Making Mobile InApp Advertising Better

We all know that mobile app advertising is not as simple as advertising on the desktop through a browser. And yet, all consumers now spend most of their time on their phones, so it’s a problem that must be solved. In theory. IAB has solved it, but there are still outstanding issues:

MRAID, or “Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface Definitions” is the common API (Application Programming Interface) for mobile rich media ads that will run in mobile apps. This is a standardized set of commands designed to work with HTML5 and JavaScript that developers creating rich media ads use to communicate what those ads do (expand, resize, get access to device functionalities such as the accelerometer, etc) with the apps into which they are being served.

Without MRAID different apps (incorporating different rich media vendors’ SDKs) have disparate requirements in terms of the APIs that creative developers must use to communicate with the app. Therefore, the same creative must be rewritten in order to run across different apps. MRAID offers a single API that diverse SDK vendors will support, which means that MRAID-compliant rich media ads will run within applications using any MRAID-compliant SDK. MRAID therefore enables creative agencies and rich media shops to more quickly and easily build rich creative that will run in different publishers’ mobile apps.

The first issue is dealing with application developers; getting an advertising SDK into their mobile apps is tricky. App developers may want to monetize their apps, but on the other hand they do not want to destroy their user experience. This leaves brands at the mercy of app developers.

We try our hardest to get those developers to add or update our SDK into their apps. But we’ve found we have to try a different approach in case we can’t get them to do it.

This approach is called MRAID WnE, and it isn’t as complicated as it sounds.

ZINC has built an MRAID creative that has WnE functionality built in. We are currently running some tests on TTD to understand the performance and practical feasibility of this approach.

Where will it be useful?

If we want to run our WnE Ads on Apps that  have not integrated our SDK, we can buy inventory using our MRAID WnE.

Can VPAID JS run in apps? We want to know.

We are also doing other product development experiments. There are many advertising SDKs out there, and many of them offer video. We don’t currently know how many of them are using their own video players, rather than the native player to serve video ads, and how many of them can play VPAID JS.

New learning is very important, and because mobile app advertising is so new, especially video, every bit of new knowledge we gain will help us innovate.

And we are hell bent to keep our reputation as the most innovative company in the business.

Trafficking UI for WnE

We are also making life easy for our AdOps team.  Soon, WnE Ads trafficking will be an automated and speedy task, with no manual work and thus none of the errors manual work generates.

 

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.

 

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.

The Future of Advertising

Advertising was born as a way to introduce consumers to new products. It was placed in a mass medium through which consumers got both information and product knowledge. Because consumers had to go to a store to buy, advertising was often separated from the buying experience by hours, days, weeks. The goal of traditional advertising was to keep the name of the product in the mind of a consumer until that consumer was ready to buy. That was called branding.

However, today information about products is everywhere, especially on e-commerce sites like Amazon. You may want to ask whether we even need advertising in a world so full of product information.

We do. We need it to distinguish between one product and other in the same space. And we still need it to keep the names of products top of mind until we are ready to buy. 99% of the time people are online, they’re not there to buy anything. That’s the big mistake digital advertising made in its early years. Every time an ad appeared, it tried to sell someone something. This annoyed the non-purchasing visitors.

We are entering a different world for advertising. The app store now has 2,000,000 apps that have been downloaded 130,000,000,000 times. $50b has been paid by Apple directly to developers. There are now four separate Apple platforms, each of which is world changing, and each of which has its own apps. And we haven’t even talked about Android, which has the lion’s share of the mobile market.

Every app developer is a publisher, and each is competing with traditional publishers for attention. If you are playing Candy Crush, you are not consuming news. And if you are consuming news, chances are its curated within an app. The open web has lost ground to the application economy. The audience is fragmented beyond belief.

What does this mean for advertisers? It means many opportunities to bring a message to potential customers, but in a different environment with different affordances. It’s not about the masses anymore, it’s about the niches.

To reach niches, engagement is key. Advertisers need to be clever about how they attempt to engage people who are not online to buy. Their goals need to be changed from performance to branding, and their strategies altered accordingly.

That’s why brands are beginning to buy our Watch and Engage interactive sponsorships. They’re the future of advertising.

A New Idea for Advertisers

Sometimes everything old is new again. And that’s the case with sponsorships in the advertising world. We believe they will have an ever-increasing role in advertising going forward. Let’s take a walk back in time.

In the late 1940s, radio was full of wonderful audio shows like “The Lone Ranger” and “Portia Faces Life.” These were fifteen minutes long, and they were “brought to you by” a brand, sometimes Ivory Soap (which is how they got the name soap operas), Quaker Oats or Crisco. At the beginning of the show, you were told who brought you the show. There was no other interruption, unless the sponsor had an offer, which was something like “send in a boxtop from Quaker Oats with your name and address and $.25 and receive a Lone Ranger glow in the dark plastic ring. Or send in the label from a can of Crisco and receive a recipe.

