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



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.






Do You Know Where Your Brand is Today?

Brand safety has suddenly become a hot topic. Because America, the world’s largest advertising market, has been divided into two camps by the 2016 election, the news industry and the nature of its content have taken center stage. Suddenly brands are concerned again about where their ads appear — a concern that had seemed to […]

Verizon and AOL Shift Strategy

It looks as if  the phone company formerly known as Verizon is taking some steps to bring itself into the digital world in more than name only.

Verizon is the fifth largest ad spender in the US, and controls about a quarter of the wireless industry’s total spend. Most of its spending is on traditional TV,  however,  over on the ZEDO blog we discussed its use of augmented reality in ads for its phone service. The carrier commissioned the building of a cellular network within the game of Minecraft, which allowed players to make phone calls from within the game. And now Verizon’s AOL media platform is experimenting with new video ad formats for 2017.

On Thursday at CES AOL rolled out several non-intrusive formats in line with the IAB’s L.E.A.N. standards for combatting the rash of ad blocker downloads that have characterized the past few years.  One of them is an alternative to pre-roll, which  is simultaneously one of the most coveted ad buys in digital video, and one of the most hated formats by consumers. Traditional pre-roll holds the viewer back from the video for 15, 30, or 60 seconds and measures in terms of completions. But AOL’s new PlayerUp 

is a suite of consumer friendly ad experiences that provide an alternative to preroll and consists of 3 primary ad experiences: 1. Bumper – Short 3-7 second, non-disruptive preroll video that sets the stage before quickly transitioning to the publisher video content 2. Watermark – Consumer-friendly experience offering advertisers the opportunity to extend their brand’s exposure beyond preroll by displaying an interactive overlay during playback of publisher video content. The Watermark unit can also be interactive and may expand upon click/tap to reveal a suite of interactive content while pausing the underlying publisher content. Upon closing the expanded Watermark, publisher content resumes playback 3. Pause – Advertisers have the option to incorporate subtle brand messaging each time the publisher video content is paused by the consumer.

In addition, Verizon has not said it will withdraw from its deal to buy Yahoo, although it has commented that it will try to get a better price on the deal. Yahoo still has a billion monthly users, and in is effort to become a digital media player, both Yahoo’s technology and Yahoo’s customers could be instrumental. And last summer, Verizon bought Complex Media in partnership with Hearst. Complex Media owns properties that can deliver millennial men to Verizon’s other businesses.

So Verizon is positioning itself for the shift to digital advertising, the commoditization of data pipes, and the slowing growth in cell phones by becoming a platform that can produce a large audience and some interesting ad formats to serve that audience.




Programmatic Direct Catches On

It’s been a pleasure for us finally to see the rise of programmatic direct in 2016. It means media planners are more certain of what they want to buy and they want to be sure they’re able to buy it at the right price and the right time.  They’re not leaving as much to chance (or rather automation) as they did when they were first buying programmatically. We think programmatic direct will be the future of video ad buys.

Why? Because this form of buying takes advantage of automated work flow, but allows the targeting of specific premium audiences — for example, New York Times readers, or Car and Driver visitors.

Historically (and it’s difficult to believe this has already become part of history) if you bought programmatically, it was from an open exchange, and it was done through RTB (real time bidding), an auction system that drove digital ad prices through the floor and convinced many premium publishers not to participate, except with their remnant inventory. In addition, RTB meant that buyers didn’t really know what they were buying, and were often victims of fraudsters.

Now we’re trying to take the best of the programmatic environment — its ability to target carefully, to scale, and to digitize media buying work flow — and extend it to more careful buying. In the past, we were more of an open exchange, while now we’re more into header bidding, Deal ID, and programmatic direct.

You will want to buy programmatic direct when:

1)you want to eliminate the possibility of fraud and malware

2)You want to guarantee the inventory you receive

3)you want to ensure brand safety

4)you still want the efficiencies of buying through an exchange.

Michael Kuntz, Senior VP of Digital Revenue at USA Today captures this change:

I think lots of clients have woken up and they’re saying, ‘We understand there are efficiencies in buying through an open exchange, but I’m not so confident my ads are showing up in the right environment,” Mr. Kuntz said. “I think the pendulum is starting to move away from just buying the right eyeballs in real time to, ‘Yeah, we want to do that, but we also want to make sure our ads are showing up on the right content and in an environment we’re comfortable with.'”

One of the problems slowing the acceptance of programmatic direct is uncertainty about semantics. Digital advertising is full of terms that have been invented to describe small changes in supply or demand side technologies that are supposed to make things easier for the buyer.

For example, at ZEDO we use a private platform to serve our ZINC ads. This makes it secure end-to-end, and allows us to do programmatic direct deals as well as header bidding with our premium supply.  On the publisher side, we carefully choose the publishers that are on the white lists of major brands. We may refer to our deals sometimes as programmatic direct, or we may just say we’re a secure private end-to-end platform.

