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.

 

 

To Avoid Fines, Buy Carefully

We recently had breakfast with the head of a regional advertising agency in the Southwest. After he finished telling us about how much native advertising and influencer marketing he was doing, he told us about how he also buys advertising beyond the social platforms to reach specific niches. Of course he does that programmatically.  These are the sort of cross-channel campaigns we read about in marketing blogs.

And yet he had never heard of the European law taking effect about 8 months from now, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), that will probably change the advertising business globally. “As of next May, if advertisers have not obtained specific consent from individuals, they cannot market to them in any shape or form,” writes Ad Exchanger, one expert source on programmatic advertising. Ad exchanges, its core constituency, stand to lose most when these regulations take effect.

Although the world sometimes seems pretty small, especially to mobile Millennials, most day-to-day American advertising decisions are not made with European consumer data in mind, even though many marketers do have customer data on European citizens who have bought their products.

The EU’s new privacy rules are likely to disrupt the global digital marketing scene by preventing companies from using an EU citizen’s data unless they have obtained their direct consent. This will apply to the data of every EU citizen, regardless of where in the world their data is being used or stored. This means that US companies, such as Facebook and Google, which no doubt possess a large amount of EU citizen data, will have to pay attention to the regulation across the pond and take the same steps as everyone else to become compliant.

Come next May, if these companies have not obtained specific permission to market to individual Europeans, they will be fined heavily. The precursor to this was the $4 billion fine just levied against Google. The European Commission is not fooling around.

The easiest way to become compliant is to offer some kind of bonus to consumers who give their data willingly, and many marketers are already doing that. Business to business marketing has done it for years: “give us your email address to download this free white paper on privacy.”  But consumer brands have simply adopted automated relationship building, buying for reach across dozens of exchanges, and marketing to people they only know because the media buyer has targeted a specific demographic and the algorithm claims to deliver it.

Although every advertiser and marketer who is in possession of customer data (we are not) will be affected by these regulations, they’ll fall hardest on those ad tech companies that offer data for targeting.  This may affect how programmatic advertising is used in the future. At the very least, it will be used more carefully in specific situations, mostly as a workflow improvement  rather than as a way to guarantee reach.

The emphasis on reach, in our opinion, has nearly destroyed the advertising industry, and we can’t wait for niche advertising, based on real customer relationships and customer choice, to return.

 

Geo-Location Doesn’t Guarantee Anything

An  experiment that took place during Hurricane Harvey has given us some worthwhile data on the status of programmatic advertising on mobile.

We tend to forget that programmatic tools are still in their relative infancy, and that there’s more to advertising than simply data. But Augustine Fou’s Houston v. Bozeman test should bring us back to how much we still have to learn.

On Monday morning [August31], the torrential rains and flooding caused by tropical storm Harvey gave Houston residents plenty to worry about. Yet that didn’t seem to keep them from using photo-filtering and music-discovery apps between 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. local time—largely the same rate as did people who were out of harm’s way some 1,500 miles northwest in Bozeman, Mont.

At least that’s what it looked like when programmatic digital buys were placed across 18 exchanges early Monday in a test conductged by cybersecurity researcher Augustine Fou of Marketing Science Consulting Group. Buys in the two cities went to the exact same group of 15 apps, despite the very different circumstances.

Fou’s experiment showed that fraudulent traffic came in equal numbers to a forest fire public service  announcement from both cities, despite both time and weather differences. The ad ran on 18 exchanges, and the traffic came from  fake devices through data centers such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, using proxies indicating it had come from various residential IP addresses.

the test showed all the geo-located traffic he bought … was fraudulent. Even though [Fou] didn’t specify by type of device, 100% of the buys came from Android mobile apps. The traffic was proportional to the relative populations of Bozeman and Houston despite all the power, cellular service and evacuation issues in the latter. And none of the ads generated a single click, despite the fact that accidental “fat thumb” clicks always occur when human traffic is involved, Fou says. “Common sense,” he adds, “says this cannot be real.”

