GDPR Innovation

We are at the implementation stage of GDPR, and in London, the center of the European advertising industry, people are finally coming to grips with the notion of fines. Our friend Kevin Marks attended the #GDPRInnovation event at Digital Catapult and did an admirable job of live tweeting the remarks of some of the speakers.

James Leaton Gray, head of the Privacy Practice, used to be head of the BBC’s Information Policy and Compliance Department, in the BBC’s Legal section. There he oversaw the operation of the Corporation’s systems for compliance with the Data Protection and Freedom of Information Acts. Before he left the BBC he led the development of privacy and data governance for myBBC as it developed its big data capability. He also provided expert advice on media and privacy and lobbying for the proposed EU GDPR. Here is Leaton Gray’s take on what’s coming for the EU and by extension the UK and US.

The GDPR fines have gotten boardroom attention, when those of us wittering on about data for years have been ignored. But more significant than the fines is GDPR stopping you from using your marketing database without new consent. Because  the Data Protection legislation is principles based and does not tell you exactly what to do, we are used to asking all sorts of questions and not being sure how we use it; vendors are still selling databases that can’t be updated. But GDPR extends the Data Protection principles, and now the use of data must be Fair, Lawful and Transparent too. Most existing media systems are not transparent at all. Transparency means  you need to tell people why you are collecting the data, how long you’ll keep it, what you will use it for, and explain it in clear language, not legalese

The Data Access Rights mean that you need to enable people to correct and erase data you hold on them, and export it. And if you use the right to erasure, you will also be take off the marketing suppression list, so you will get untargeted marketing. Consent is not specifically defined to be ‘freely given,’ meaning it can be withdrawn. It also needs to be affirmative, so it’s no longer possible to use default checked checkboxes. Instead, what we need is Privacy by Default – we get there through Privacy by Design, after doing a Data Protection impact assessment.

While the public sector already has data breach mandatory reporting, it is new for the private sector and needs planning for. There is data everywhere; we are swimming in it and we don’t always notice when a bit goes missing. We now need to know that.

The Journalism exemption to GDPR is a bit of a tricky boundary; marketing of programs is not covered by a journalism exemption.

As media we are used to people talking to us. We ask for comments and get them. In the longer term will media want to talk to people more? As we move from broadcasting to more personalised streams, we need information about the audience to provide that personalization. But as companies have to send out GDPR marketing re-consent emails, they are having to give consumers incentives to sign up again.

People are realising that they need an intermediary between them and news or information, but it no longer is our media organisations. We have seen trust in online services drop over the past ten years. But if we want trust we need to be transparent about records of processing, where the data is, how it flows, retention schedules, breach notifications.

And some media companies are asking “do we need this inaccurate data from adtech? could we do it ourselves?” Of course they could. But will they?


Blockchain for Advertisers? Not This Year

We have been personally studying the blockchain technology for a couple of years now, especially when the head of the Mozilla Foundation left to develop a browser that uses it to make micropayments to content providers. And then, as we watched all this develop, we wrote about the blockchain’s capacity to clean up the digital advertising supply chain.

Eight months later, the IAB Tech Lab has released a white paper on the uses of blockchain for video advertising. 

Here are the main points:

• Blockchain technology has ramifications far beyond the financial sector.

As an immutable, distributed, transparent ledger, blockchain is a natural fit for the digital advertising supply chain

• Potential benefits of blockchain for advertising include increased efficiency, transparency, cost reduction, and the elimination of fraud.

• 2018 will be the year that a wide range of blockchain applications will be rolled out across digital and cross-screen video advertising including linear television, with 2019 likely being the year that these technologies begin to see broader adoption – provided certain risks can be mitigated.

• Long-form, premium video and TV advertising, with their high CPMs and low volume, is a compelling use case for blockchain. In the coming year, we expect to see some significant beta tests from both traditional media and new entrants.

