Advertising is Already Changing

This is the big week when GDPR finally rolls out. No longer can marketers in the EU use data to which users haven’t consented. However, we don’t think this change in how we use data will be confined to the EU. Mark Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, has already told CBS News that he thinks the US needs the same kind of national data privacy law as GDPR. We’d be surprised if Congress didn’t begin to consider something, or at least start summoning relevant parties beyond Facebook for hearings. Benioff is one of those Silicon Valley CEOs who is often on the cutting edge, but he’s most often known for taking stronger ethical positions than many of his colleagues.

Respect for data privacy is not even a new position for Benioff, who as far back as 2014 told a reporter for Diginomica

I’m all in favor of consumers having more power and more control over their data. As a consumer, you should have all of the rights. It’s like a cloud Bill of Rights. As a consumer or as an enterprise, you should have the right to be forgotten or to add or take away your data.

Sugar CRM CEO Larry Augustin has the same opinion:

Although GDPR may be the headline right now, there’e been enough public visibility of the issues, and there’s enough public interest, that it would not surprise me to see the US now go down the path of some kind of legislation related to data privacy for consumers.

Data privacy issues are not going to go away. People are thinking a lot here now about GDPR, because Facebook, Twitter, and all of these issues keep coming. And Experian in the US, about managing personal information related to credit card data… there’s just a constant barrage of issues around data privacy and personal information.

Everyone has to address it, whether it’s in the context of GDPR or the next thing that’s going to come along. There is definitely a heightened awareness and interest.

The truth is that advertisers will probably not be able to get consent from consumers, and this will produce fundamental changes in advertising that we’ve been predicting for a long time. We think that both content marketing and influence marketing will grow more important, and that display and video ads will focus on developing the brand rather than trolling for sales.

This is a good thing! Not only will consumers like it better, but ads that seek to brand can run better creative, be more memorable, and YES, actually work better. Our old friend Doc Searls draws a distinction between advertising and ad tech: it’s not advertising that consumers hate, it’s ad tech. Ad tech is the industry that tracks them and obtains their data and steals their privacy.  Fortunately or unfortunately, Facebook ruined it for all of us in the industry once and for all, by showing how data privacy can not only be abused, but actually weaponized.

How to Make Ads People Will Like

Can you make ads people will actually like?

Yes, it can be done.

The TL;DR: Provide useful information. Provide convenience. Build trust. Don’t chase people.

The story behind this, for those who prefer storytelling:

We’re turning over the model year in the US auto industry, and when that happens manufacturers and dealers will up their advertising spend. Traditionally, auto advertising has been brand advertising, and auto ads are part of the American popular culture. You’ve seen it, “the all new 2019 Toyota,” driving along a wooded road next to a cliff.

With the model year turnover will come the expiration of my own car lease, and as a result I’ve begun to start looking at ads, reading Edmunds, KBB, and Consumer Reports, and considering my options. I’ve been looking at brand ads all year without seeing them, and now that I actually SEE them, I am focusing on what I want to know about each brand.

With all the consumer research the auto industry does, I believe it still does not do a good enough job presenting information to people like me, the customer who is actually “in the market.” What do I want to see in the car ad?

1)What kind of visibility does this automobile offer? This could be presented in a video or a VR experience. And yet the only videos I’ve seen in auto ads are cars hugging curves, or golden retrievers driving Subarus.

2)Is the seating comfortable, and how much do I have to pay for lumbar support, adjustable seats, and other “creature comforts?”

3)What is the gas mileage?

4)How quickly does the car gain speed when entering a freeway?

5)What technology is in this car, both for driver assist and for handoff from my devices?

Instead of presenting this information to me online either a native ad on a car site or in an interactive format,  the outmoded goal of a car ad  is just to get me to the showroom, where history has already taught me I will have the experience I had a few days ago.

Customer: does this car have adjustable seats?

Sales associate: Not this model. It’s an upgrade

Customer: does this car have Apple Play?

Sales associate: not on this model

Customer: thank you (heads for the car)

Sales manager running after customer, sport coat flapping: Wait!

Customer: Why?

Sales manager: Aren’t  you even willing to look at some numbers?

Customer: No. The car doesn’t have what I want.

Sales manager: Yeah, but Dave doesn’t get compensated by the hour. He only gets compensated by the sale. You just wasted his time!

Customer: Twitter will hear about this.Picks up cell phone to Tweet.