At the end of the day, all the vendors who are trying to clean up the industry are going to be doing somewhat the same thing, despite the often confused nomenclature.

New Metrics “Adjustments” for Facebook

Facebook may get coal in its Christmas stocking this year.

It may take Facebook a while to begin to suffer visibly, but we predict, and have written in our ZEDO blog,  that we’ve passed peak Facebook. This is the third time Facebook has had to admit to brands that its numbers were off: the first time was in estimating how long visitors viewed video ads on the giant social network; the second was in calculating how many monthly visitors saw a brand page, and the third is in estimating the audience size for new campaigns.

There is also speculation that Facebook may be taking too much credit for app installs.

How many times can Facebook admit errors before brands lost faith in it as an advertising platform? Although it is tempting for a marketer to feel that there’s a single solution to media buying, it’s also possible that such solutions, like most anticipated panaceas, are just too good to be true.

Facebook certainly seems like one of those cases. Facebook has now begun to allow MOAT and Integral Ad Sciences to examine some of its numbers, but when advertisers lose trust, it’s tough to win it back. Moreover, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, recently sold a major stake in the company, supposedly to free himself up to go on to the next event in his own life, which is rumored to be government.

Some publishers have already drawn back from their all-but total commitment to the platform, concluding that they are not getting the revenue they were promised and yet were giving up too much of their brand.

Especially since the US election, consumers have also express distaste for Facebook, holding it somewhat responsible for distributing fake news. Although we haven’t yet seen a consumer survey, there is anecdotal evidence that people burned out by political polarization, vitriolic attacks from friends who disagree, and the evidence that Facebook may bear some responsibility for fake news without being willing to take responsibility have begun to spend less time on the site, withdrawing to other news and networking sources.

A sophisticated marketer can see this coming, and has already begun to cover her bets by buying in niche publications where she knows the audience will retreat after Facebook burnout. The combination of better programmatic marketing tools such as header bidding and developments in the world at large may have made Facebook less desirable as the only digital spend.


2017: Fundamentally Better Advertising

Strap on your safety belts, digital advertising will be very different in 2017. The IAB is in the process of creating new formats for online ads, reflecting both the LEAN principles it introduced last year and new aspect ratios that take into account cross-device campaigns. The new formats are in response to the shift to mobile, the demand of brand marketers for cross-device integrated campaigns, and new technologies such as mixed, augmented, and virtual reality, which debuted this year and will take over the market in fall 2017 when Apple releases its rumored tenth anniversary iPhone.

One other change that is suggested by these guidelines: we’re not going for scale and reach in the future. We are going for precise targeting that can be measured for attribution. Even in branding, we’re after the right customer, not just random eyeballs.

The draft is open for public comment until Nov. 28 and can be downloaded here. ZEDO has worked with the Online Trust Association to comment on the draft from a privacy, security, and malware perspective.

The following IAB Tech Lab member companies were part of the working group that created this draft: Aarki Grey Advertising Sizmek ABC TV Network GroupM Spongecell AdCade Gruuv Interactive Startapp Adelphic, Inc. Havoc Sublime Skinz AdGear Technologies, Inc. Ipsos TapAd Ansible J. Walter Thompson U.S.A., Inc. Team AOL AOL Kargo The New York Times Company AOL Platforms Mashable The Walt Disney Company Beachfront Media MediaCom The Weather Company, an IBM Business Bloomberg Merkle Inc Undertone CBS Interactive Micro Cube Digital Limited Unity Technologies Celtra Microsoft Advertising Unruly Cox Media Group MING Utility & Entertainment Group Cyber Ideas Monotype Vertebrae Dow Jones & Company (The Wall Street Journal) Flexitive Vibrant Media Ogilvy Xaxis Flashtalking PageFair Yahoo Flipboard PGA TOUR YieldMo Flite PointRoll Zillow Forbes Media R/GA Gannett Responsive Ads Google Saatchi & Saatchi NY .

Among many other changes, the new Dynamic Standards vary according to weather and geography, as well as demographics. Also, pixels are gone, replaced by aspect ratios, so the ads can be used across screens.

Developed by the IAB Tech Lab, the revised portfolio is based on HTML5 technology and comprised of flexible display ads, mobile ads, video ads, native ads, and introduces guidelines for new content experiences like virtual reality and social messaging ads.

The IAB also expects ads to contain emojis and stickers. Guaranteed will be user choice according to the LEAN Principles of lightweight, encrypted, AdChoice supported, and non-invasive advertising.

In some ways, getting rid of pixels will make it easier to create one piece of creative and deploy it across screens. Although we already support this capability, we’re in the process of getting absolutely every piece of this IAB guideline into our product roadmap so we’re ready for it when it comes. Because we are known for fundamentally better advertising, we want to continue to lead the market.