In the white paper, we came across a big reason why this will be slow to catch on, despite its obvious utility.  It’s because cryptocurrencies and the blockchain are completely user-unfriendly right now. A company called MetaX in Los Angeles has been working with IAB to make ads.txt more secure. A Q&A with its developer produced this conversation:

How does Ads.txt Plus work?

“We implemented Ads.txt Plus on the Ethereum blockchain and in tandem, built a frontend UI to manage publisher ads.txt files and buyer lists. Publisher ads.txt files can be downloaded in aggregate from one place for buyers. Publishers themselves can maintain their file versions and either keep it on the blockchain endpoint and/or export to their web server.”

What does a publisher do in order to transact in this process? “A publisher has to input their ads.txt file into In order to implement, you need a digital wallet. Using a browser extension called MetaMask (in Chrome), you can implement a digital wallet right in the user’s browser. In this case, the user would be the publisher. They have a public address and they have a private key to this wallet. They take their public wallet address and they add it to their DNS records. In the text field, they add their wallet address. For example, today if you go to, you can see all of the names of authorized sellers. In the future, if you augment that with your digital wallet and then go to, you will see just the wallet address. The publisher can obfuscate all the authorized sellers so that it’s not readable but it’s still verifiable.”

Only people who have the key can read it? “By default, the file is publicly readable (and read only) and can be validated by all third parties. You can obfuscate the text using encryption and provide the key to your buyers. To update the file, you also need a separate private key.”

Let’s just say I’m a publisher, and I am trying to sell ads against my video content. How willing am I to go through the digital wallet setup and the public/private key infrastructure requirements.

Now let’s say I’m a young media planner. I’ve just learned the routines of my job, and now this one site wants me to go through a completely unfamiliar set of hoops? I think I’ll buy elsewhere.

While blockchain technology may be the ultimate solution to ad fraud, it will need a killer front end before it is widely adopted by the ad industry. Right now it’s a bare naked infrastructure that’s not for the faint of heart.  And we say that as experienced users and lovers of



Google Chrome vs. Ad Block Plus

There are almost too many competing initiatives going on to fix what different constituencies consider to be wrong about online advertising. Each constituency has its own point of view and a “proprietary” method of enacting a solution. Over the last few months, we’ve been researching the Coalition for Better Ads, which is run by Google and the other big ad players,  and  how it differs from the Acceptable Ads Committee’s standards. The Acceptable Ads Committee is an independent organization under the auspices of the people who run Ad Block Plus. You can guess that the Google standards favor ad-supported content, while the Acceptable Ads Committee allows only four or five formats.

There are at least two qualitative differences between these standards: first there is no user-side (consumer) representation on the Coalition for Better Ads, and second, Google holds the dubious double role of voting member and enforcer through its forthcoming Chrome ad filter. The Acceptable Ads Committee favors consumers, and the agenda is held by Ad Block Plus.

As the launch of the Chrome ad filter nears, we thought it was important that we point out these differences. Fortunately, the Acceptable Ads Coalition went through each of  55 desktop ad types to arrive at its own blocking criteria (see page 37 on Then it tested whether each format was blocked by the CBA and the AAC. After it did the work, it made an announcement about the comparison on its blog.

It turns out the new Chrome filter will only block 8/55 ad types. Contrast that to the AAC standards at 51/55, and the difference is unambiguous from a user perspective. If you’re really into ad blockers, the Chrome ad filter isn’t good enough for you. On the other hand, if what you dislike is interruptive ads, the Chrome ad filter is likely to give you surcease from the most obnoxious ads without filtering out everything.

And if you are buying ads, and are you’re interested in the ad formats that will make it through any ad blocker, you might want to browse through the spreadsheet we’ve included here. This will be a good way to see if your ads make it through Ad Block Plus, although if you are buying media we hope you  already know this.

AAC vs CBA standards1 – Sheet1


Where is Video Most Effective? Not Facebook

Last year, we wrote about the expense involved in producing good video content, and the pivot to video that threw sites like Mic and Mashable into financial disarray. They were producing that video content for Facebook at great expense.

