Has programmatic become problematic?

By | Brand Safety, Content Marketing, Marketing, Native advertising

The rise of programmatic advertising has been nothing short of spectacular, with the IAB predicting that programmatic will account for 80-90% of display ad sales by 2019.

Its rapid growth is unsurprising given the problems it has solved, namely audience targeting and unsold inventory. By introducing real-time bidding (RTB) on every ad impression, advertisers can bid for the eyeballs of each individual user based on their browsing history and other data sources. Want to reach a 47 year old female, earning a fair whack who likes sports cars? No problem…

Brand safety becomes the hot topic

Except there was a problem. In March, The Times ran the headline: Big brands fund terror through online adverts. Their investigation focused on sites including YouTube where programmatic ads for major global brands were found to be alongside extremist content.

The fallout grew greater each day as more and more media agencies pulled their ads from Google’s ad exchange. As we noted on this blog when ads were pulled from alleged ‘fake news’ sites:

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

But it’s not just user-generated content sites like YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr or Instagram that represent a potential danger for brands. There’s also been an exodus from editorial sites like Breitbart – the controversial Alt-right news organisation – and copyright-infringing sites such as those streaming live sport without owning the rights. Ads have also been found on pornographic sites.

I don’t suppose brand safety concerns were top of the agenda for most programmatic buyers; performance by way of finding the target audience trumped everything, but one thing’s for sure – it’s now their number one priority.

Good news for traditional publishers? 

Ironically, one of the campaigns which first sparked this controversy was for a publisher. The Guardian pulled ads for its membership scheme from Google’s Adx ad exchange when they were discovered next to extremist content.

Ironic, because it’s traditional publishers which stand to benefit the most from the fallout. News UK’s chief executive, Robert Thompson didn’t hold back with his take on the tech giant:

“It is risible, no, beyond risible, that Google/YouTube, which has earned, literally, hundreds of billions of dollars from other peoples’ content, should now be lamenting that it can’t possibly be held responsible for monitoring that content – monetizing yes, monitoring no.” Press Gazette

1XL, which represents local newspaper publisher’s Johnston Press, Newsquest, Archant and DC Thompson issued a statement suggesting that agencies place ads with them rather than:

“blind programmatic ad buying which is placing household brands next to extremist content and fake news”.

What next for advertisers?

Over the past few weeks I’ve had many calls and emails from media agencies asking us to confirm where their client’s ads are running.

As we operate our own network with direct publisher integration, I can easily list every site down to individual sections and placements – in short, we can offer complete transparency and brand safety. I suspect others in the digital space have probably not had such an easy ride.

What many advertisers don’t realise is quite how many exchanges their ads are passing through before being spat out at the other end. Knowing where your ad is being served when bids and ad calls are being made in a fraction of a second on millions of websites is nigh on impossible.

So perhaps it’s time to take another look at the walled garden traditional publishers can offer, after all, could it be that the environment your ad is served in is as important as the targeting?

Essential for native

Thus far, the programmatic problem has only affected display advertising, but

with some display being tweaked to look more like native, it seems obvious that native advertising should be leading by example. After all, when sites are associated with your content, they should be completely brand safe.

As a final thought, I’ll leave you with three things I’d be asking any native provider:

  1. Can you provide me with a full site list?
  2. Can I blacklist any sites I don’t consider right for the brand?
  3. Can you pause campaigns down to individual placements by next impression?

If they can’t answer all three, I’d be looking elsewhere.

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5 trends for native advertising in 2017

By | Content Marketing, Marketing, Native advertising, Technology, Videos

Having firmly established its place on media plans over the past year, content & native in-feed advertising accounted for an impressive 29% of display in 2016. So, what does the new year hold for native? Here’s 5 trends we’ll be keeping a close eye on:

Measurement, Measurement, Measurement

When someone as gigantic as Facebook struggles with metrics, the spotlight really falls on if a 3 second video view really is engagement, or simply someone scrolling past to consume more of the thing they were actually there for in the first place? There’s also been plenty of talk about moving away from obsessing over clicks, so perhaps 2017 will be the year when quality of engagement trumps sheer quantity.

