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A beginner’s guide to ads.txt and CBA

By | Banner - Publishers, main blog, Uncategorized

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 www.iabtechlab.com/how-to-ads-txt

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 www.betterads.org

 

 

 

 

engaging content student audience

Why engaging with students requires engaging content

By | Banner - Advertisers, Banner - Content Creation, Banner - Native Video, Banner - Reporting, Banner - True Native, Content, Content Marketing, Education, Native advertising

The shifting landscape

Declining application numbers have been a shock to the system across the higher education sector and have led to several major shifts. This year we witnessed a squeeze at the top, with the highest ranked 20 institutions competing for the brightest. Russell Group universities accepted ABB in the summer which had a knock-on effect right down the rankings and led universities to rethink their recruitment strategies.

Students are aware that it’s a buyer’s market, so are now shopping around, visiting multiple campuses to find the perfect university for them. Others are leaving it later to apply and some are waiting until August in the knowledge that even higher ranked institutions will offer places through clearing and confirmation.

Last year St George’s University became the first to offer medicine through clearing. This year, universities that used to mop up their last few places on results day, still had courses available days after to accommodate for late demand. Most institutions now offer a clearing open day to engage with students before they apply.

Making a first impression

The university is a unique institution, in that it’s marketing team must work to a particular cycle, communicating with a largely new audience each year. This presents a great opportunity to fine-tune your brand over time.

As a result, it’s crucial to make a high quality and lasting first impression with each student, each year. It makes such a difference if potential students understand who you are and what you’re all about before they are signposted towards course lists, prospectuses and open days.

student content

The power of your brand

With tightening budgets to work to, most unis are opting for high-intensity campaigns at key periods – January deadline, open days and clearing. This offers maximum impact and ensures that students are given every opportunity to register or apply. A downside of this strategy is that ads that feel transactional are less likely to influence students in making an important decision.

This problem is compounded by the intensity of competition for share of voice, making it hard to be heard above the crowd. Students are likely to see multiple university ads in a day, so how can any one ad stand out above the rest? Will students click on the first one they see? The most colourful? The most relevant? The most impressive stat?

Or will it be a brand that they have engaged with before and feel they recognise and want to explore further?

Education agency, SMRS, recently drew attention to the importance of brand in their HE marketing survey. 97% of respondents pointed to the increased importance of brand, above other recent impacts such as Brexit and the Teaching Excellence Framework.

student content

Being inspirational

When we talk about online brand engagement, we refer to the execution of meaningful, prolonged interactions with university content. Campaigns are often judged on the price of their clicks and the traffic they drive to a site, but this isn’t always the best way to build lasting and impactful brand awareness. Sometimes we should look beyond the click to really understand the results of a piece of activity.

We should consider the potential student’s experience and ask ourselves what students want from their interaction. If the aim is to win hearts and minds, we can’t be pushy, sending students to fill out a form without having something to offer. Universities are great at producing content but not so good at sharing it!

Departments, lecturers and student groups produce fascinating research every day and it’s exactly the kind of stuff that grabs attention and excites young people about getting stuck in and starting their student journey.

Be the one to spark that idea, that conversation, that inspiration, whilst quietly reinforcing your brand identity as an authority on the subject.

Engaging with a digital generation

The last few years have seen the rise of programmatic display ads which have led to campaigns that mine for direct response, opting for quantity over quality. At the same time, a digitally savvy generation has started holding advertisers to a higher standard. To have a chance of generating quality engagement with potential students, interactions have to become less transactional and more inspirational. To get engagement you must be engaging!

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Why native advertising is having an identity crisis

By | Banner - Advertisers, Banner - Content Creation, Banner - Native Video, Banner - Reporting, Banner - True Native, Native advertising

I’ve just read an extremely thought provoking article on what I believe to be the biggest challenge to both the native advertising industry (publishers and networks) and media agencies looking to sell native in to clients.

I didn’t just read Chad Pollitt’s piece ‘Native Advertising has a Terminology Problem. And It’s Not Pretty.’ once through – I read it three times. Not because Chad didn’t make sense, but because we’ve got to the stage where even for someone in the thick of this industry, I was still briefly confused.

If someone who works day in, day out in native advertising is having to re-read definitions, then what hope do media buyers (working across multiple platforms, media and formats) have? If one person’s native is Outbrain, and another’s long-form content on a premium publisher, then we have a problem. And that’s before we even look at the myriad of hybrids in the UK market.

Back to basics

Perhaps, it’s best to start with what most people agree is the definition of native advertising:

“Native advertising is paid advertising (media) where the ad matches the form, feel and function of the content of the media on which it appears.” (Native Advertising Institute)

This snappy description seems bulletproof, but it only tells half the story. It accurately describes the sponsored headline unit, the social media sponsored post – the shop window if you like. It’s what happens next which really defines the native format. What happens once the user has read the headline and clicked?

It’s all about the content

This brings us to the content. There’s long been confusion in the market between content marketing and native advertising.

This is one of the easier definitions to solve: Content marketing = your brand content. Native = the distribution channel. I could get into content marketing vs advertorial here (not overtly mentioning your product vs it being all about your product) but that will have to wait for another day.

Social media is somewhat ‘ronseal’ – a sponsored tweet looks like any other tweet, the same for Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook. These usually contain heightened CTAs such as the ‘Learn more’ or ‘Shop now’ banner on Instagram, before clicking to brand sites. Often, the post is simply re-targeting.

There is content, right?

So, what about the traditional publisher’s site? This is where it gets confusing for media buyers. I’d argue it’s all about what happens post-click. This is where the definition of native advertising seems to be far too broad. Any of the following could happen – the headline unit:

  • leads to content on the same publisher’s site
  • leads to content hosted on the brand site
  • opens up a lightbox containing brand content
  • plays video
  • doesn’t actually lead to any content at all. It’s a headline unit that simply clicks to a product page!