With all the focus on video, advertisers began to look at video as a place to run their ads. But mobile video ads only work in certain circumstances, and they have to be really relevant and interactive. Consumers don’t visit sites for advertising, they visit for good content, or to fill a need.

That’s why interactive formats are a better solution for effective mobile advertising. Pre-roll and mid-roll, although they are often valued by advertisers, are actually less effective and more annoying to consumers. And  brand ads work better than direct advertising in video.


It took a while for the industry to get their arms around how to deploy both video and video advertising. It’s evolving as a format that, like text and photography, has its pluses and minuses. It isn’t the ultimate route to engagement. Now we have seen Facebook, which for the past couple of years has been emphasizing video, decide that in 2018 it will allow less video in newsfeeds.

In a recent article for Wired Magazine, Facebook’s Adam Mosseri explains the changes.

There will be less video. Video is an important part of the ecosystem. It’s been consistently growing. But it’s more passive in nature. There’s less conversation on videos, particularly public videos.

This is primarily trying to help newsfeed deliver on its core promise of bringing people together, about connecting people with stories from their friends and family that matter to them. But also content that’s not from friends, right? You might have a really engaging conversation with someone who shares interests in a group, for instance.

But connecting people with each other is the value proposition on which our company was built in a lot of ways. So I do think that it’s consistent with what our values have been for a long time. But it’s really about creating more good—helping newsfeed become a place where there’s a vibrant, healthy amount of interaction and discussion. It’s less about reducing any sort of problematic content types, which is another area of work that we focus on intently.

What does the pivot away from video on Facebook’s part signify?

Nothing for the rest of us. Facebook has a special reason for existing, which is to connect people. Over the years, it has constantly experimented. Its users, however, are tiring of this kind of experimentation, and we believe that the last election turned off many American (substitute high economic value) consumers. Those consumers will go back to the publishers they respect and admire, although perhaps not on Facebook. They will engage with ads that are relevant and informative.  Some of those ads will come from publishers, who will now have to pay (like everyone else) to reach Facebook users.



Fraud Fighting Initiatives Grow in Digital Media

Ads.txt is IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau)’s newest fraud-fighting initiative. It stands for “Authorized Digital Sellers,” and the aim of the initiative is to increase transparency in the way that programmatic advertising is sold to protect buyers from spoofers. Programmatic advertising, if you’re not in the industry, is media buying in which bots programmed to buy certain audiences buy from other bots programmed to offer inventory to those audiences. Untouched by human hands, programmatic advertising is often touched by fraudsters and malware purveyors.

In 2017 the digital media industry decided it was time to take action, before the entire universe of ad supported content vanished in a wave of ad blockers. Among the many other initiatives is Ads.txt:

(which )works by giving verified publishers and distributors an easy way to declare, publicly, the companies that they allow to sell their digital inventory. They do this by preparing and publishing the “/ads.txt” file, creating a public record of Authorized Digital Sellers and helping buyers to quickly identify which sellers are allowed to handle ad inventory for which publishers.

This makes it much harder for scammers to profit from selling fake inventory and gives buyers peace of mind that the ad space they buy is authentic.

By the time you read this post, over 100,000 ads.txt files will have been published. 750 of the comScore 2,000 will have ads.txt files and over 50% of inventory seen by DoubleClick Bid Manager will have come from domains with ads.txt files. Beginning in November, DoubleClick Bid Manager and AdWords stopped buying ads from ad networks / exchanges not declared on Ads.txt.

Google also says that “DoubleClick Ad Exchange and AdSense publishers that use ads.txt are protected against unauthorized inventory being sold in Google auctions.” To do this, Google “crawls daily over 30m domains for ads.txt files.”

The rapid adoption of Ads.txt shows how much of the market is controlled by Google. But this doesn’t make the initiative less valuable. Domain spoofing has been a huge problem on both the supply and demand sides, and we are happy to see this initiative and help our publishers adopt it.

If you’re a publisher, you need to implement the ads.txt text file on your root domain, listing the exchanges that are authorized to sell your inventory and including your seller account ID for each exchange.

