Goodbye Ad Targeting , Ad Tech Turns Creative

Marketing and ad tech companies are becoming more involved in creative planning and production.

Ad tech vendors compete to out-optimize campaigns by even a fraction of a percent, said McKinsey partner Ed See, who leads the consultancy’s marketing practice.

“But in the past few years, the power of targeting has mostly run its course,” See said, and now the data-driven competition for media budgets is eyeing creative as a way to drive ROI.

The trend directly impacts agency holding companies with legacy creative and digital media. WPP, for instance, recently took two of its storied creative shops, Young & Rubicam and J. Walter Thompson, and merged each with a data-driven agency, VML and Wunderman, respectively, as a way to reinvigorate their production.

“The last few years the industry has been laser-focused on efficiencies,” said Wesley ter Haar, co-founder and COO of the creative agency MediaMonks, which is known for shipping content quickly for dynamic content optimization (DCO) and was acquired late last year by S4 Capital. “What hasn’t happened much until recently is taking feedback from the data and trading and incorporating that back into creative.”

Souped up DCO

For many, the phrase “programmatic creative” conjures up DCO, but adoption has been limited to performance advertisers relying on a handful of vendors to execute advanced retargeting campaigns.

“Now that marketers are writing actual predictive models for creative optimization that feed into programmatic bidders, DCO will gather incredible pace,” said Nikki Mendonça, Accenture Interactive’s global president of operations.

And marketing tech companies are investing more in creative data services.

Adobe in particular has lately made progress connecting creative to media. In addition to integrating its own Creative Cloud and Experience Cloud, the company has struck partnerships with WPP and Accenture that grant content and creative agencies access to media via API integrations.

“In the past year customers have been asking for a much faster pace to share creative content to advertising,” said Elliot Sedegah, Adobe’s group manager for strategy and product marketing.

Connecting the Creative Cloud to programmatic media is a priority for Adobe right now, Sedegah said, because marketers are figuring out how creative design drives data-driven advertising and could bring a new wave of value to Adobe’s creative product suite.

Data-driven creative is mostly hypothetical but is bringing the right people together at earlier stages in the campaign strategy, See said. “It reminds me of the early days of multitouch attribution when brands had a sense that it was something they needed and began implementing and testing it across their partners.”

What does it take to measure creative?

Creative optimization isn’t for the faint of heart.

A brand needs to be committed to significant investments in A/B testing and post-impression surveys and ideally run multitouch attribution and media mix modeling, See said.

“Brands need a concrete creative metric or score in order to optimize in real-time, but if you just do last-touch measurement and some A/B testing it isn’t going to work,” See said.

For DCO to work, the creative strategy agency needs to have “a handshake relationship” with media buyers, ter Haar said. Only brands with strong in-house marketing tech have that feedback loop, he said, but tech vendors or agencies like MediaMonks can start with incremental steps like optimizing creative based on location or time of day to demonstrate ROI and get brands more interested in cloud technology and other investments to back DCO.

The weight loss and health brand WW (recently rebranded from Weight Watchers) began using a creative metric to optimize campaigns last year and found it more effective than optimizing direct engagements like clicks, said Darryl Hall, the company’s digital special projects manager. WW uses Flashtalking’s Creative Performance Index, a product for optimizing based on creative.

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Shopping ads for the small budget: Here’s what to expect in 2019

This year may (finally) see the end of feeds, but we can also expect an increasing adoption of smart shopping campaigns and more advanced bidding strategies with Bing Ads for smaller budgets.

Believe it or not, a new year is upon us (our surprise, of course, being in the speed of its arrival rather than the arrival itself) and in accordance with previous predictions, Shopping Ads are more important than ever for the e-commerce marketers toolbox.

What I have found to be frustrating about Shopping Ads at times, is that most articles and presentations seem to be primarily geared towards larger brands and accounts.

But what about smaller budgets? Marketing Land approached me with the idea of writing a predictions post for the SMB shopping advertiser and I loved it!