That’s how customer information was collected and “tracking” was done. If you liked the offer, you participated and gave your address. If not, no one followed you.

By the 1950s when TV became big, the shows were an hour long and quite expensive to produce. So there was Milton Berle, brought to you by Texaco. To see Berle, you had to sit through an opening song by four men in gas station uniforms:

Oh we’re the men of Texico,
We work from Maine to Mexico
There’s nothing like this Texico of ours.
Our show tonight is powerful.
We’ll wow you with an hourful
Of howls from a showerful of stars
We’re the merry Texaco men
Tonight we may be show men
Tomorrow we’ll be showmen
Tomorrow we’ll be servicing your cars.

 

 

The opening jingle, really an ad, was live and ran for 1:29. But it wasn’t even seen as an ad. There was, of course, no tracking.
And yet, 65 years later, I still sing that song to myself and think kindly of Texaco for bringing me Milton Berle, as other big brands like Procter and Gamble (now P&G) and Philip Morris Cigarettes brought us “I Love Lucy.” I still remember the bell boy in his uniform yelling “call for Philip Morris” as if he were paging a guest in the lobby of a hotel.

What’s our point? It’s that brand advertising works, and produces long-lasting brand awareness in a way that modern digital advertising doesn’t. We need that break-out creative person to design something like the opening Texico jingle or simply the “brought to you by brand name and tagline.” Looking back at these old ads, which we remember from our own childhoods, we realize how successful they actually were, and yet they were non-interruptive

We have pre-roll formats that could and should be used by advertisers for brand advertising. We’re all for pre-roll, but only if it’s worth looking at. The creative could look like a sponsorship and instead of being called an ad, these should perhaps indicate that they are sponsorships. Perhaps that would be a way to earn back the trust of consumers who are fed up by the aggressive techniques of modern digital advertising.

How to Make Consumers Want to Engage with Ads

We are a technology leader, and we have been struggling with how to make advertising effective and non-intrusive on mobile devices. We think we have come up with something that will not ruin the user experience for publishers and will also allow advertisers to build a brand, which has been very difficult to do in digital advertising up to now.
It’s useful to remember what a brand really is. A brand is a repeatable experience, a promise you made to a customer about your product. If you are Starbucks, the brand promise is that the coffee will be the same in Rotorua,  New Zealand as it is on Madison Avenue in New York, and so will the service. If you are BMW, your brand is that your engineering will be superior to everyone else’s–the ultimate driving machine. Brand managers know that the holy grail for a brand is top of mind awareness. That’s why it costs so much to build a strong brand. First comes a good product, and then comes a big awareness campaign.
Brands were originally built through print advertising in  newspapers and magazines, and then began to be built on TV. But a combination of factors have interfered with the ability to build a brand through digital advertising.
The first is an over-emphasis on metrics  and numbers even if we are measuring the wrong things.  That’s fine for direct response, but brand metrics have to be a softer number.
Then  came the commodification of creative, since all we were after was scale. Surely somewhere among those huge numbers now reachable would be our target customer. Early banner ads were all about incentives, and that’s why they were successful. Click for a MacDonalds special, click for a coupon.
But we’re now banner blind, and audiences click on nothing.  The plain fact, as Doc Searls reminded me, is that 99% of the time we’re on the web we don’t want to buy anything. Rather than acknowledge that and stick with brand advertising, consumer reluctance only made advertisers seek out more and more intrusive ad formats and more and more scale.
They forgot about incentivizing the customer. And they determined that building a brand was too difficult, so the focus shifted to tighter and tighter targeting.
We have always been a technology leader, but our leadership isn’t based on tracking consumers or selling personalized data.We are more interested in building engaging advertising formats that don’t destroy the user experience at a publisher site, and that encourage consumers to watch and complete a video ad.
Our newest format, Watch and Engage, incentivizes consumers who are playing games. It’s a short in app video ad that runs only at the end of the game, not interrupting play.  At the end, it incentivizes the consumer to do something. We have had outstanding completion rates with this format in the first few weeks it has been rolled out, and we’re looking to find more brand managers to try it out with us.
This is not an ad that can or will be blocked, because it offers the consumer something that she wants. Because it’s our proprietary format, we can’t give too much detail in a blog post, but we have shown it to enough ad execs to know that they are enthusiastic about its results for top of mind awareness.
For a private demo, contact us at adsales@zedo.com.