Fundamentally Better Advertising

Yesterday at the Digiday Agency Summit, Valter Sciarrillo, Head of Product Marketing at Quantcast,  gave a talk for agencies called “Differentiating Yourself Through Programmatic.”  This presentation highlighted how far behind the times agencies really are. Indeed, some are so far behind rapid industry change that they risk extinction as the industry moves past them.

Sciarrillo mentioned that only 6% of agencies actually felt comfortable buying programmatically. Indeed, 60% of agencies felt they didn’t even have a good definition of what programmatic actually is. And that’s despite the past five years of rapid growth and diversity in programmatic potential.

The problem is that when programmatic was first introduced, it was used for remnant. So a third of agency execs still think that’s what it’s for.

Not true. Programmatic is just a workflow solution, through which you can buy anything.  When you use a secure private platform like ours, you know exactly what you are getting. Our network is only premium publications, highly targeted. Especially since the introduction of header bidding, media buyers can know exactly what they are buying and they can use programmatic for branding.

Because it will take time for agencies to catch up, those who adopt programmatic for branding early have a competitive advantage in building the agency’s brand, as well as that of its clients.

Our offering, ZINC, is a better way to build brand in digital, whether you use header bidding, direct sales, or the self-service platform we have just launched for smaller agencies.
It is cost effective because actual users, not bots,  really see our ads:  they are in a better place on the page,  are a better size,  and utilize better timing. Right customer, right device, right time. We  also guarantee 100% viewablity and 100% fraud free advertising. No wasted impressions.
 We are able do this because we are a technology innovator in  ad delivery. We take the advertiser’s existing ads and in real time optimize the size, placement and timing in many ways to make sure that users see it.
That’s our secret sauce:  “fundamentally better advertising”  that only needs your existing creative.


ZINC Leads in Outstream for a Reason

The biggest complaint in the advertising industry as we drop further into Q4, its busiest season, is the lack of video inventory. Everybody wants to run video ads, because video completion rates are higher than the CTRs on banner ads. Especially on mobile, consumers seem to have more patience with video ads than display ads. However, when they speak about video inventory many brands still mean content on high-trafficked video sites like YouTube on which they can run pre-roll. There is indeed a scarcity of that.

However, pre-roll is not the best way to achieve results with video ads, as many other companies have already discovered. The unfortunately- named “outstream,” video ads on text sites are the best performers.

In this department, ZINC is the market leader, having been the first to market with this format.  We launched what we called inArticle video almost three years ago, before the term outstream even existed, and we also initiated the term “polite” for these ads, because they only came into view only when a reader scrolled down to them, and they were also easy to close or scroll past. As  a result of the precautions we take, our ads are not intrusive.

Not only that, we never have used auto-play sound, another reason we feel comfortable calling these ad formats “polite.”

We constantly win buys away from our competitors (and there aren’t many), because we get higher viewability scores with resulting higher rates for publishers. Even the competitors are asking us how we win so many good buys.

Here’s how: we have a better format, better technology, and a better premium publisher network. We have tested our viewability with third parties, and we’re at 93%. To be a market leader, you not only have to be a technology leader, you also have to be cognizant of consumer attitudes, and you have to run on only premium publishers. That’s us.

Yes, this is a self-serving post. Every once in a while we have to sneak one in, because not enough people know what we do.


A DMP Should Be in Your Future

The biggest new trend in digital marketing for 2016 in the Data Management Platform (DMP). It’s not new, but it has finally become an object of consideration as advertisers hope to reverse the trend toward blocking unwanted ads. One of the remedies for this would be to make the ads more “wanted,” or better tolerated, and better data is seen as the way to accomplish this.

The DMP aggregates information from across all the marketers’ channels and helps to make more granularly targeted online advertising more possible. The hope for this new tool is that it will lead to fewer and better ads with higher ROI.

From a sell-side perspective a data management platform might be very valuable to collect and monetize data from web properties. A publisher could decide to sell this data (to end clients or to data providers) or think about a more sophisticated approach where the data is used to enrich  available inventory and sell a package to clients that consists of both media and data. This is of growing importance as more and more publishers get their traffic from Facebook and other referral traffic that isn’t Google. The aggregated audience data from the publishers should then match up better with the cross-channel customer data from the brand’s own DMP.

From the ad buyer’s perspective,  consolidating  data from multiple sources (e.g. a DSP, data provider or custom data source) allows an agency to make better media buys. For example, in an advertising campaign for a retail advertiser, an agency or brand manager can collect relevant on-site data by adding segment and conversion pixels to the advertiser’s website and store this information in a data management platform. Then data from a data provider that provides demographic or contextual data can help build more detailed audiences. Based on the campaign results, you create an audience with  website visitors that actually made a purchase.  You can then use this new audience for another ad campaign. That’s very valuable, but still pretty basic for most of the DMPs.

At the next, more sophisticated level, media buyers can use the data to model similar audiences based on user characteristics in the original audience and find other users in their DMPs who will match these characteristics. Ultimately these actions should lead to an increase in advertising effectiveness and the DMP can be a vital element to realize this.