Viewability remains a red hot topic

I’m sitting in a coffee shop writing this, having just purchased an Americano. Unsurprisingly it filled the cup. Had it only have been 70% full, I’d have asked why and certainly wouldn’t have paid full price. Remarkably, media agencies are still asking ‘how viewable’ our inventory is so they can price this in. We’ve always delivered native on a vCPM (a 100% viewable CPM) – others are moving towards a CPV or CPE (costs per view or engagement) – one thing is for sure though, the days of charging for unseen impressions must finally be coming to an end.

Trust becomes ever more important

In the new era of ‘fake news’ the credibility of brand content becomes increasingly important. Spammy headlines that lead to unrelated content are bad news for both the sites they appear on and the companies using them. Expect to see big brands becoming more cautious about placements and being seen alongside other campaigns with less credible clickbait creative.

Picture-perfect! The increasing use of visual formats

Video distribution has been one of the fastest growing areas of online advertising so it’s easy to forget the power of great photography. We’ve already worked with some great photo essays for brands. There’s also plenty of hype around 360 VR – our team has been experimenting with this on mobile and it looks fantastic – expect to see more.

Rejection of interruptive formats

Ad blocking continued to be the hot topic during the past year. It was hard to find anyone to disagree with the fact that the industry had brought this upon themselves by annoying the hell out of people – obscuring the content that audiences were there to consume. Many publishers are turning their backs on these formats realising that it creates massive UX issues.

Stay-on-site True Native is just one way to create a non-interruptive user experience whist maintaining revenues. If 2016 was the year of interruption, 2017 is definitely shaping up to be the year of usability and engagement. The two really do go hand in hand.

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Native content guaranteed to get completely viewed

By | Marketing, Native advertising

Well, not just the native content, but all online content. Now that online activity on mobiles has overtaken that on laptops and desktops, it makes no sense that the mobile user should have a worse experience when viewing content.

This is a great example of an industry that is driving its own standards up and not waiting to be told it must improve. The actual required standard for ‘viewability’, set by the Media Ratings Council, is 50% of the ad’s pixels to be visible on screen for one second; in other words, if that standard is met, the ad is deemed to satisfy the contract terms.

Seeing is believing

But the industry says that’s just not good enough, nothing less than 100% is acceptable. And that is exactly what is happening with several of the leading players, such as Nativo and inPowered, giving the guarantee that if anything less than 100% of the ad is visible, the client pays nothing.

To add credibility to the promise, Nativo have tapped online intelligence and analytics specialists Moat to provide the essential third party verification.

So that sets the bar for the technical side of ad design, but what about the content quality?

Once again, the leading lights of the industry are setting the pace with inPowered offering guarantees on viewer engagement too, defined as the proportion of viewers staying for at least 15 seconds or sharing. Hold your breath and count to 15 slowly and you realise that it is quite a long time in surfing terms and really does mean that content standards will have to be pretty sharp to honour the pledge. Once again, no engagement, no pay.

Reading is engaging

All content providers will have to learn what native advertisers have been mastering for some years: engagement created by good writing and graphics matched to the tone and category of the publication. A good headline and a rewarding first paragraph soon takes the reader to the point of no return where they want to read to the end.

That is going to be a challenge for those producing display ads that have long been designed on the basis of making the most of a two second or less engagement with the viewer. In the new world that means you’ve got another 13 seconds to fill if you want to get paid and, let’s face it, there are only so many videos of dogs on skateboards and cute kiddies falling asleep in their food that the world can take.

So, new standards have been set for both technical viewability and content engagement backed by hard cash guarantees. This is digital marketing’s version of ‘it does what it says on the tin’ – a promise of effectiveness.

Of course, that has always been a part of native folklore handed down through the generations; entertain, inform and show respect and 15 seconds stretches to become a long-term customer relationship.

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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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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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The Sun shines on native growth

By | Marketing, Native advertising

The recent announcement that The Sun, The Times and the Sunday Times, in the form of News UK, are making a major investment to ensure they don’t miss out on the incredible momentum of native advertising is great news all round.

The fact that they join the Guardian in recognising that sponsored content is the way forward means that most of the UK’s top influential papers are part of this growing club. That, in turn, means we can expect the rest to be joining in the very near future.