How to Get Creative in the Feed

We were listening to a podcast about creativity in the feed, and we realized there is something VERY new happening in advertising.  Because most advertising now takes place in the news feed, there are new opportunities and challenges for brands.

There is no such thing any longer as an ad campaign based only on traditional ad “units.” Instead the future will consist more and more of branded emojis, stickers and chatbots communicating with the consumer in entirely new ways that are more contextually relevant. Those “ad units” of the future are in messaging apps, which go well beyond just the feed.

For creatives, the fact that larger ad units have disappeared, creates a narrow but potentially very appealing possibility. But first the advertising industry has to get rid of the “muscle memory” it developed back in the day when two thirds of what people consumed was controllable by the media industry. Now, a switch has been flipped and only a third of what people consume is controllable, because there’s so much consumer preference and so much user-generated content organic.

We used to try to change consumer behavior with communications platforms. Now, instead, we have to change brand behavior. We used to be able to invade consumer spaces with repurposed TV ads, but consumers have told us in no uncertain terms that they don’t want to be invaded, though they may still be willing to get engaged.

Advertising needs to be invited into people’s feeds. Consumers are far more judicious in what they want to see in their feeds, and they only want to see a brand that is accretive to their lives in some way — perhaps learning or educational, a utility, commerce, or entertainment. If it doesn’t fall into those buckets, people are not interested.

The brands that are going to be invited into the feed are going to be minimal if we follow those dicta, so brands will also have to figure out how to “crash” the feed. And here Rob Norman, the host of Tagline, had something very telling to say: if you are going to crash someone’s feed you have to be like the crasher at a party — the guy who wasn’t invited but gets very drunk and is allowed to stay because he’s very funny, rather than the guy who crashes the party and ruins it.

Thus brands and agencies have to think about how to be valuable.  Facebook, Google and the other large platforms feel like the key to this puzzle is relevance, which is determined by artificial intelligence in programmatic buys that take place in trillionths of seconds. In that context, how does a creative agency determine what message will get the most relevant ads surfaced most frequently?

This is where chatbots come in. For example, in a successful recent NFL campaign for Bud Light,  a bot asked two simple questions in a messaging app, “where do you live” and “what’s your team,” and then disappeared until two hours before game time, when an ad in the feed appeared for BudLight along with a link to a beer delivery service. That’s probably the best contextual use of bots and ads we’ve seen in a while.

We’d welcome your ideas for other creative ways to make consumers more comfortable with ads in the feed. Put your comments here, or on the   Twitter.

 

 

Acceptable Ads Committee Ponders Problems

Eyeo, the German company behind AdBlock Plus, has been trying to find a helpful way to play in the digital media industry without selling out its user base and still make money. Last year, it established standards for acceptable ads — ads that would get through AdBlock Plus’s filters. After being accused of extortion, Eyeo showed good faith by establishing a standards setting body call the Acceptable Ads Commission of industry heavyweights on the buy, sell and tech sides and spun it off into a separate non-profit corporation.  Like every other industry initiative, it will probably soon be dominated by Facebook and Google, who are already paying Eyeo to have their ads white-listed.

But we don’t believe that Eyeo is in the extortion business, so we accepted a seat on the AdTech segment of the Acceptable Ads Commission. The first meeting was last week, and the agenda was quite inclusive.

Goal: Establish what constitutes an acceptable ad.

Core Values of AAC:

— Protect user experience

— Approve ads that users do not find obtrusive

— Provide publishers/content creators with monetization opportunities

As the ad tech section of this Commission,  we wanted to discuss the value exchange of the internet, and the right of publishers to support themselves based on free content and services. However, we also want to help find appropriate solutions for intrusiveness, privacy and data collection, load time, native advertising, and ad formats. It does not help anyone if free content goes away, quality publishers can’t sustain themselves, and brands can’t find their customers.

The questions we considered include:

  1. What rules should be considered when exempting an ad from being blocked?
  2. What rules are missing from the Acceptable Ads Rules that should be included?
  3. Which acceptable ads rules are too strict and should be rolled back?
  4. What research is needed into this, and does it already exist?

There are a crazy number of industry initiatives going on right now into which this new group must fit itself. There is the Coalition for Better Ads, there is the Trustworthy Accountability Group, a spinoff from IAB, and now the new Chrome Ad Blocker. We also need to recognize efforts to provide users with transparency and choice, ie DigiTrust and the Online Trust Alliance.

Part of the still-to-be-discussed items are whether a committee that originated with an ad blocking service can ever be truly independent, and whether if people like us participate, we will be seen as having a conflict of interest.

But I believe we’re on track to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem, which is how we always see ourselves. As a closed system, ZINC and ZEDO are in a unique position to advise buyers on what can and cannot run in our system, and advise publishers on issues like ad density. We have a suite of ad formats that are all part of the acceptable ads framework, and a network of publishers whose content is brand safe depending on the brand, We will also adhere to everyone’s white list.