Here are my thoughts on what we can expect from Shopping Ads for smaller accounts in 2019. Please note that these aren’t completely devoid of value for larger Shopping Ads advertisers, they are just specifically created with the smaller budget account in mind.

1. The (true) beginning of the end of feeds

I think we will see full integration of Google’s page crawling service into Google Merchant Center by the 2019 holidays. In other words, I think we’ll see the feed begin it’s gasping, final breaths. To continue the metaphor at the risk of being somewhat violent… I’ll happily cheer (and assist, if possible) its demise.

I have often thought that of all the things for Google to invest its algorithm and machine learning and brain power regarding Ads, why not take the fairly easy step of eliminating the need for a product feed since virtually every important product element is already listed on the product page.

Yes, I realize there are many complicated things that go into this, but keep in mind I am writing this post to small brands or retailers.

My experience has been that with a few exceptions, limited budget accounts tend to be somewhat simplistic in product changes. That is, elements in the feed once set, rarely change with the exception of new products or updated pricing and stock status. By the way, those last two are already included in automatic item updates and already fully automated based on page data.

Because many small brands are also making a feed themselves, and have limited budgets, a feed provider isn’t always a great solution (and neither is Google Sheets for those with too many products to add manually) since they still have to get the product data uploaded to the feed provider.  It would be simpler for retailers or brands to request Google scrape their site for data so they can be feed free. I have a suspicion that many of them would go that route.

What about data accuracy? If all advertisers don’t use some form of structured data markup then doesn’t that mean we’ll just get what Google wants us to have?

A valid concern, but in my opinion:

  1. Google is filled with brilliant engineers. If they can’t write a program to tell when there is a product description or price on the page even if that doesn’t have the exact correct markup then c’mon. (That’s my cynicism talking.)
  2. Feed rules could be used by smart advertisers to tell Google what to map each field to based on the options that Google gives them (in this fantasy non-feed world of mine).
  3. Feeds would still be an option (also why I don’t think third party feed providers are doomed… well, at least the ones who offer optimization assistance. The ones who simply push up fields, yeah, they’re doomed eventually if they don’t evolve). Some advertisers will want to specifically control and test with feeds and they could be set to override anything Google pulls.
  4. Individual field kill-switches. Similar to automatic item updates currently, I’d expect to see an option for brands to be able to kill specific fields that they don’t want running that Google suggests.

Think of it though, all of those suggested fields that no small advertisers fill out, unless they are 4.0 students who can’t stand to leave test answers blank, would automatically be pulled.

While we’re probably still a little bit away from this, I think the signs are there that Google is focused on adding it. Remember that they announced automated feeds last July (start at 48:00), but to my knowledge, they’ve been silent since.

The warning signs are there. This is on Google’s radar and I think 2019 will be the year we see it pushed out.

2. Increased adoption of smart shopping campaigns

While many advertisers I speak to dislike the control Smart Shopping campaigns have taken away, others have begrudgingly noted the ROAS (Return on Ad Spend) success they have observed in these campaigns.

My experience so far has been fairly mixed. As can be expected because of the need for data to feed the hungry algorithms, I’ve certainly noticed more success in larger accounts than smaller accounts in running Smart Shopping.

Because of that, I still can’t personally suggest Smart Shopping campaigns to smaller advertisers. But I think that will continue to change and I expect to see Google push these even harder in 2019 on small, unsuspecting advertisers.

While their algorithms are sure to get better, I suggest treading cautiously in your limited budget accounts. Even the best machine learning algorithm needs good data in for good results to spit out. If you just don’t make a lot of sales in Google Shopping, I would suggest experimenting in a non-crucial time of year with only a subset of your products. Perhaps testing a few product brands in a Smart Shopping campaign, or a single category.

As you take over accounts, be prepared to see a lot of them with Smart Shopping switched on (which may or may not be related to the account’s need for new management) and the need for thinking wisely about its impact and testing manual, or other automated bidding options such as Target ROAS in order to utilize Google’s smart bidding, but retain control as well in other areas.