Your seller account ID, sometimes called your publisher ID or seller network ID, is the ID that’s linked to your account on an exchange or supply-side platform (SSP). This is important because this part can’t be “spoofed.”

When you take part in programmatic real-time bidding, this ID should be transmitted through the OpenRTB protocol as the publisher ID, along with the Publisher.Domain in the Publisher object. If you’re using a different RTB protocol, it might be called “seller_network_id,” member or seat ID.

Ads.txt is also important for buyers, who are the ones paying the bills and the ones demanding more transparency. They have been almost literally throwing out money on online exchanges, and finding their brands in places that are destructive or irrelevant. No wonder they’re finally done with all this, and have demanded changes. Especially this year the ANA and the MRC have become loud players in demanding reform, and Mark Prichard of Procter and Gamble, the country’s largest advertisers, has been on a one-man tirade.

As a private platform, ZEDO is individually secure, and as an ad server we have our protections in place.

We are getting there, folks. Digital advertising is too large an industry to be so rife with corruption. We need to clean up, and we will. Ads.txt is only one initiative.

Greater Security Could Prevent Persistent Adware

Our long-time friend and collaborator, Craig Spiezle, Chairman Emeritus of the Online Trust Alliance, called our attention to yet another issue involving the digital advertising ecosystem and malware, this one involving real national security concerns. While this particular problem goes far beyond advertising, it could impact the industry simply because it is such an important security threat. In a sense, adware just uses our industry as a vehicle to purloin information.

Researchers have discovered an uncommonly advanced form of adware that raises questions about the potential dangers posed by an often overlooked digital scheme, called Advanced Persistent Adware by the consulting firm Booz Allen.

Booz Allen detailed in a blog post right before Christmas how this works and called for far greater threat detection capabilities than are currently used by American cybersecurity.

Adware has been traditionally used to inject advertisements into an unsuspecting user’s browser, which then secretly gathers browsing information. That in and of itself is enough to make it out of synch with 2018’s new data privacy regulations. But the Advanced Persistent Adware Booz Allen uncovered is like a dystopian science fiction movie, because it is designed to evade detection and take orders from a command-and-control server.

It also apparently randomizes its file name to hide detection from anti-virus software, and the APA’s communications with the command-and-control server are encrypted. If directed, the APA can morph and exfiltrate data from its victims. This would not only be a violation of GDPR, but a threat that would quickly be recognized by all governments that enforce privacy rights.

Booz Allen compared this new threat to another pernicious form of adware that cyber firm Carbon Black recently discovered last year. It is no wonder that consumers are tempted to cut off ads altogether. All the research we’ve read has had that what consumers dislike are not ads themselves, but the propensity to be “stalked” if they don’t run an ad blocker. And by stalked, most consumers only think about being followed around by brands, not by rogue nations trying to exploit our government. It’s pretty awful that advertising has become a vector for much more dangerous cybercriminal operations.

We concur with the conclusion of Booz Allen that these examples demonstrate the growing need for advanced detection as the playing field continues to evolve in favor of these advertising related threats.  Collectively they are undermining ad-supported content and services. We’re in a New Year, and perhaps we should make this year the year of better cybersecurity.

Happy Holidays!

As we close out this frenetic year of 2018, we can’t help noticing how the bulk of the digital ad industry is located on the east and west coasts. And yet, the bulk of consumers, especially for b2c brands, are located in what we variously refer to as the heartland or the flyover zones.

As we have learned from extensive election polling and voting trends, politicians have paid a big price for ignoring those populations. How can we make sure the advertising industry doesn’t do the same?

We don’t think it’s just a matter of targeting, of artificial intelligence, of programmatic buying, header bidding, or any other jargon word.

Rather, it’s time for the people who create and buy advertising to get to know other Americans — ones who don’t necessarily share our beliefs but also buy toothpaste and toilet paper, cars and coffee. Once we know our fellow Americans we will make fewer mistakes with our targeting, and we’ll produce better creative that respects the people it is aimed at. It’s the one way we can reach back into the past for the positive things about advertising — the way it drew Americans together and created unified experiences that have since become fragmented.