All the fake data came, however, from Android mobile apps, and none from iPhone. There’s plenty of awareness about the security leaks in the Android system, but the numbers are so large that the ad buys are attractive for brands that need scale. The lesson here is that there’s a big difference between “scale” and “real,” even with ge-fencing.

It’s not that geo-fencing never works. It’s just that we’re not at a stage yet where fraud detection has much visibility on mobile apps,and geo-fencing isn’t a guarantee. Advertisers may pay higher CPMs for geo-targeted data, but they still have no guarantee that they will get good data.

Most fraud detection systems were designed to work on desktops, and despite the fact that most advertising dollars have now shifted to mobile, fraud detection hasn’t yet caught up. It will. It must.

The good news is that the major apps, like Google Maps, Facebook, and Foursquare are not among those sending the fraudulent data.

 

The Advertising Agency Business Must Change

The advertising business as we know it is outmoded for the world we live in today. Think about it: it was founded to get messages to consumers who were scattered over many different forms of media: print, TV, radio, billboards. We did not have a very good idea of where those consumers spent their time, so companies like Procter and Gamble and Ford outsourced the reaching of customers to advertising agencies. Advertising agencies developed relationships with many different media outlets to get the best “deal” for their clients on a media buy. It wasn’t a core competency of a CPG company to spend its time buying media, so that became the agency function.

Simultaneous with the buying of media came the growth of the “creative” function, or the design of messaging appropriate to each different media outlet. As companies grew bigger, their agencies had to become bigger as well, and when they went global, their agencies went with them. Brand building on a global scale was a difficult job, aggregating many different media outlets, messaging changes, and even language problems. Most of you aren’t old enough to remember the big mistake Chevy made when it tried to introduce its Nova vehicle in Latin America: it was ignorant for the fact that “Nova” meant “No go” in Spanish.

But then came the internet, and for the past two decades the internet has been aggregating consumers in the same way ad agencies used to do. The aggregation was speeded up substantially by the growth of Google as a universal search engine, and then by Facebook with its two billion users.

So much of the advertising dollar is already spent with Google and Facebook that ad agencies are going to have to redefine their purpose. It is no longer to aggregate consumers through widespread media buys: advertisers who are looking for reach can now go directly to Facebook and Google.  And those who are trying to build brands can take their creative function in house.

That’s why WPP reported such mediocre results on its latest earnings call, and also why it recently made an investment in Gimlet Media, a podcast publisher.

Another problem for traditional ad agencies is that their largest clients have always been consumer products (CPG) and retail, and both of those industries are changing. As they move to digital, brand building will become the most important aspect of advertising, and agencies will have to re-ignite their creative capabilities and try to find a way to make money from them, rather than from media buys.

Agencies that began as digital pure plays, and don’t have the legacy infrastructure that goes along with print and TV, will have less of an adjustment. But if you think about it, what’s going to happen in advertising is what already happened on the publisher, or content side: many agencies that are top heavy and can’t restructure fast enough will go away. WPP’s entire business model was built for a pre-internet world. The big behemoths won’t go away for a while, but their revenues will come mostly from their digital side, and they will have to learn to build digital brands.

Who has built a digital brand so far? Facebook. Google. Amazon. Digital companies. The rest will have to struggle to catch up.

 

Did We Learn Anything at Advertising Week?

Now that New York Advertising Week is over, we can go back to dismissing many of the predictions made there. (Just kidding). Some of these predictions will come true, of course, but not very quickly. Others are upon us already.

Vertical video, for instance, is already accepted by users, who grew up on Periscope and Vine. It’s not a big stretch to think that advertising will use it more fruitfully in the near future and should have been doing so already. Ogilvy is experimenting with it now. Its creative director, Tham Khai Meng, believes that constraints force agencies to take creative leaps and do great work.    He spoke on a panel about storytelling last week.

We can grab the highlights about everything else that’s barreling toward us from a report by PSFK called, no less, “The Future of Advertising,” in which the agency reminds us that consumers are no longer content to be spoken to by brands, and want to have a value-based relationship with any brand asking for their attention. (This has been said since “The Cluetrain Manifesto”). PSFK reminds us that the human attention span is moving steadily downward, from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2014, and that ad blocking went mainstream in 2015, with 121 million people downloading ad blockers. Millennials spend more time in messaging apps than on social networks now, so targeting must also change.

