Google Chrome vs. Ad Block Plus

There are almost too many competing initiatives going on to fix what different constituencies consider to be wrong about online advertising. Each constituency has its own point of view and a “proprietary” method of enacting a solution. Over the last few months, we’ve been researching the Coalition for Better Ads, which is run by Google and the other big ad players,  and  how it differs from the Acceptable Ads Committee’s standards. The Acceptable Ads Committee is an independent organization under the auspices of the people who run Ad Block Plus. You can guess that the Google standards favor ad-supported content, while the Acceptable Ads Committee allows only four or five formats.

There are at least two qualitative differences between these standards: first there is no user-side (consumer) representation on the Coalition for Better Ads, and second, Google holds the dubious double role of voting member and enforcer through its forthcoming Chrome ad filter. The Acceptable Ads Committee favors consumers, and the agenda is held by Ad Block Plus.

As the launch of the Chrome ad filter nears, we thought it was important that we point out these differences. Fortunately, the Acceptable Ads Coalition went through each of  55 desktop ad types to arrive at its own blocking criteria (see page 37 on https://www.betterads.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Determining-a-Better-Ads-Standard-based-on-User-Experience-Data.pdf)). Then it tested whether each format was blocked by the CBA and the AAC. After it did the work, it made an announcement about the comparison on its blog.

It turns out the new Chrome filter will only block 8/55 ad types. Contrast that to the AAC standards at 51/55, and the difference is unambiguous from a user perspective. If you’re really into ad blockers, the Chrome ad filter isn’t good enough for you. On the other hand, if what you dislike is interruptive ads, the Chrome ad filter is likely to give you surcease from the most obnoxious ads without filtering out everything.

And if you are buying ads, and are you’re interested in the ad formats that will make it through any ad blocker, you might want to browse through the spreadsheet we’ve included here. This will be a good way to see if your ads make it through Ad Block Plus, although if you are buying media we hope you  already know this.

AAC vs CBA standards1 – Sheet1

 

The Programmatic Baby Must Survive the Emptying of the Bathwater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MRAID 3.0 Promotes User Control of Ads

One of the biggest problems accompanying the shift to mobile computing, specifically to phones, was the sheer number of different handsets, each with its own special quirks. This required marketers to product new creative for each system. To fix this issue, the MRAID (Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface Definitions) specification was developed in 2011.

According to IAB, “This specification has provided in-app advertising the means to create compelling rich media ad experiences at scale. The promise of MRAID allowed ad designers to write a creative once, and have it run in any application on any platform that was MRAID capable.”

We are now at MRAID 3.0, which aims to improve the user experience for consumers as well as for ad designers.

Some of its important features include:

  • Viewability support that now allows the creative to measure viewability as per industry standards and tailor its display for the best user experience
  • Audibility measurement that allows the creative to understand the user’s context and use audio in ads in a non-disruptive manner
  • The standardization of the close button for expanded ads and interstitials, removes ambiguity, and ensures that the user always has the option to exit an ad
  • Ads can now inform the host ad container if they encounter an error, and initiate a graceful exit, preserving a clean user experience
  • Ads can now access basic information about the environment like SDK, IFA, COPPA etc., which enables them to prepare the creative in advance of rendering
  • Reduction in the ambiguity in implementation by providing stricter events implementation sequence to ensure the ad and the host container are in sync
  • Guidance for pre-fetched ads, which ensures that an ad is presented to a user only when it is determined that it has its assets loaded and ready to display
  • Location data, when allowed by the user and the app publisher, allows ads to seamlessly use the location data for personalization of creative messaging with MRAID version 3.0
  • Video advertising being among the fastest growing formats, select VPAID events are now fully integrated as part of MRAID 3.0 to ensure uniform reporting and measurement of video creative

View the final version of MRAID 3.0

You will recognize these definitions as largely in alignment with new theories of digital advertising that place a larger emphasis on transparency, on metrics (although they may not yet be the correct ones), and on user control of video and audio. A big issue over the last year has been the standardization of the close button, which now must be visible and unambiguously placed, so users can get accustomed to being able to close unwanted ads.

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.

It’s the Quality, Not the Ad’s Length That Matters

As the use of video ads grows, the time we spend paying attention to them seems to shrink. Your video ad now has about 8 seconds to make an impression  Researchers in Canada “surveyed 2,000 participants and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms (EEGs) and found that since the year 2000 (or about when the mobile revolution began) the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds.”

Why then are video ads so effective? There is quite a bit of conflicting information on this, so let’s look at a few opinions. And believe us, these ARE opinions.

Ad Age believes video ads are effective because they can tell more of a story in less time. According to this article, there are two ways ads affect a viewer: the central route and the peripheral route.

The central route refers to situations whereby the consumer is invested, in the sense that they want or need the product, and thus can make thoughtful decisions based on facts and logic.

The peripheral route is where the receiver does not think carefully about the communication itself, and instead makes decisions based on superficial stimuli, also known as “cues.” Cues can include colors, music, storytelling and more. In the peripheral route, content and facts may be ignored or overlooked.

Even a short video can generate more emotional cues than a photo, as we all learned from the existence of Vine, the site where people could watch 6-second videos. Some of those videos gave enough emotional cues in that 6-second time frame that their authors became “stars.” Some of the funniest Vine videos have been saved to YouTube here, and you can see their power. In a very short amount of time, they can tell a pretty good story. But how does that work for an ad?

