Young people on smartphones

Creativity + UX. The ultimate guide to creating great online ads

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

In 2005 Bill Gates declared:

“The future of advertising is the internet”.

When asked about building big brands online he said:

“That is the thing that traditional advertising is better at…. but as it moves to the digital realm it will be hard to talk about what is and isn’t internet advertising.”

With UK advertisers spending £11.55bn a year online, it’s fair to say the gap between online and offline has not only been closing financially, but also creatively as new formats develop and old formats are redesigned for new distribution channels – vertical video for example.

Whilst TV, print and OOH were once considered the creative and brand formats, the world of online advertising has upped its game in the battle against ad blockers. Nobody wants poor digital advertising – consumers don’t want annoying interruptive ads and publishers (reliant on ad revenue to keep content free) certainly don’t want people leaving their site due to bad ad experiences. The answer is twofold – creativity and ensuring the UX is seamless. Research has found that 78% of UK adults dislike ads that are not suitable for the device they are using.

With this in mind, the fine folks at IAB UK have brought the industry together to produce a creative best practice guide. It started life, as most things do, with a good moan-up about all the bad ads we’ve seen and happily manifested itself into a useful guide of things you can do to make sure your creative is as good as humanly possible!

The aim of the project was to produce:

“A simple and actionable set of guidance to help you ensure that your digital advertising not only looks great but also works beautifully on the platform that it is served.”

You’ll find my missives on why you should select the right native format for your campaign and the value exchange between brands and consumers here.

Digital content creation best practice

Native distribution best practice

You’ll also great advice on creative best practice across a range of channels: native, content, video, mobile, audio, performance and search. The full guide is here.

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 - Publishers, 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!

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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native

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 advertising Smartphone

How we helped visualise the native landscape

By | Company News, Native advertising, Uncategorized

I recently wrote a piece entitled ‘Help! Which type of native advertising should I choose?’. Its purpose? To cut through some of the jargon bandied around in the industry when it comes to describing different forms of native.

Given the growing importance of native within the digital ad landscape, it’s no surprise that it’s also something the IAB have been wrestling with. As members of the IAB’s Content & Native Council, we’ve been helping the industry define the various executions of native in the UK.

It all started with a framework back in May. Here you’ll find the three types of native the council decided to define based on how content-based media spends are invested:

Native distribution ad formats:

These are ad units that mirror a publisher’s overall style and layout. This encompasses in-feed click-out and content recommendation units. These are usually a click-out from the headline unit to the brand’s site or landing page. Sometimes called programmatic native display.

Publisher hosted and / or made:

This is for on-site editorial-based content and falls into three categories:

1. Publisher controlled content. Essentially content that the advertiser has no control over. Often this content won’t be directly related to the brand. They are simply sponsoring its production.

2. Publisher hosted and / or made. This is where advertisers partner with publishers or networks such as TAN Media to provide or support editorial-based content. Content sign-off is from the brand.

3. Joint publisher/advertiser controlled commercial content. This is defined as ‘made by publisher and/or brand, enabled by brand but may have been produced even without brand funding’. It’s publisher controlled but with brand input.

Brand-owned:

This defined as ‘any form of content which is conceived, owned and managed by an advertiser.’ This can include social media channels or brand websites for example – essentially anything that’s not on a publisher’s website.

You can find the exact definitions on the IAB Website here. And whilst frameworks and charts are all very helpful as a starting point, actually seeing the various executions in situ is what really brings this project to life.

With that in mind, the IAB tasked suppliers with helping create a Content and Native Gallery. The 50-page PDF is now available for download on the IAB site.

You’ll find our contribution (including case studies) in section 2 – Advertiser-controlled commercial content, following the Guardian and Telegraph, so please take a look.

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How native advertising is set to dominate digital media

By | Native advertising, Technology, Uncategorized

Native advertising is predicted to make up over 50% the display media bought across Europe by 2020.

We may only be a few months in to 2016 but it’s already shaping up to be a breakthrough year for native advertising. A new report forecasts a massive €13.2 billion native ad spend around Europe by 2020 – spectacular growth of 156% compared to the €5.2 billion companies spent on native ads in 2015.

In Britain alone, the market was worth £1.2 billion last year. That figure is set to more than double to £2.8 billion by 2020, according to the study, carried out by Yahoo and Enders Analysis and unveiled at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The move to mobile

That’s sweet music to the ears of online publishers who are currently struggling against a number of advertising headwinds, most notably the marked trend among consumers away from the larger screens of laptops and PCs to the much smaller screens of mobile devices.

Display advertising is challenged on smaller screens, so native in-feed advertising makes far more sense from both viewabilty and user experience perspectives.

Opt-in advertising

Additionally, surveys are finding that consumers actually appreciate native as adding value, compared to blaring and brash display ads they’re not overly fond of – one reason fewer people are clicking them.

A true native execution is the ultimate ‘opt-in’ advertising and a world away from the intrusive splurges which shield entire homepages or launch a video that’s impossible to switch off. If the reader choses to engage with on-site, clearly labelled sponsored content, that’s exactly what they get.

The future is native

The new study found that native advertising will amount to 52% of all display advertising in European markets by 2020, and – reflecting the swing to mobile – native ads for mobile will soar from €1.5 billion last year to €8.8 billion in less than four years’ time.

So, it’s increasingly looking like publishers and advertisers are embracing a native future together, with everyone benefiting – even consumers!

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true native brand awareness

Why native is the perfect brand awareness channel

By | Native advertising

The Content Marketing Institute have just released a compelling new white paper ‘Is Native Advertising The New Black’. Despite its monochrome title, the report is anything but, with plenty of interesting trends from the US.