Lesson: Don’t use your ads to get people to the showroom. Instead, use them for information purposes. Real information will not be rejected by customers, and it will help you identify the RIGHT customers without stalking them through either data privacy infractions or following them out into traffic.


Contextual Advertising and Trust

Marketers are increasingly likely to buy media that consumers trust, that they believe is giving them good value for what they pay, and that their target audiences engage with.  Although that should always have been the case, there’s now a name for this: the flight to quality.

The flight to quality pulls consumers toward publishers who have reader trust that they can “share,” almost like a halo effect, with an advertiser. Last year Galaxy Research, an Australian company, interviewed nearly 3000 Australians to see what kind of media they trusted most. For people 18 and older, the highest levels of trust were in movie ads and newspaper ads, and the lowest  levels of trust were in social. TV and digital news scored in the middle.

One Australian consumer went so far as to say that “I trust the newspapers and their websites to only accept reputable advertising.”

On the other hand, since the American election, there is a new global awareness of the problem of fake news and the spread of digital misinformation like wildfire through networks. This is a problem for both publishers and advertisers, as the Galaxy study showed that greater trust in ads translates to greater purchase intent.

Most apparent in the study was the general decline of trust in all media and all ads by people who are above 55. These people still trusted newspapers the most, but their level of trust was higher for community and local papers than for national papers. They also trusted radio.

Anecdotally, this translates to a high level of trust for “talk radio” in the American 55+ population, and its subsequent support by major national brands.

Given the fact that this study was done in Australia and completed before the revelations of Cambridge Analytica, a surprising fact was the low level of trust consumers of any age placed in social media advertising. One consumer said “So many frauds and scammers on social media at the moment and really no way to be sure the advertisement is legit or not.”

What does this mean? For us it means that advertisers want to buy media whose messages are trusted by consumers. Greater trust in content leads to greater trust in ads, which leads to greater intent to purchase. And news media, both print and digital, have highly trusted content and ads.

As Galaxy says, “brands are known by the company they keep.”


Zuckerberg Testimony Will Change Advertising

One of the most amusing aspects of watching Mark Zuckerberg testify before Congress was the wide-ranging knowledge or lack thereof about Facebook ads, and about digital advertising in general. While Zuckerberg sat there for almost two days trying to answer questions completely and explain complex subjects, such as artificial intelligence and the extent it can be useful in detecting fake accounts or fake news, many of the senators and representatives, playing for the galleries, kept asking “gotcha”-type questions that they wanted answered yes or no.

But the big issues, after the Congressional committees got off the initial subject of Facebook Analytica, revolved around selling and collecting data. Most of the questions revealed that Congress actually thought Facebook sold user data, when what it sells is really the ability to target ads narrowly using the data it possesses. Zuck tried to explain and define that several times. This sounds like a minor point, but it is a big distinction that differentiates Facebook from data brokers, and it seemed the one Congress was most focused on after it received assurances that  Cambridge Analytica can’t happen again because the platform is locked down for developers.

For our industry, the other big questions were about the gathering and retention of data. I lost track of how many times committee members asked how soon it would be possible to delete their data. In vain he told them over and over that the feature already existed.  Then, they asked him why the deletion couldn’t take place immediately. But when he began to explain backup servers and why data could be held for a week or two after the account was deleted, they lost interest in the details.

Legislators also asked Zuckerberg about new data protection regulations that are about to go into effect in Europe May 25, and whether Facebook would comply. He said they were already set up to comply. When asked whether American users would get the same protections, Zuckerberg said they would, because Facebook was rolling out GDPR protections globally. But then he was asked whether that would happen on May 25, and he said no.

This hearing opened a big can of worms for the digital advertising industry, or at least for companies that collect and handle user data to be used for advertising. Many larger companies have already begun to comply with GDPR and it would be very difficult  if the US Congress decides to adopt  different set of regulations. That doesn’t seem likely in the near term, as Congress can’t agree on how to regulate these companies, many whom have armies of lobbyists.

Zuckerberg said Facebook was open to regulation, but that the devil was in the details and he’d be glad to be involved in helping Congress regulate the use of personally identifiable information. Of course Facebook has the resources to devote to this.

Zuckerberg may be the visible whipping boy, but whatever is enacted will affect all internet companies that keep data. Look for the rebirth of advertising based on context and content, much like TV ads.






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


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.

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.