No one ever got fired for buying ZEDO:-)

 

 

Google Changes its Last Look Policy

In the past year, as publishers have fought to preserve their advantage in a world controlled by big platforms such as Facebook, Google, and perhaps Snapchat, more and more of them have gone to header bidding, or “first look.”  According to AdProfs excellent Beginners’ Guide to Header Bidding,

Header bidding is an additional auction that takes place outside of the ad server, in the header of a web page, which loads before anything else on the page. The header typically contains metadata about the page and calls scripts used for formatting the style of the page, tracking, and so on. Because of this, it’s an ideal area to conduct a new auction.”

Header bidding shifted control from Google’s adserver, DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP) back to the publisher, and many publishers in our network have embraced it. We support it with all our technical resources and were influential in making it work early in the game to create an advantage for our publisher partners.

But no one in the industry thought that Google would sit back and take the loss of its hegemony lightly, and a few weeks ago Google decided to contest the advantages of header bidding by changing its own exchange rules. From AdExchanger:

“We are collecting the price each exchange would pay, including AdX, and then putting it in a unified auction where the highest price wins,” Bellack said.

Here’s how the programmatic auction will work: All EBDA exchange participants – including Index Exchange, Rubicon Project, PubMatic, Sovrn, Smaato and Gamut – submit their final bids. The DoubleClick AdExchange (AdX) also submits its final bid. And the best price wins.

Previously, AdX would wait for all those other exchanges to submit their bids, and then give itself a chance to outbid the winner. So if Google’s exchange had two bids of $1 and $5, it would be able to beat a $4 bid from an outside exchange. Under the new auction rules, it would submit a bid of $1 (the second price) and lose the auction.

While at a glance this might seem bad for the publisher, since Google is restrained from submitting a higher bid, in fact the outcome should be the same given the rules of second-price auctions. In the above example, the impression clears at $4 regardless of which exchange takes it.

There’s a real possibility that Google is leading the way here to a more transparent and responsible way of bidding on publisher inventory that will not only make things fair for the publisher, but also for the exchanges. However, Google is larger than all the other exchanges and can still submit more bids. In response, other bidders, like Amazon, have instituted server-side wrappers in response, which makes the process a bit less transparent.

We are a transparent platform, and that’s why our partners like us. We’re waiting for the remainder of the industry to catch up with us.

 

Is Facebook Taking Too Much Credit for App Installs?

One of the last missing pieces in the online advertising puzzle is ROI. How can you decide whether your ad campaign was really successful? In the case of app developers, this would seem to be a simple matter, because in theory you can use Facebook’s own tools to track your app installs, and then backtrack to figure out your cost of customer acquisition and run your numbers from there.
Facebook has developed some very sophisticated methods of attribution, especially for app installs, since it is the primary advertising mechanism for app developers. For example, its App Event Optimization will let app advertisers target people by bidding on one of 14 possible actions users have taken, like added an item to a shopping cart or a wishlist, initiated a checkout, purchased something, viewed content or unlocked an achievement.
Facebook believes that because so many people engage with its ads across Facebook, Instagram and the Facebook Audience Network, it’s uniquely able to determine whether someone is likely to take action based on historical data and people with similar characteristics.
And it has also partnered with some tracking companies such as Apps Flyer and adjust,  that specialize in measurement and business intelligence.
AppsFlyer introduced a special Facebook integration last year, which it claims solves the problem of mobile Facebook ROI for app install ads:

By combining in-app activity and lifetime value data with ad cost and other campaign details from Facebook, AppsFlyer can deliver real-time ROI reports on Facebook app install campaigns.

However, there may be something still lacking in the analytics available to app developers: information on whether all ads on Facebook are viewable by all Facebook visitors. We know, for example, that some Facebook users run ad blockers, and that Facebook strictly controls the number of ads within a user’s feed.

Since Facebook counts impressions, rather than viewable impressions, it counts any app installs as driven by Facebook whether the installer has seen the ad or not. If the ad was somewhere on Facebook– even if the user never saw it–and the user later installed the app, Facebook takes the credit and charges for it.

We found it unusual and amusing that Facebook was counting actions taken by users who might not have even seen an ad and charging for them. This used to happen in the old Wild West days of online advertising, where an advertiser paid when an ad was served. Lately, on most other publisher platforms, brands can buy on guarantees of viewability.

To sort this out will take more complex analytics involving mobile ad viewability because almost everyone who installs apps is also on Facebook. In the mean time, it is wise to monitor your campaigns carefully to see if they are really working.