I’m not saying any amount of advertising can heal the wounds opened during the past year. But as we rejoin our families and begin to celebrate the joyous festivals that are Christmas and Hanukkah, we also ought to think of and consider the Muslims among us, the Hindus with their Diwali, and indeed those of no particular religious belief.

We ought to take this season to draw them to us, and to begin a process of acceptance and healing that comes from The Golden Rule. Do not do anything to someone else that you wouldn’t want done to yourself. That’s a paraphrase, because the rule is stated slightly differently in every religion.

Advertising can help rebuild bonds with its creative; this is what advertising is good at. The need for brand advertising never goes away, not even at Christmas, so let’s bear in mind that the right creative can work for the public good, making a win-win that could start 2018 on the right foot.

We at ZEDO and ZINC wish you and yours the happiest of holiday seasons, no matter which ones you celebrate, or choose not to celebrate.

In-App Advertising Must Be Interactive

In the past couple of years, more publishers than ever have pivoted to video. They did that to prepare for the big moment when TV ads would migrate to digital media, and they wanted to be ready.They made the mistake of thinking that similar formats and business models would translate. But they don’t.

MG Siegler, a Google VC who follows media, has already noticed the shift and writes about it here:

At the same time, we’ve spent the past couple of years watching content site after content site “pivot to video”. Why? Not so much because video is great — it can be great, but often isn’t the ideal format for content — but more because, to quote Willie Sutton, “that’s where the money is.” That is, large content sites have reached the bounds of monetization at scale for text. The real money in advertising, as everyone knows, is in video — because it’s the form on which television has survived and thrived.

And so everyone has been waiting for all of this video advertising — again, television advertising — to move online en masse. That was what “pivot to video” was all about. Video content just waiting there with open arms to embrace the TV ads when they inevitably make the jump.

But again, what if that jump isn’t coming? Not because these sites/services can’t provide scale — obviously they can — but because the era of dominance for that format is ending?

We’ve known for a long time that something new was coming. Perhaps it is the 6-second commercial, as several brands are attempting. But perhaps it is a combination of options including better creative in brand advertising, and better incentives to consumers for watching ads. Consumers on mobile phones using apps are a different breed of cat.

We already know that consumers are willing to sit through ads at home for live sports. It’s one of the only instances in which they will. However, eventually that, too, will stop unless advertising during live sports becomes as good as it is during the SuperBowl, in which brands reward fans with memorable creative that is often as good or better than the game itself.

But consumers have now moved to smartphones, and spend most of their time there. Not every day is the SuperBowl.

So the best way to make consumers watch ads is to reward or incentivize them, and that’s another thing advertisers are trying, especially with in-app advertising. Rewards-based ads are ads that allow a consumer to get a benefit from seeing or from interacting with an ad. Brands have used them to reward consumers with coupons and discounts.

But why just require users of an app on their smartphones just to watch a video? For brand recognition, we think it’s important that they interact with the brand. And At ZINC, we have a way.


2018 For the Agency Business

There’s no doubt that advertising is changing very fast and that traditional agencies must adapt. WPP has already admitted this in several different ways: first in their earnings reports, and second in the way they are buying up small agencies in order to get customers and economies of scale. That might be a mistake, since they’re only adding to their infrastructure. And even if it does work for now,  this tactic will not work forever because what is changing is the nature of advertising itself,  not just the nature of the agency.

Yes, it is true that  the agency of record concept is going away. Building a brand is difficult and requires everything from brand strategy to messaging to communications to internal training to advertising and public relations, not to mention navigating legal issues around privacy and security. As we all know the privacy rules are changing next year and there will be new standards we in the business all must follow. Most agencies don’t have equivalent expertise in all these skill sets.

Most brands know that they need more than one agency to get the job done. But that’s the symptom and not the cause. The cause is the consumers’ changes in buying habits. As an example,  Millennials do not buy goods, they buy experiences. Therefore sponsorships of concerts and other experiences, brand partnerships and infrastructure advertising are going to grow. A small agency in Phoenix Arizona that does only large format and outdoor advertising, Blue Media, has found itself suddenly a $60m company in only a few years.