This exactly reflects what is happening in the States, with more and more of the publishers getting on board. Fortune magazine described native advertising as the Holy Grail of digital publishing and their leading papers, such as the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and New York Times, are pulling in the revenue benefit of having been native for some time. Fortune says that in 2013 a staggering $2.4 billion was spent in the US on native ads; that is an unbelievable leap of 77% over 2012.

As with any growth phenomenon, some on the periphery are asking whether it will last. Is it just the latest ‘thing’ in an industry still smarting from the wounds received in the financial crisis of the last decade?

The answer is a resounding ‘no’ because this is the great thing about native advertising or sponsored content, whatever you choose to call it. Yes it is trending, it’s trending big time, but it’s not just a trend because people are bored with the ageing alternatives, it’s successful because it’s built on the sound marketing fundamentals of matching benefits to the needs of the customer.

Having proved themselves in the digital marketplace these titles are now starting to charge for full access to their content and, more importantly, readers seem happy to pay. The challenge for the publishers is to keep them happy to pay. One of the problems in the old paper world was that the reader had to plough through so many pages of irrelevant (remember – perception is reality) advertising; advertising that they had to pay for within the cover price. With so many other news media available it wasn’t surprising circulations were falling.

Native advertising is the means by which that mistake will not be repeated in the digital world, because the native content will be as interesting, relevant and entertaining as the rest of the content. The ability of websites to recognise the visitor and tailor the content to them, is something that could never have been done with massive printing presses and print runs in millions. Even today that aspect of digital technology is still in its infancy but it is probably the area where the most investment is taking place. Eventually the person going online will immediately see a digital world tailored to their preferences, and that is when native will be in its element.

The days of trawling for prospects to sell at will be a thing of the past; advertisers will form a bond with the publication and together they will form a relationship with the consumer.

So welcome to the new world of native, News UK.

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Resisting that native urge to sell

By | Marketing, Native advertising

Anyone who has spent any time in market research for their own products will know how difficult it is, when you find an interested and communicative respondent, not to start trying to sell them product.

It’s just a part of the entrepreneurial psyche, a native urge if ever there was one, to never turn your back on a sales opportunity. You want that close, you want that ‘yes’; it’s in your business DNA, it’s the source of your adrenalin rush.

In market research we know that we have to use left brain listening; dispassionately taking in what the respondent is saying, perhaps starting to analyse and categorise it for later investigation. But as soon as we sniff a sales opening, our left brain listening shuts down, giving way to our right brain listening; a far more creative if excitable mode that instead searches the words heard, for an opportunity to build towards a close.

Walking away from a potential customer hurts like hell, but if quality research is what you’re after then keeping the left side switched on and the right side just ticking over is critical.

The same is true, it would seem, for native advertising. The recent survey undertaken by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Edelman Berland, global market insights and analytics specialists, came out with some major guidelines from consumers to advertisers and publishers.

The top scorers were, of course:

Keep it relevant: if the reader has come to a site named Gardening Advice, then they are clearly looking for gardening advice and any content should sit easily within that heading.

Subject expertise: whatever you are talking about in your sponsored space make sure it is authoritative and genuine, as with any other content you may end up having to join in a forum or answer readers’ letter; after all that’s what the ‘real’ content makers have to do.

Be a trustworthy brand: in other words you must really want to be a part of the community, not just rolling in to town to sell a batch of cure-all snake oil.

Those were the big issues, which came as no surprise to those of us who went native years ago. However, in the findings published by IAB and Edelman Berland there was also this single line that said “Tell stories, share your expertise but avoid the urge to sell.”

Native advertisers must not become like the old door-to-door sales people; using some notionally interesting content to jam a foot in the door before going into full sales over-drive. Native is for the long term, bonding and forming relationships because of the interests that you share and the trust that you develop.

So, how do you tame those urges when, ultimately, selling product is why you’re in business and why you want to sponsor content?

Try reversing the message of a recent mobile phone ad; we actually need to ‘be more cat’, stalking and nurturing our target, not charging at it in a flurry of paws, barking, ears and wagging tail like an over-excited hound dog.

Gently does it; build the relationship with knowledgeable, authoritative content and your time will most definitely come. If you’re entertaining and found in the places your audience like to go to; if you seem decent and honourable and caring about the same things, then why would they want to go to anyone else.