And perhaps worst, 59% of online traffic stems not from humans, but from query-focused bots.

Sounds terrible, doesn’t it?  But the news is not all bad. Although the industry is changing, 50% of brands think advertising is more important than ever, even if 56% of those brands think agencies are less so, and 44% agree that media outlets are fading in importance. 80% of media outlets think the agency is less important than before. In this survey of 150 professionals across 14 countries from brands, agencies, and media outlets, the most obvious conclusion is that the agencies are in more trouble than anyone else in the business.

At the end of the day, PSFK’s report says what we all know: consumers are motivated by reward, utility, loyalty, entertainment, status, novelty, or convenience. What’s amazing is how often we forget to trigger those motivators in advertising.

While we all need to concern ourselves with the typical digital media issues in the near term — fraud, lack of viewability, and the use of artificial intelligence against us by bots — some of the farther out predictions are exciting.

For example, Virtual Reality. Although Apple didn’t give us the big VR/AR announcement we expected when they launched the new iPhones, the company did introduce its developer platform, ARkit, which forced Google to launch one as well. And in the industry, experiments are already under say to use VR as an advertising tool. Mark Lore, CEO of e-Commerce for WalMart in the US said that in WalMart’s tech lab store number 8 they are already testing virtual reality that takes you to a virtual lake to test out fishing gear.

We predict that virtual reality isn’t something that will overtake the industry next year, but will eventually compromise a large part of advertising’s creative as better glasses and better applications are released. In the meantime, augmented reality will be the most useful tool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In-App Video Replacing TV

The Q2 eMarketer survey tells us that

US digital video ad spending is on a faster growth track than previously estimated. It will grow at annual double-digit rates into the next decade, reaching $22.18 billion in 2021. At the same time, subscription-based services are proliferating, indicating that both pillars of digital video monetization—advertising and consumer spending—are healthy.

The younger the viewer, the more likely he or she is to favor digital video over TV. In fact, generation Z, now entering college, is predicted never to sign up for cable TV at all, which has led companies like At&T to offer a new over-the-top streaming service called DirectTVNow, which offers most of the common and premium channels for a flat fee of $50 per month. Unless you are a sports junkie, that’s good enough, and for sports or film junkies you can subscribe to HBO and ESPN for $5 each.

This will change the kind of ad formats advertisers can and should use.  Through DirectTVNow, advertisers will be able to

dynamically insert ads into live programming. But this too will vary network by network and be limited to the two minutes of commercial time per hour that AT&T can sell. The commercials that networks sell nationally will mostly remain the same.

There’s no denying the potential for TV services delivered to individual internet addresses to drastically alter the TV ad model. More data and the technology to serve ads to specific households or signed-in individuals makes TV delivered over the web an attractive opportunity for advertisers.

As of now, most of viewer’s online video is still spent on TV: 4 hours of TV compared to 1:12 on video. But by next year, TV viewing will fall to 3:57 to 1:15. Notice that the time people spend viewing video stays steady; we only have so much time after work, sleep and family, but the way video is viewed is changing. It took TV viewing a while to declines, but it did.

DirectTVNow just debuted six months ago, and will take time to catch on. But it shows where the industry is going, and if I were an advertiser, agency, or brand, I’d be looking to develop an expertise in in-app advertising targeted to specific affinity groups, such as the ones that favorite the CW network, or the ones that favorite MSNBC. These ads should be for branding, and they should engage the specific consumer.

We just happen to have one of those in our repertoire. It’s called “Watch and Engage,” and it is beginning to be adopted by the early adopter brands who understand that the future of brand advertising is not in TV, but in streaming media services.

GDPR Will Bring Fundamentally Better Advertising

If you live in Europe, you already know about the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a new regulation of consumer data that takes effect in May 2018. Its objective is to return control of data to the individual consumer, and it strikes fear into the hearts of businesses, especially marketers. Even if you are not in the EU, you are likely to be affected, as you cannot always tell when you are targeting a European consumer in a programmatic buy. From Wikipedia:

The implementation of the EU GDPR will require comprehensive changes to business practices for companies that had not implemented a comparable level of privacy before the regulation entered into force (especially non-European companies handling EU personal data).

