like Anthony and Cleopatra, or gin and tonic; somehow they are just perfectly compatible with each other.

It starts with the realisation that size does matter; smart phones are the most incredible development but you can’t get away from the fact that interacting with the small screen can be a bit of a challenge. So when you’ve found some really interesting content; perhaps you’re on the train home feeling a bit crushed and looking for some light relief; the last thing you want is an aggressive banner add popping out of nowhere blocking the very paragraph you were reading.

The problem with display ads is that they’re incredibly invasive, but then they come from an era of marketing history when the only thing that mattered was that you grabbed attention in the nanosecond of window that you had to get noticed.

Today’s consumer is a very different beast, as different as the media they have available to them. Today’s consumer has grown up to expect to have what they want when they want it. Which means that if they want to watch a movie on the bus, that is exactly what they will do, because they have the technology to do it; and if they want to read an article on the stresses of being a celebrity in the jungle or the desperate plight of those made in Chelsea then, again, that is what they will do.

Advertisers who send in the banner bombs to disrupt and distract will win no friends in their target market and are in danger of creating negative brand loyalty, a sort of anti-matter for brand growth.

Now, native advertising wouldn’t dream of being that pushy. Instead it sits on the library shelf, side by side with the editorial content, waiting to be picked up and sampled along with the other worthy content. It is great for the publishers because they appear to be giving even more value for the cover price, it’s great for the advertiser because they get some quality time with their market, and it’s great for the consumer because they get to watch quality content designed to be good on the device they’re using.

This is an incredibly exciting time for native advertisers. The challenge of developing high quality relevant content in so many different media, to be viewed on so many different platforms, has quadrupled both the contextual and the spatial dynamics of creating and delivering the message.

Even the message has changed, no longer an ‘invitation to treat’, to use the legal parlance, the promotional message in the native genre is much more an invitation to engage, the start of a relationship.

With the technical capability available in the digital world to measure and evaluate we have entered a time when we will be judging ads by the strength of their engagement, which potentially could track through the lifetime of a customer relationship. Brands that could achieve, via native content, a relationship resembling that between a series like Radio 4’s ‘The Archers’ and its audience could be on to a winner. It worked with Martini and Gold Blend on the television – it’s just a matter of rethinking the boundaries.

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Native – Honest, decent and truly effective advertising

By | Marketing, Native advertising

Those who are old enough to remember the Beatles appearing on the Royal Variety Performance will also probably remember the scandal of subliminal television ads in the 1960s. These were ads that flashed across the screen so quickly that the viewer wasn’t even aware of them, but the branding was lodged, supposedly, in the dark recesses of the mind, ready to creep out and take control of the host’s buying choices.

There are two huge reasons why there is no similarity between the covert subliminal strategy and native advertising, which is in contrast a strategy linked to enriching the overt relationship with the consumer.

The first difference is that there is no intention to deceive; clear labelling and branding ensure that the source of the content is not hidden. The host and the brand are both being honest with their audience.  It doesn’t have to be inappropriately dominant or aesthetically jarring to provide honest provenance.

Which leads to the second difference; that of delivering value. Subliminal advertising offered no value whatsoever to the viewer; they didn’t even know it was happening. Native advertising, on the other hand, only works when if offers value; when the content is interesting and relevant enough for the reader to continue the conscious process of wanting to read it.

Just take a look at the BMW sponsored content on Medium; it’s called Reform presented by BMW. We start off talking about ‘hacks’, the things people do to make products work for them, the innovative and imaginative ways we adapt stuff to overcome problems.

A page or so down and there’s a mention of a site called airbnb, a quick hyperlink and there’s a room in Barcelona for £10 per night. For the next half an hour of clicking lots of other bargain options to see the world on a budget have been explored. So, it’s back to the BMW sponsored content and working down to a piece called Plug Addiction talking about what happened when Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012 and the lights went out.

Fascinating stuff that has fuelled daydreams of travel and got the grey cells thinking about the human condition and what we might actually have to do if the lights really did go out for a long time. That’s what magazines like Medium are all about and this is one consumer who’s none the worse for passing a couple of BMW logos on the way.

Native advertising goes where the consumer is and talks to them in their language of choice. It’s called communication and is a major factor in the evolution of our species, as well as the evolution of marketing.

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Native ads – it’s the way you tell ‘em

By | Native advertising

In a major study into what makes native ads work so well, the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau – comprised of over 600 of the US leading digital marketers, representing 86% of online selling) and Edelman Bernard, global market insights and analytics specialists, have confirmed what the instinctive native evangelists have always known – it’s the match of content to consumer that is the key to successful engagement.

This was a significant piece of work; phase 1 involved focus groups taken from consumers visiting business, entertainment and/or general news sites several times a week. That informed phase 2, the larger online study of some 5,000 consumers with similar online histories.

The mechanics introduced were native feeds embedded with normal unsponsored content; respondents were asked both to identify ads and to evaluate the content generally.

The study should help all native novices to learn from those who have gone before, because their findings identify the key drivers of quality with great clarity. Experienced natives can learn a lot by looking at the detail.

For over 90% of the respondents ‘relevance’ was the most important factor in attracting them to content and then ensuring engagement with it.

For 81% brand awareness and trust was a driving factor, with 82% citing subject matter expertise as critical to engagement.

As this was a statistically relevant survey those big numbers are not to be ignored and there are lessons that can be driven from them.

Firstly the big one; relevance. This is not a quick trip to Wikipedia to find out more on a topic. This is presenting the consumer with content that is at the right depth and detail comparable with the unsponsored content, but also that gives some fresh insight or perspective.

Next, subject matter expertise. Again, Wikipedia (wonderful though it is) doesn’t cut it as research at this level of engagement. Marketers only have to look at how the language and jargon of digital marketing has become impenetrable to the outside world to understand how expertise presents itself.

Perhaps of most importance with expertise is that it is a moving tableaux; the expertise must be current and topical.

Brand awareness and trust is a slightly more difficult; in essence relevant and authoritative will not con an audience who are exposed to contradictory feeds that challenges a brand’s credentials. Just look at what the phone-hacking scandals did for the integrity of some areas of journalisms’ self-righteous exposés of others’ activities.

One of the most telling insights, for the producers of content, emerging from the study is that 60% of consumers are drawn to content that tells them a story rather than trying to sell of just expose a brand, and implicit in that is the level of engagement that would exist between content and consumer. Does this suggest possibilities of serial or series content that has the confidence to build the relationship slowly over time? The possibilities in that case are endless for expanding the native philosophy through complementary media.

According to the study 86% of consumers now accept that advertising is necessary to give them the free content that they want, so native storytellers let’s invite them in and give them relevant, well founded, current and entertaining tales – that way they’ll come back for more.