Regardless, be prepared for an onslaught of Smart Shopping campaigns this year. They work at times, and because of that as well as Google’s insistence on every campaign in every account (rolls eyes) being pushed to Smart Shopping campaigns, you can bet there are a lot of small advertisers who will follow the siren call of the “easy management” option and push the button in 2019.

3. Increased Bing Ads bidding automation

Lastly, I would be negligent to leave out Bing Shopping in a predictions post. I think we’ll see the addition of more advanced bidding strategies in 2019 for Bing Ads.

Currently, we can only bid manually or with enhanced CPC in Bing Shopping Ads and I would expect this to change this year. It would be interesting to be able to bid according to Target CPA and Target ROAS (with the Bing UET pixel set correctly, of course) and I would be surprised if this wasn’t in the works already.

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Linear TV Is Still the Advertising King But its Days Are Numbered

Linear TV is still the biggest ad category, but digital video and mobile are making inroads. Advertising research company Warc took a look at 12 major markets, and found most ad spend went to display ads (which here includes TV, radio, mobile devices, out of home, and some online formats) and that linear TV was the biggest chunk of that spend.

Linear TV

Looking at 12 major markets (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S.), all display ad platforms took in $140 billion in 2018, and of that linear TV took 41.9 percent. That’s a 1.0 percent year-over-year (YOY) improvement. The next biggest area was mobile devices.

Taking a step back, the data shows linear’s share has been declining for years, while mobile is improving. In fact, mobile has risen 16.6 percentage points since 2009.

One curious finding is that even though linear attracts fewer eyes every year, advertisers still flock to it. It offers unparalleled reach for top-of-funnel marketing campaigns, and nothing else can match it. Daily viewing time for linear averages 1 hour 54 minutes, which fell by 4 minutes this year.

When it surveyed brands about their plans for 2019, Warc learned that 32 percent planned to spend less on TV next year. Also, 18 percent will increase spending and 49 percent will maintain their current spend.

Addressable online video ads will certainly take a growing share of spending from linear, but Warc notes that the are has its own hurdles. In the U.S., consumers don’t like giving up their data to marketers and often see targeted ads as creepy: 61.5 percent in the U.S. don’t want to trade their personal data for more relevant ads.

“We believe TV spend will dip 1.5 percent in our 12 key markets next year, to $138 billion,” says James McDonald, data editor at Warc. This will largely be due to an expected 4.6 percent fall in the U.S. (to $61 billion). Addressable TV still has a long way to go to make up the expected shortfall in linear investment, but recent developments, such as AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner and AppNexus, could instigate a new arms race in the industry.”

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Companies Rethink The TV Ad Model For OTT

The advertising model for traditional, linear television is actually pretty simple. Networks air TV shows, and those shows have regular commercial breaks. In total, they typically end up being around eight minutes of commercials every half hour, and 16 minutes in an hour.

Now, as consumer viewing shifts to over-the-top video — a format dominated by the ad-free giant Netflix, and the limited-ad giant YouTube — companies are realizing that those old ad models just won’t fly.

“It is clear to us that consumers are not going to stand for 16 minutes of ads per hour,” Scott Rosenberg, the GM of Roku’s platform business, said at the Business Insider Ignition conference last week. “The consumer we are serving is highly empowered, they have lots of screens to choose from — ad-free experiences to choose from. While they value free, there is a tolerance. It is very clear that ad loads will come down, and the ads will have to become smarter and more engaging.”

So what can companies do? Better targeting and more relevant ads are a start, but so are ads that are not interruptive to the viewing experience. Roku will be adding search-based and discovery-based ads in the coming months, and is looking at other formats as well.

Other companies, such as Hulu and AT&T, are looking into other options, including “pause-vertising,” in which an ad would begin to play after a user presses pause on a show they are watching.

The logic is that as consumers increasingly binge-watch shows, they are increasingly pausing the action to grab a drink or use the bathroom. That could present an opportunity for certain advertisers.