There is already a lack of privacy experts and knowledge as of today and new requirements might worsen the situation. Therefore education in data protection and privacy will be a critical factor for the success of the GDPR.

The European Commission and DPAs have to provide sufficient resources and power to enforce the implementation and a unique level of data protection has to be agreed upon by all European DPAs since a different interpretation of the regulation might still lead to different levels of privacy.

We’ve written about this before, but now we have a more optimistic take on it for marketers. We think that its implementation, once the kinks are ironed out, will allow not only for greater consumer privacy, but for more effective ad spend. Several companies are already trying to bridge the gap between consumers and advertisers with personal data solutions. In these solutions, the data stays with the consumer, who can then decide to share it with marketers who are relevant to her needs. It will truly lead to what Seth Godin called “permission-based marketing” a decade ago:  

Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.

It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention.

Pay attention is a key phrase here, because permission marketers understand that when someone chooses to pay attention they are actually paying you with something precious. And there’s no way they can get their attention back if they change their mind. Attention becomes an important asset, something to be valued, not wasted.

Real permission is different from presumed or legalistic permission. Just because you somehow get my email address doesn’t mean you have permission. Just because I don’t complain doesn’t mean you have permission. Just because it’s in the fine print of your privacy policy doesn’t mean it’s permission either.

Real permission works like this: if you stop showing up, people complain, they ask where you went.

Our company tagline is “fundamentally better advertising.” We try for this in every product we develop.

We’ll be writing more about personal data control solutions and brand advertising in the coming weeks. This is the most important thing to happen to advertising since the internet.

How Advertising Will Survive

We’ve been writing a bit about the future of advertising lately, because it is changing very fast.  It is not, however going away. It tracks as a percentage of GDP just like it always has. However, that doesn’t mean we can sit back and pretend  things will always be the same. Indeed, they can’t be, because the canvas is being removed from ad creatives in many ways.

We already know that print is gone. We don’t mean the same things by “newspaper” that we used to mean. Our guess is that newspapers, who were our original publisher partners, will fall into disuse as a vocabulary word in the next generation. Young people born today may never read a newspaper. Which does not mean they won’t still consume news. It may, however, have a different business model.

The same thing is happening to television this year. Time spent watching both network and cable TV is falling dramatically. However, video content is still being consumed — only it is being consumed on Netflix, without ads.

And then there are the ad blockers being downloaded by people who do watch ad-supported content, but refuse to look at the ads.

So here’s what advertising has to do: it has to get better. If we’ve said this once, we’ve said it a hundred times since this blog started in 2011: advertisers have to bring more and better creative to digital advertising.  As the founder of ZEDO, I’ve been all over the world giving talks on how  there is no reason digital advertising can’t be as good as TV advertising was at its best.

The only reason we’re in this mess today is that we took the wrong fork in the road: the fork toward direct response and direct marketing instead of taking the one that led us to branding. That led us down the track to emphasizing data and metrics at the expense of the consumer. That is why digital advertising has such a poor reputation: none of it is designed to delight or even educate. It’s designed to hew to some metric that may not even be the right one for the brand.

All that should stop right now, before we do ourselves and free ad-supported content any further damage. If we recognize that brands want top-of-mind awareness is an increasingly noisy world, and if we leave the direct marketing to the Amazons of the world, we can transform our industry yet again and keep that $600 billion in spend as part of the GDP in the US.

And will that work in other countries? It will work even better. It will automatically comply with the GDPR, and when the rest of the world comes on to the internet, it will not have to endure the bad ads and retargeting that we’ve faced for the past twenty years.