The Programmatic Baby Must Survive the Emptying of the Bathwater

We have been following all the news about fake news, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and the elections. It has produced a major backlash against media technology.  But part of the problem is not attributable to advertising at all, because it has to do with media illiteracy on the part of the consumer.  If consumers are loath to examine the provenance of what they’re seeing and reading, it’s probably not digital media’s fault. But there is still a large piece of this problem that’s directly attributable to programmatic advertising.

Yes, we know we have our origins in ad tech, but we long ago realized we have to do more than be an intermediary that takes a piece of a transaction. We had to bring some actual value to the table, and after flirting with viewability as our unique selling proposition, we decided  to take it a step further and attack the problem of ad fraud from all sides. This was after about four years of membership and engagement in the Online Trust Association, which is now part of the Internet Society. A moment of gratitude for the tutelage of Craig Spiezle.

We had shifted well before the election, and decided we would sell security.. We became a niche player in the world of private platforms, where we could control both ends of the ecosystem, and not have to risk accusations of serving malware, stacking up ads that weren’t viewable, and allowing phishing domains.

So now, as Facebook and Google and Twitter testify before Congress about how they could have sold ads to Russian operatives whose objectives were to destabilize Western democracy, we do not have to be concerned that we’ll end up in the middle of this discussion because an ad we served from a third party exchange came from a troll farm.

We’re hoping that all this controversy doesn’t force the industry to move away from programmatic, which has become a huge workflow enabler. much of the data was seek cannot be arrived at through the old methods, because humans don’t scale the way computers do. Nevertheless, here is somethings  think about: In the TV industry, there’s a function at every station called “Standards and Practices,” where ads have to pass through to see if they conform to the stations standards. Because of this department at CNN, a Trump ad about fake news featuring CNN’s own anchors was returned to its creators with the stipulation that CNN would not run the ad unless those anchors were taken out of the ad.

But TV is moving toward programmatic buying and selling. If that happens, what will happen to the Standards and Practices step in the process of airing an ad? Unless we can figure out how to write algorithms that understand ethics, we will lose this important component of the ad buying process and television ads will begin to look like online ads.

Which is only to say that online ads should probably admit some human intervention during the media buying process, if only during the political season.

Brand Advertising That Leads to Conversions

If you are wondering why Facebook is grabbing so much of the online ad spend, it’s because the company does more research into what makes ads work than most brands do, and it makes its research available to brands. But what makes a digital ad work isn’t just buying into Facebook’s targeting mechanism, which is getting the company in trouble right now and may ultimately lead to new federal regulations. It’s what we’ve always said it is: good creative.

According to the most recent research,  there are 7 elements of a good ad:

  • Focal point : The image has one obvious focal point
  • Brand link : How easy is it to identify the advertiser?
  • Brand personality : How well does the ad fit with what you know about the brand?
  • Informational reward : Does the ad have interesting information?
  • Emotional reward : The ad appeals to you emotionally
  • Noticeability : While browsing online, this image would grab your attention
  • Call to action : This ad urges you to take a clear action

These seven elements were used to rate over 1500 ads that ran on Facebook. Some of the elements were more useful to direct response advertisers, but for brand marketers the ads that scored highest were the ones that appealed to the audience emotionally, and had a clear link back to the brand. They also had to grab attention, which is not the same as being viewable.

Based on this research, conveying a clear brand story is really important, so a clear “brand link” is key. A brand logo, or in Bud Light’s case, iconic packaging, works well here. When developing online creative, a brand should know what it represents and know to leverage existing brand awareness. When it comes to “brand personality,” it’s really important that a brand understands who its consumers are and communicates with them consistently through their creative.
One consumer packaged good ad that we rated for this research lacked this brand connection, and the results suffered. The ad featured an engaging, people-focused image, but the ad copy and the image weren’t clearly related to the brand. If you saw the image from the ad, you’d have no clear idea of what brand or industry the ad came from. The creative ended up scoring 30% less than average in both “brand link” and “brand personality.” The sole element for which the creative scored higher than average was emotional reward. But that’s probably because of the excited expressions of the people in the image.
Bottom line: it doesn’t matter how precise your targeting is if you do not have a compelling brand story and content that “grabs” the attention of a scrolling reader. Yet the ad must grab attention in a positive way, not the way too many of us have been grabbing it — by forcing the viewer to watch the ad without any emotional reward.
We in the industry still have much to learn about digital advertising’s effectiveness, especially about digital video, since it’s so new. Let us show you some of our innovative brand formats.