While some consumers may be annoyed by these types of ads, they are certainly less interruptive than traditional commercial breaks, and are part of the value exchange of ad-supported OTT.

“Ad-free is a great product, if you can afford that type of viewing experience, it gives you back some time,” said Hulu CEO Randy Freer at the Business Insider event. “What we really like is that we can offer choice. We can offer a $0.99 package, or our Spotify bundle to consumers, and that is ad-supported, they understand that, and it has less than half of the commercial time than you have in traditional markets.”

Value is the key word here. Rosenberg says that consumers clearly want free ad-supported options to complement their paid subscriptions, and that “free” is the most-searched for term among Roku apps.

“I think many of us in the industry have been trying to figure out what the balance of ad-supported and ad-free viewing will be five years from now,” Rosenberg says. “It is very clear to us now at Roku that consumers are cutting and shaving the cord, not just because they are looking for more choices, but because they want value, so free is a really important selection criteria as consumers get into OTT.”

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YouTube and Facebook taking lion’s share of online video ads, but TV dominates

YouTube and Facebook account for the majority of online video advertising in Europe, but the vast bulk of video advertising still goes to television, according to a report by the European Audiovisual Observatory.

facebook Youtube TV ads

According to the report, Online Video Sharing: Offerings, Audiences, Economic Aspects, which cites a number of third-party data sources, YouTube and Facebook together take a 56% share of the European online video advertising market. In 2018, YouTube took an estimated 32% of the market, with Facebook taking a 24% share. Broadcasters took a 20% share of the market collectively.

Despite the dominance of YouTube and Facebook in online video advertising, the vast bulk of video advertising – 91% – went to television in 2016. However, the growth rate of the online video advertising market is much higher than that of the TV ad market – 21.4% between 2015-16 compared with 2% for the TV advertising market and 11% for the overall online advertising market.

The report also noted that 6-15 year-olds in the UK spend about 20% of their screen time watching online video clips, compared with about 45% watching broadcast TV, 12% watching recorded TV, 6% watching catch-up TV and 10% watching paid for streaming or download services. Over 16s, by contrast spend 63% of their screen time watching broadcast TV, 17% watching recorded TV, 6% watching catch-up TV and 6% watching paid for streaming or download services, and only a very small amount of screen time – 2.9% – watching online video clips.

YouTube is used at least once a month by 93% of western European consumers, according to the report.

Despite the growth on online video and the rise of SVOD, the report cited Recode data from 2017 that shows traditional media companies still account for the bulk of expenditure on original non-sports content, with the top four spenders – NBCUniversal, Time Warner, Fox and Disney all being traditional players, led by NBCUniversal, which spent US$10.2 billion. Netflix comes in at number five with expenditure of US$6.3 billion, while Amazon is number seven with US$4.5 billion. Among technology and social media companies, Apple and Facebook were the top spenders, coming in at number 13 and 14 with spend of about US$1 billion apiece.

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How to combat growing ad fatigue amidst the rise of OTT video

Show of hands: How many of you have watched TV via the internet?

Keep your hand up if you’ve watched the same ad repeated multiple times, or even ads for competing brands, within the same ad break while watching online TV?

I suspect many of you still have your hand raised. With explosive growth in over-the-top (OTT) video offerings — such as catch-up TV, live TV streaming, and video-on-demand services — ‘competitive separation’ is a challenge that many publishers face.

Yet for both publishers and advertisers, there are automated controls that can be deployed to prevent your message from being spoiled by frequency or competition issues.

Quality control

For the delivery of online video ads, quality has many variables from the audience to placement and load time to viewability. Controls must be in place to manage this array of factors.

Competitive separation — giving media owners the ability to separate creatives whether the campaigns are executed traditionally, programmatically, or from third-party tags — is one such control issue with which many have trouble getting their heads around. As OTT video audiences have grown, so has the chance of ad fatigue for many publishers. Competitive separation helps solve this issue by allowing publishers with long-form content to fulfil an ad break with creatives from various sources and de-duplicate categories or advertisers (landing page URL) across sources.