Essentially, your headline unit could behave in several different ways and in some instances, is no more than a re-badged direct response banner ad.

Here’s my attempt to clarify the main (non-video) formats on publisher’s sites:

Native advertising (sponsored content)

Non-programmatic, publisher direct sold headline units that lead to article pages in the same premium environment.

True Native (sponsored content)

Non-programmatic, ad served headline units that lead to article pages in the same premium environment.

Native display

An in-feed headline unit on a publisher site that clicks to a brand site which may or may not contain content marketing. Usually programmatic demand from exchanges and often re-targeting.

Content recommendation

The likes of Outbrain, Taboola and Rev. Self-serve headline units which click out, usually in blocks of 6 or 12 at the bottom of article pages. Usually DR campaigns or arbitrage.

Should ‘native advertising’ be redefined?

Chad argues that the confusion in the market is all about the definitions of types of content, I’d argue that there’s far more confusion over what a headline unit does.

Perhaps now is the time to separate premium sponsored content (in editorial environments) from what recent IAB UK native conference called ‘next generation display advertising’. Perhaps, the term ‘native advertising’ has had its day!

Decline in programmatic while mobile and native make big gains

By | Ad Spend

Programmatic ad buying fell by 12% in the first three months of 2017, versus the same time last year, new data from MediaRadar shows.

The numbers gathered from looking at advertising spending and buying patterns showed 39,415 advertisers bought ads programmatically in the first quarter, which compares to 45,008 in the same three months in 2016.

A lack of faith in programmatic buying has grown, thanks to concerns over fraud, brand safety and a lack of transparency in how ad prices are decided. This means companies and agencies are taking on more direct advertising, such as sponsored editorial or buying brand-safe PMPs (private marketplaces).

Advertisers worry about having little control of their ads

The main concern is that companies have less control over exactly where their ads appear when they are placed programmatically. Instead, a software-led process automates buying, placement, and optimisation via a bidding system.

Todd Krizelman, the CEO of MediaRadar, explained the decline was likely due to problems for companies like YouTube, but that the form of advertising was continually evolving. He expects to see new growth in programmatic buying, but a shift towards programmatic direct models.

Mobile and native formats saw the greatest growth overall

MediaRadar also found that high-CPM ads in mobile and native environments made the biggest gains. Native buyers were up 74% from 2016 to 2017. This is part of a bigger trend which has seen native almost triple since 2015. There were just 981 buyers in 2015, now there are 2,882.

This is because native has a click-through rate of up to four times more than non-native on mobile. People are also more likely engage with native content, as it is non-disruptive.

Overall, the top five sectors seeing success in buying native advertising were media and entertaining, professional services, financial and real estate, technology, and wholesale. The top five ad placers in the US for native were Secco Squared, Potential Investments, Answers Corp., NextAdvisor and JPMorgan Chase and the United States of America.

Video and specialist print ads also proved resilient

Video ads were also making money in the first quarter. Comcast, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, Toyota, and Verizon all put cash into ads with video. On mobile, Brown-Forman, Time Warner, Anheuser-Busch, Simplisafe, and Liberty Interactive had the highest number of placements.

Traditional media forms continued to decline. Print ad pages fell by 8% against last year after a 6% decrease in spending, but regional titles and specialist publications were still successful.

These conclusions were drawn from a study of 266,324 advertisers and considered their use of digital, native, mobile, video, email and print advertising.

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programmatic

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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Shared values, trust and mutual attraction – the native marriage

By | Marketing, Native advertising

When the editor and the advertiser meet at the new altar of perfect promotion, native media content, there is much more involved than a simple financial contract priced somewhere between free and rate card.

For a start, unless this relationship is based on sound shared values then the future is likely to be a rocky road for both parties, where warm embrace becomes aggressive and adversarial stand-off. In the case of native advertising the most important shared value is that of being totally committed to delivering value to the target audience. Often there is some confusion on what that actually means, with the editorial stance being purist and beyond the taint of commercial influence; while the advertiser wants to ultimately sell stuff to the audience who engage with that media because they tend to be interested in the sort of stuff the advertiser wants to sell.

The reality, of course, is that both partners in this marriage desperately need each other. The success of new media outlets, whether magazines, social media or other online publishers, ultimately depends on their ability to attract advertising revenue. For advertisers they will always need opportunities to talk to their markets and, if the market changes the media that it looks at or develops a preference for a new social meeting place, the advertiser must ensure they are there.

It’s this mutual dependency that dictates the need for a deep level of trust. The advertiser must not try to con the audience so carefully gathered by the editorial, perhaps taking the opportunity to make rapid bucks from a readership lulled into a false sense of security by the native advertorial style. Such a move would be the native advertising equivalent of infidelity and the relationship would be devalued if not destroyed completely.

The responsibility of the editorial team is to ensure that the unsponsored core offer is of the highest quality; native advertising does not mean that the editor can sit back and leave the provision of value to the advertiser. Perhaps the key challenge for the media is to maintain a very clear mission and unambiguous statement of why it exists; that then defines content and audience and allows the advertiser to craft content that will appeal. If the editorial content starts to veer in strange directions, perhaps driven by a need for higher numbers or too much leeway given to individual editors; then native advertising simply becomes advertising.

The real cement that holds this marriage together though will always be mutual attraction. The native content must be as interesting, attractive and well-crafted to the audience as anything produced from the editorial office. The advertiser gains credibility by showing that building a relationship with the editor’s ‘family’ is more important than jamming a foot in the door and starting the hard sell; that takes confidence in the brands they represent and respect for the market they serve.

Consumers love a successful celebrity marriage and native advertising will inevitable produce a good number of those.