If the urges start to come back, think cat; think left brain listening.

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Keeping ‘prosumers’ content

By | Marketing

Prosumers, which you have probably already guessed means something along the lines of professional consumers, have a lot in common with ordinary consumers. In particular, they share the fact that for the most part they are also human beings and, as such, share a common tendency to want to be respected, informed and entertained when someone intrudes into their busy life.

Prosumers, or the wallet holders in the B2B markets, are not the catalogue and discount jockeys that business history tends to portray. Supply chain relationships are key to every successful strategy and that makes the relationship between buyer and seller one of exploring value adding opportunities, not the adversarial price plus inducement recipe that may exist in some parts.

The other reason the prosumers are very important is that for ever consumer product to be offered to the market, there are probably dozens of B2B transactions that have been concluded to make that offer.

So how do our prosumers want us to engage with them? Well according to the Huffington Post there are a number of factors that are very similar to the consumer interface and a number that are significantly different.

At its most simplistic the balance is that consumers want to be predominantly entertained in a possibly informative way, while prosumers want to be informed in a possibly entertaining way. Consumers want ideas and challenges; prosumers want solutions and certainty.

The prosumer purchase is part of a jigsaw of purchases that must come together for the whole to work. The A380 (a product of some 4,000,000 parts) was delayed for two years partly because the wiring looms were not long enough and did not meet; the French and German buyers who specified the purchase were probably not the most popular people on the planet and no doubt the lawsuits roll on.

To be attracted to your content that prosumer will have to be quickly assured that it is relevant and authoritative at the correct technical level; that somewhere within there may be a solution to a problem, or an innovation that could become an opportunity. The prosumer also needs facts and figures; not just the metrics of budgetary justification but the scientific and technical facts and figures that let them adjudge relevance quickly.

Respect, response and reliability are major components of B2B relationship building; typical supply chain buy cycles are considerably longer than in consumer markets, anything from weeks or months in food to several years in an industry like aviation. That means a lot more opportunity for a prospect to drop out of the sales funnel and even more opportunity for a competitor’s content to attract attention.

Of course these are not new insights to anyone who works in B2B, but they are important to content producers who are leading the way in developing native strategies for B2B channels and media. The online world has become awash with content clamouring to be noticed and that will inevitably spill over into the more technically differentiated prosumer world.

Native advertising – your Time (Inc) has come

By | Marketing, Native advertising

It’s incredibly satisfying when the big movers and shakers in the media world start showing that they believe what you have believed, and shouted about, for at least this millennium; the raw power of native advertising.

Only a few days ago the mighty Time Inc. announced the formation of a new eight-person team whose mission is to build their profile in developing native ads. This is no ‘toe-in-the-water’ venture either; CEO Joe Ripp has put two of his top people in charge; chief content officer Norm Pearlstine and executive vice president Mark Ford.

Pearlstine and Ford were not slow to get started, quickly grabbing Chris Hercik, previously creative director of the Sports Illustrated Group, as vice president for the native commitment and both Hercik and Ford have already joined the front line to deal with the native detractors.

‘We’re not trying to trick people. We’re just trying to create great content’, Ford reassured those who are still coming to terms with the spirit of native content. Hercik too disputes any suggestion that it is underhand, “Creativity is agnostic, as long as it is mutually beneficial to the brand and the advertiser”. Read More

Native integrity wins out in robot fraud war

By | Marketing, Native advertising, Technology

It’s a sad truism of the human state that no sooner do we create some amazing advancement of technology then someone comes along and develops an antidote to the benefit. Think computers followed by viruses, think credit card followed by cloning and identity theft; almost anything we’ve ever done has been compromised by the tendency for evil to follow good around like some kind of parasitic pariah.

Take real time bidding and advertising exchanges for example. Within one hundred milliseconds of someone accessing a web page, the system has identified their browsing habits, along with demographic and preference data, put the target up for auction and sold the ad space to an interested party for immediate exposure to that user.

Even if the thought of the real-you being so easily sold on is a little discomforting, you have to admit that the very fact that we can do that, in the mere blink of an eye, is pretty incredible. For the advertiser such targeting pushes up the click-through rate substantially, compared to more random exposure, which in turn has pushed up the pay-per-click rates to reflect the benefit.  Read More