Traditional media growth, not so much.  All advertising now must be contextual.

Even digital media is going to have to adapt to this rapidly changing environment. It will have to meet users where they already are without interrupting them. This is tricky.

However, It is doable. Consumers can be incentivized or rewarded to watch ads that are non-interruptive when they are playing a game or on social media. They can also watch ads that provide information on products for which they really are in the market.  The success of the New York Times’ Wirecutter blog is an example.

Contextualizing will involve better geo-targeting rather than more invasive personal information targeting. For example if a consumer is already in a Ford dealership, it’s not invasive to show them a Honda or Chevy. They can be assumed to be in the market for a car.

To capitalize on the growth of advertising, which will be a smaller subset of marketing, the agency of the future will be smaller – sorry WPP – and more nimble then past agencies, able to expand and contract more regularly because it will have more 1099 workers than employees. It will also have to know a great deal more about business and about online marketing strategies that work —  including inbound marketing and content marketing.

Hiring is an old fashion way to respond to the typical situation agencies find themselves in today, where they are working on projects and have the need to ramp up or contract almost immediately.  The best agencies will realize this, and give up some legacy infrastructure for long-term survival.

Meredith Sells Data, Not Just Content

We listened recently to the Ad Exchanger podcast with VP of Data and Programmatic Solutions at Meredith, Chip Schenck. Schenck is an experienced hand who comes from a Dutch media family, all of whom started in print. But ten years ago, while working with Amex publishing, he discovered the value of data. When he realized that the future of publishing would be not only content but also data, Schenck got a job at  DSP Krux, and then moved to SSP Pubmatic,  making sure he understood the entire ad tech process before he went back to publishing. Schenck used his forays into ad tech as an opportunity to get deep and learn, and then take the learning back to publishing.

Schenck still thinks it is necessary to learn about ad tech if you are in publishing. Now he’s an internal consultant for Meredith, building digital strategies for all the Meredith products. Meredith’s products include data assets like its PII database, which started with print, but now includes branded products like the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, transactional data, subscription data, media purchase registration data, and the DMP.

Because it has been around for a hundred years, Meredith probably has more personally identifiable data than most publishers. But Schenck thinks anonymized users still have significant value. PII databases can’t be updated more than once a week, whereas digital information is updated three times a day. DMPs help improve data modeling that can be done with demographic and psychographic data, and the ability to use the wealth of all the different data  sources together is where the value is realized.

Meredith’s core focus is the American woman and her four biggest interests: home, food, family, and herself. The company publishes not only Better Homes and Gardens and AllRecipes, but Martha Stewart. It takes data from all those publications, and some others, like Traditional Home, and uses it to do things like  understand that quinoa will be hot before it gets that way. Once it gathers that information, Meredith has three separate sales organizations: corporate sales, digital sales, brand sales (print). Each of them can use the same data, which means that by now, digital data is about 30% of revenue. AllRecipes is a big brand because when people cook, Meredith can tell what they’re doing and pass that information on to the right advertisers.

Meredith’s quality content engages an audience of unique individuals, which helps them build great databases. Then they take those databases and put them through their proprietary tech stack, which includesShop Nation, an affiliate software that ingests the Target or WalMart feed and makes the leap from content to commerce, as well as Index and DFP.

They then offer the information to their best customers via PMPs (private marketplaces) that are run strictly on preference. The PMP is a curated experience and   is how Meredith’s old clients are guaranteed that they’ll get more than just first look. He helps them win in a programmatic audience and understand these performs, and he teaches the big clients to go for access and engagement rather than yield.

Schenck says PMPs are for differentiation, and he has some unique creative for them, such as shoppable formats. But if the customers really wants yield, he also offers a dozen or so different heading partners for the open exchange.

His theory is that programmatic isn’t going away, and he’s going to help Meredith’s customers make the most of it.