Written content remained the most popular form of native, with articles and blog content leading the way. The main motivation for marketers using native as a channel (41%) is the ability to target and retarget customers and buyers in the sales funnel.

This makes perfect sense as native is the ideal top to middle of the funnel activity. It’s hard to sell something with no brand awareness and long form content is a great way to educate your audience about your product / offering. Indeed, the report reveals that main goal for content marketers using native advertising was to create brand awareness (63%).

Another reason marketers chose native as a channel (32%) was to “break through the clutter of banner advertising.” Banner blindness has been a challenge for display buyers for many years now, so putting content within content makes sense. Our execution of native (True Native) does just this, ensuring that your content gets maximum exposure within editorial.

The full report is available for download on the CMI’s website.

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Content creation

The science of headline images

By | Content Marketing, Native advertising

Humans are visual creatures. 65% of us are visual learners, according to the Social Science Research Network. Most of us process information based on what we see rather than simply the text that we read and this has long been recognised in education and the development of learning materials.

But we don’t stop being visual as soon as we leave school, it’s a characteristic that stays with us for our whole lives, and almost all of us are highly visual across the spectrum of our activities. Display advertising has, since its earliest beginnings, used powerful and highly evocative images that support the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Native images

Which is why Sarah Mandato, Director of Content Solutions at Nativo, is so right to remind us of the importance of headline images in our native advertising. We tend to focus on headlines when we evaluate or design content, but the headline image is actually doing the talking for a good proportion of the audience.

Mandato goes on to give seven tips for choosing visuals. She talks about being authentic; for example, pictures of real people rather than models, because most people only engage with real people, not mannequins, albeit living, breathing ones. She also carries that argument through to the use of stock-shots. We all need to fall back on them sometimes but they’re just not real enough to engage as a headline image.

Next she warns us against using product shots and again, in the context of native advertising, she makes the strong point that native engages by sharing the aspirations and the interests of the audience. It’s not the pack that sells, it’s showing the interested visitor that you understand what they’re trying to achieve.

Joined up thinking

Whatever visuals you choose, it’s obviously important that they should be hi-res and eye-catching, but it’s just as important that they connect with the headline and the body content. This aligns with the very heart of native that everything they see and read should add value to the experience; no ‘clickbait’ as Sarah Mandato describes it, and not too busy either because it won’t translate well on the smaller mobile screen.

Particular care should be taken when setting up auto campaigns. The spirit of native is that the content sits perfectly within the editorial stream; a headline image that has no obvious connection with the editorial environment will just scream ‘spam’.

Well-seasoned

With Christmas already a major theme on the high street, it’s worth saying a word about seasonality. Keeping in step with the seasons in both our content and visuals reinforces the currency of our content; out of season clothes and activities only really works if you’re trying to promote next year’s holiday.

Sarah Mandato’s final tip comes from the wisdom of all disciplines; test, test and test again. Play around with some of the variables that are in your control, and don’t worry too much about those that aren’t, such as what else is on during your live time.

Thanks to Sarah for some great insights; another example of how native advertising is building on its own experience, day by day.

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geo-targeting for native campaigns

Why you should be geo-targeting native campaigns

By | Native advertising, Technology

The days of blanket advertising in the hope of reaching as large an audience as possible so that a small, or even tiny, percentage of people might buy your products or services are quickly coming to an end.

That, of course, is for the physical world, while online, where the marketing dollars are increasingly being spent, it’s all about precision targeting and getting real and instant results.

The developing technologies that enable geo-targeting bring a laser-like focus to digital marketing and allow companies to individualise their campaigns to all their markets, so they have a local presence in them that serves to drastically boost their profits.

This highly localised form of targeting markets is based on a number of signals, from the IP address of a computer accessing a server to GPS, mobile and other data, such as Wi-Fi.

It’s these unique identifiers that inform server software where you are, and allow them to provide you with information relevant to the market you’re in. Every time you search for something on Google or any other search engine, for instance, that’s geo-targeting in action.

It’s incredibly effective because it gives results that users can use and business for companies in the area. You’re in London and search online for a great restaurant for an after-work party on Friday but the results page lists restaurants in New York? That’s not going to work, for any party.

Geo-targeting native campaigns

Now let’s mix geo-targeting with a method of advertising that’s really come into its own in recent times: native advertising. This online form of promotion has fast overtaken the traditional banner ad on websites as a way to attract audiences and generate new revenues, and for good reason.

People are clicking less on banner ads and paying them far less attention in general, and as a result the ad rates have been plummeting – bad for the business, bad for the publisher.

We know that, online, it’s all about the content – good content – because, after all, what do people do on the internet? They consume media, be it the printed word, pictures and other images or videos. So melding advertorial, as it was once known in the offline world, with online content has emerged as a sure-fire way for companies to engage audiences and gain additional sales. Plus, it provides marketers with more accuracy and detail in analysis and reporting.

Sharing the love

Like all kinds of digital marketing, you want the highest ROI as possible, and that means as few wasted clicks as possible. Just as with our search engine results for restaurants half a world away, there’s little point serving native advertising to people in markets where it’s irrelevant. It’s wasted impressions and must be eliminated.

Geo-targeting allows you to run different campaigns in different locations and vary your marketing message according to the area that you target.

67% of smartphone users want the ads displayed to them customised to their area, implying that matching the content you create for online to the visitor’s location can lead to viable business results.

You can easily achieve this by distributing your brand’s content through our native advertising platform. Content is placed within the relevant editorial sections and homepages of the UK’s most-loved publications, reaching your geo-targeted audience.

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