I am indebted to Andrew Essex, author of “The End of Advertising: Why it Had to Die and the Creative Resurrection to Come” for some of the ideas in this book. And by the way, he admits that’s a clickbait title and what’s really dying is BAD advertising:-)

 

The State of Digital Media 2017

Coming so soon after Mary Meeker’s presentation on Internet Trends, Luma Partners’ report on the State of Digital Media this year was a bit buried by the press. But this report was equally important to advertisers looking to maximize their dollars and and their return on those dollars. Advertisers have only recently awakened to the fact that they pay the bills and should be calling the shots.

Since last year’s Luma report, a new issue has joined the previous list of industry problems: adverse context. We know that issue as brand safety, and it joins viewability and fraud as major negatives for the industry. Other things occupying marketers’ minds are how and what to measure, how to avoid being in the clutches of the “walled gardens,”  and how to insure compliance with upcoming GDPR changes.

Luma believes header bidding, which started as a “hack” back when we began offering it, has emerged into a unique disruptive force, and will change the buying habits of advertisers by slimming the supply chain. Publishers have formed consortia (like our premium network) to provide guaranteed premium inventory, and the result will be higher CPMs and fewer choices.

Another confusing issue is measurement. The major platforms all measure viewability differently,

State of Digital Media

Issues change in importance from year to year.

and some have yet to involve third parties to generate metrics. On the other hand, the marketing side of the house is not even sure viewability is the right thing to measure — perhaps it should be engagement. But if engagement, on a platform like Snap, doesn’t result in an immediate sale, how do we account for it? It’s suspiciously blurry, just like offline advertising always has been, but now we have so much data that we think we should know more.

This movement toward greater interest in tracking the correct metric led to what Mary Meeker called in her presentation the convergence of content, ads, and purchase. The least complicated metric to track is sales, and we may find ourselves moving once again to direct response advertising, although with a more native feel to it. Yet every publisher cannot be or look like an Amazon store.

In the world those of us in advertising are inhabiting right now, it’s a day to day struggle to focus on creating value for customers, but it’s also a very exciting time when no one does the same thing day after day. The opportunity to bring creativity to the industry has never been greater.

Can a Strong Brand Be Like a Religion?

Why has digital advertising taken such pains to ruin something as wonderful as how people feel about the brands they love by assuming that brand ads don’t work online and only interruptive, painful calls to action do?  The direction taken by many in online advertising seems to fly in the face of the last decade of neuromarketing research,  and is about to cause advertisers to shoot themselves in their collective feet. There is no evidence that consumers don’t want to see brand ads, and tons of it to show that they are both tuning out and turning off ads that the industry regards as “performance.”
Our emotional engagement with strong brands shares something with our feelings about religion. This  truth was revealed to me as I was reading “Stealing Fire,” a book about how altered states of consciousness are being used by both business and the military to bring about “flow states,” those states in which people show extraordinary creativity and team work.  Burning Man, the large art festival in the Nevada desert, is an example of how an entire city can be created by self-managed teams in flow states.

However, the fact that engagement with strong brands lit up the same brain centers as religious experiences still took me by surprise, and it illuminated for me many of the things that are wrong with digital advertising, and some that the industry could easily get right.

In 2007 a collection of the world’s biggest brands, including Apple, Sony, and Coco Cola, Nike, Samsung, and Ford, put up $7million to fund a study into the neuroscience of buying behavior. They wanted to study whether there were more effective ways to influence behavior than what they were using, and saw this study as a way to replace old-school focus groups with brain scans.

A marketing consultant named Martin Lindstrom teamed up with a neuroscientist, Gemma Calvert to conduct the study. Lindstrom later wrote Brandwashed. They used functionalMRI  and electroencephalograms to scan the brains of people as they made buying decisions, discovering along the way that product placement in movies and TV shows rarely works, and that shopping and spirituality share the same neuronal activity.

Of course there was a backlash, since no one wants to think of themselves as being manipulated. But that doesn’t mean creative departments and marketers can’t strive for stronger brands and better brand experiences. Bought and executed correctly, ads for strong brands can produce similar feelings of joy, love and serenity to those produced in religious people by religious iconography — an emotional engagement for which marketers strive. And with the right platforms and media buying policies, we can even do this programmatically.

So let’s not ruin it by creating ads that merely ask for the sale, and don’t provide worthy experiences.