For instance, a publisher could ensure that if the first ad is a Coca-Cola ad from a direct-sold demand source, subsequent ads in the pod would not be from competing brands — regardless of the source. Competitive separation controls, the likes of which are available in the SpotX ad serving platform, give audiences a relevant and diverse set of ads each time, preventing the ad experience from being spoiled by excessive repetition.

Using podding to control frequency and placement

Engaged in a TV-like viewing experience and watching their choice of premium highly engaging content, OTT audiences are highly valuable to advertisers.

Without programmatic controls, however, ads delivered in this environment are placed randomly, rather than in a controlled and optimised fashion. With the aid of podding technology, publishers can fill an ad pod with multiple ads from a single ad request. They can be programmed to play in a particular sequence, as the diagram below shows.

From a publisher’s perspective, podding maximises efficiency and fill, offers more control and is a better experience for the audience. The system eliminates duplication by using a single ad call to fill multiple ad slots, rather than individual requests for each ad within the pod.

Not only does this erase the possibility of ads repeating or running next to competitors’ ads, it also means fewer ad calls between various platforms, easing latency and infrastructure loads. Pods can also be configured to maximise ad revenue – for example, a 90-second pod could be programmed to ad call lengths of 15-second, 45-second, 15-second and 15-second.

From the advertiser’s perspective, podding delivers more control and greater effectiveness by facilitating de-duplication and competitive separation. Coupled with the use of standard identifiers, SpotX enables advertisers to control frequency across all environments, even those without advertising identifiers like some smart TVs.

Ask your technology partner the right questions

Simply calling three ads at once is nice, but it doesn’t really resolve the issues mentioned above. At a minimum, to truly reap the benefits of podding, your technology partner should be able to provide the following features:

Tight controls over ad delivery, such as:

– Maximum pod duration
– Maximum duration per individual ad
– Minimum duration per individual ad
– Maximum number of ads

Tight controls over ad content, such as:

– Automatic ad deduplication
– Competitive separation

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65% of Digital Media to be Traded Programmatically Next Year

Programmatic ad spend will have grown by 24 percent over the course of this year, and will grow a further 19 percent next year, according to Zenith’s Programmatic Marketing Forecasts published today. This will mean that in 2019, 65 percent of all digital media will be traded programmatically. But while the growth of programmatic trading continues to be strong, Zenith says it’s slightly slower than expected, due to a mixture of new data laws and investment patterns within the industry.

Zenith says growth is being driven by the fact that the breadth of formats which can be traded programmatically is improving all the time, specifically with mobile video and audio formats increasingly available programmatically.

The company believes that very soon there will be very little which cannot be traded programmatically, and from there is it simply a question of how quickly each country embraces total automation. Zenith predicts that by 2020, 99 percent of digital media will be traded programmatically in Canada.

“We expect all markets to follow Canada and use programmatic trading for all digital media transactions eventually,” said Zenith’s report. “Indeed, it’s only a matter of time before programmatic trading becomes the default method of trading for all media.”

For the moment, adoption of programmatic trading is highest in the US, where Zenith says 83 percent of all digital media will have been traded programmatically this year. Given the scale of the US’s total digital ad spend, this means nearly half of all programmatically traded ad dollars will have been spent in the US ($40.6 billion out of a global total of $84 billion).

Canada comes in second, with 82 percent of digital media traded programmatically. In Europe, the UK and Denmark lead the way, with 78 percent and 75 percent of digital dollars spend programmatically in each country respectively.

Progress towards total adoption has been slightly slower this year than expected, which Zenith attributed to a couple of factors. One was the introduction of the EU’s general data protection regulation (GDPR) which restricted the data available for programmatic transactions, making it simultaneously more expensive and less attractive.

But Zenith thinks the primary cause was that advertisers have been investing heavily in making programmatic trading more effective, at the expense of ramping up the scale of programmatic buying as quickly as they might otherwise have done.

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YouTube To Introduce ‘Ad Pods’ That Stack 2 Commercials Together

YouTube is adding a new advertising solution to its portfolio, one that makes the streaming video platform more like traditional TV offerings.

