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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

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 USATODAY.com Cyber Ideas Monotype Vertebrae Dow Jones & Company (The Wall Street Journal) Flexitive Vibrant Media ESPN.com 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.

 

 

 

Time for Another Brand Safety Conversation

We haven’t seen any attention paid to brand safety lately in any of the industry publications. There are some hard and fast rules that media buyers do follow, but much finer grained targeting is now possible, and marketers ought to be willing to pay a bit more for it. And yet, with programmatic having largely taken over the market and brand loyalty at an all time low among consumers that advertisers most want to reach, we were stunned to see a mobile email alert from the Wall Street Journal this morning about an earthquake hitting central Italy near Rome. Under the alert was an ad from TravelZoo for a Tuscan vacation. It takes a great deal to make us see an ad at 6AM as we are blowing through our email, but the poor taste exhibited in this one stopped us cold.

We also don’t pay much attention to who serves ads in mobile email, unless they are ours, but this was so egregious that we stopped to find out that these ads are powered by LiveIntent. Later, when we returned to try to screen shot the ad, it had been replaced by one, also from TravelZoo, for a Mayan vacation.

We’ve got nothing against either TravelZoo or LiveIntent, but we do know a fair amount about brand safety. It would have been easy enough, using existing text matching software, perhaps from comScore, to have used page-level contextual information that scans the page quickly for contextual insights and makes sure an ad for Italian travel does not appear on the same page as a story about an Italian earthquake.  We’re curious whether the advertiser knew about this, or the Wall Street Journal caught it. No one would have intentionally done this. Yet it happened, because we now live in a real time environment.

This kind of haphazard real time ad targeting doesn’t make consumers like advertising more, and it doesn’t help advertisers reach people who are in the market to buy. It would have been better to see an ad from a different industry segment this morning, rather than one from the travel industry.

Until we start serving the right ads in the right context to the right markets, we are going to keep having low performance rates in mobile advertising and high consumer dissatisfaction.

Winning Ad Formats for the New Environment

As Facebook continues to grow its power in the ad world, concerned brands and publishers who don’t want to rely on a single supplier are putting on their thinking caps about what ad formats will work best in the mobile, hyper-connected, information overloaded world we inhabit these days. We were listening to a podcast recently called “The Talk Show,”  in which Apple expert John Gruber, whose Daring Fireball site is supported by minimal ads,  was interviewing Stratechery analyst  Ben Thompson, whose work is supported by subscription. These were  two real experts having a conversation about advertising. The conversation, as you might have guessed, was moderate and intelligent –no freaking out about ad blockers or wild predictions that advertising will go away.

Instead, the discussion was mostly about what works and what doesn’t in online ads, and why. First, the two agreed that what’s really wrong with most online advertising is that it has been too closely derived from newspaper ads without truly being rethought for such a transformative medium as digital has proven to be. Early online publishers, eager to be on the internet but without much insight into the new medium, created space for ads that was much like the space they had created for print. That’s how web sites became so burdened with ads that the content was difficult to read and the pages were slow to load. Two decades later, little has changed, except the CPMs and the ROI.

Facebook finally solved its own problem with in-feed ads, still considered the least offensive, most effective form of online advertising, especially on mobile. But Facebook has a built in advantage; when people are looking at their Facebook feeds they’re not focused on finding information immediately to solve a work or health related problem, or even get an updated  ballgame score. No, they’re largely relaxing, bored, procrastinating, looking for connection, or otherwise receptive to advertising. Many other premium sites do not have the luxury of receiving visitors in a leisurely mode.

The advent of video advertising has made things somewhat better for advertisers who use it correctly. Video ads are sometimes quite effective, but both our experts agreed that 30-second no skippable pre-roll isn’t the answer. They both spoke highly of Geico’s pre roll ads, which are 4-second buys that simply say that by the time you skip this ad it will be over. The ads show, in their very brevity, knowledge about and respect for the customer.

Gruber and Thompson much prefer video in the feed, which we call ” inArticle” and the industry calls “out stream.” And they prefer it not auto run sound. So how does an advertiser know if his message has gotten across if a viewer doesn’t complete the video? How about  taking a cue from Snapchat, whose users often overlay text comments on their video snaps?

In sum, we need to evolve advertising beyond translating print ads into online banners and squares, and begin to understand and create formats that are, to use an often misunderstood word, native to the new media.