The Google-owned video site will be testing what are calling “ad pods.” The ad pods will see two video ads stacked back to back. Until now, YouTube ad breaks only featured one ad at a time. Importantly, users will still have the ability to skip the ads and go straight to the content.

YouTube will roll out the ad pods on desktop later this year, with mobile and connected TV screens to follow.

According to a blog post from Google video ads project manager Khushbu Rathi, the goal is to reduce the number of ad breaks during longer viewing sessions.

“Through this research, we also learned that fewer interruptions is correlated with better user metrics, including less abandonment of content and higher rates of ad viewing,” Rathi writes.

“Why does this solution make sense? Because when users see two ads in a break, they’re less likely to be interrupted by ads later. In fact, those users will experience up to 40% fewer interruptions by ads in the session,” he adds.

The company cites experiments suggesting the ad pods resulted in a mid-to-high single-digit increase in reach and frequency for advertisers, without impacting brand lift.

The move is somewhat surprising, given that Google has been at the forefront when it comes to encouraging shorter ads from marketers. The company launched its six-second bumper ads product more than two years ago. That format remains popular on the service.

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YouTube Tests Ad-Supported Movies

The streaming video platform YouTube quietly rolled out a new feature over the past few weeks: full-length, ad-supported movies.

The movies are part of an exclusive deal the company signed with MGM. Among those now streaming: “Terminator,” “Legally Blonde,” “The Pink Panther” films and “Rocky.”

The movies are available through YouTube Movies, which previously focused on movie rentals and purchases. They feature pre-roll advertising and a number of ad breaks. As of this writing, “Rocky” featured 10 interstitial ad breaks.

YouTube’s flexible advertising model could potentially enable other options, like allowing one advertiser to sponsor an entire film. As with YouTube’s other channels, the movies will be ad-free to subscribers of YouTube Premium.

What YouTube has going for it is its massive scale.

The company says it has 1.8 billion logged-in users per month and has become the de facto home for free video content online. Many consumers still associate YouTube with user-generated content, short-form video from creators, or music videos. The company is clearly trying to remedy that association.

In addition, classic movies are a safe, reliable place to advertise. Marketers know exactly what they are getting. With YouTube having faced a number of brand-safety controversies over the last year, adding brand-safe content to its portfolio is one solution to the problem.

Free, ad-supported movies may be fresh to YouTube, but they have become one of the staple features of Vudu, the streaming video service owned by Walmart. Vudu also has a deal with MGM, covering the same library of films. It also has other deals with other studios. It isn’t clear whether YouTube will pursue similar arrangements.

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Ad-Supported OTT Viewers Incremental To TV

Consumers that watch ad-supported streaming over-the-top video services are largely incremental to those that watch linear TV. They are a “high-value” audience. as well, per the IAB.

The IAB released its report, “Ad Receptivity and the Ad-Supported OTT Video Viewer,” at the first edition of its NewFronts West event, held in Los Angeles Tuesday.

The IAB sought to explore who watches OTT video and determine some of the defining characteristics the audience.

The report found that viewers of ad-supported OTT services (i.e. YouTube, Crackle, Roku Channel) do not typically watch linear TV. Over half are cord-cutters or cord-shavers. In other words, they make up a largely incremental audience to linear TV.

The IAB also found that even though the primary audience for ad-supported OTT services are the “typical ad blocking demo,” skewing younger and male, they are not opposed to ads delivered through these services.

“ASV OTT viewers are more receptive to advertising than either SVOD OTT or TV Only viewers,” the report says. “Many report they enjoy interacting with ads. In fact, ASV OTT viewers think of ads on this platform as being better.”

All told, 73% of adults surveyed that watch OTT video also say they watch ad-supported OTT video, with 43% saying they watch ad-supported services the most out of their streaming options.

That suggests that while ad-free options like Netflix and Hulu remain powerful forces in the industry, there is still opportunity for ad-supported options.

The full IAB report can be found here.