Videos trigger the central route for some people and the peripheral route for others, two avenues that eventually converge with a common goal: to sell a product or service by selling an underlying idea. It’s ideas that evoke specific emotional responses: joy, pride, sadness, anger, laughter, nostalgia, etc. These emotions fuel passion, and drives human behavior while building a brand relationship with an audience.

While Google originally began selling 30-second and 60-second preroll on YouTube, it has been so roundly rejected that they’ve been largely replaced by 15-second spots. However, an experiment Google performed with Mondelez also found that some people will watch longer videos — as long as 3 minutes –if there is a really good developing story.

However, since it only takes 15-seconds to generate brand recall, why take the risk and spend the extra money?  Geico won video ad campaign of the year in 2016 with its “unskippable” campaign, a series of 6-second videos that introduced the brand in the first five seconds, and told viewers they didn’t have to skip the ads because it was already over. The ad had awesome creative, however, which is often missing from less well-tolerated ads.

Once again it all comes down to the quality of the creative, not the length of the ad.

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.

 

Business Insider Navigates New Ad Environment

Henry Blodget, chairman and founder of Business Insider, is an acknowledged expert on the media business. And he says advertising is here to stay — with a few caveats.

A former journalist, he became a financial analyst during the dot-com boom, taking home millions. However, after the dot com bubble burst, he was  barred from Wall Street forever for publicly touting stocks he referred to internally as dogs.

Not knowing what to do after his public disgrace, Blodget put together a small online publication called Silicon Alley Insider. Eight years later, he sold its expanded successor, Business Insider, to German publisher Axel Springer for $343 million. Axel Springer is a company that was built on journalism, really cares about it, and was making its entry into the American market with its acquisition of Business Insider.

That could have been a story with a totally happy ending, except that Blodget’s deal included staying around and running Business Insider, which after its sale in 2015 endured some of the toughest conditions in online media — the shift to programmatic by  premium American publishers. The American digital advertising business shifted almost completely to programmatic during 2016, while Germany stayed about two years behind. Yet Axel Springer is a public company for which quarters count.

On a recent episode of Recode Media, Blodget was interviewed by host Peter Kafka, his former employee, and talked about the recent challenges in the industry and how he thinks things will come out. Blodget said 2016 was the year in which premium direct was replaced by “robots selling advertising to robots,” a change that also affected companies like Yahoo.

While he admitted that programmatic is efficient for both the advertiser and the publisher, Blodget said there was a huge difference in revenue for publishers, where $1 in revenue is now about 25 cents, cutting the top line faster than expected.

This was a shock to Axel Springer, which had to sit back and watch Business Insider miss its numbers in two quarters while changing its business model to accommodate these market changes.

“The market is bifurcating into what we call the barbell,” he added, meaning that Business Insider has two kinds of business now: programmatic advertising and high end custom work, or sponsored content. The part of the business that is growing fastest is the latter.

Blodget spoke about further changes to come: he plans a fully dual revenue stream split between advertising and subscription. Business Insider now offers what it refers to as “an ad-lite version,” which is very much faster and can  take care of  people who download ad blockers. That costs $9.99/mo and is still in the testing stages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Advertising Can Win

It doesn’t take too much foresight to know that the era of mass media is dying a slow death, and the era of individualized story telling is about to begin. The statistics about TV watching, shifting from network to cable to over-the-top are well-publicized. But what should the ad industry put in its place?

Twenty years into digital advertising, we have invented and honed the tools to find and follow a consumer and present her with something she (presumably) wants. That’s targeting, and it has come to represent everything unpleasant about advertising: often showing consumers the wrong product, showing them a product they have already bought, or showing them a product they have already decided not to buy.

All those are characteristics of the transition from mass media, when we all looked at the same ad, to something more individualized, and they represent near-misses in the effort at individualized messaging.

But maybe we’re on the wrong track? Maybe it is time, as the best creative directors have been saying for years, to focus on the story, and not just the target. If the story is good enough, won’t it stop a busy consumer scrolling down a feed, surfing channels, clicking through products?

The answer to that is a resounding affirmative. Instead of trying to target the consumer with a product, we must target her with stories, stories that capture attention.

We’ve been watching a child play on an iPad all week, and noticing how certain apps and stories appeal to him and stop him in his tracks as he explores the world. He may be looking for something specific, but when he sees something else more exciting he shifts his attention — to another app, another game, another story.

Consumers are the same way: they can always be attracted by something sufficiently interesting, even if they’re not the target.

To use another example, think about a traffic accidents. A traffic accident up ahead will cause the rest of the traffic to slow down, even if there is no blocked lane. Why? Because the accident is an attention-getter, a half-told story that begs the passerby to learn more. What happened? Why? Could that happen to me? No special targeting is required to make a motorist pay attention to a traffic accident — especially if it is visually shocking. The car is overturned, the car is totaled, a stretcher is brought out.

It’s the half-told story that attracts attention. No special targeting tools need be used. Although everyone may finish the story in his or her own way — the driver was drunk, the car was faulty, the driver had a heart attack — each passerby is stopped by the story.

We’re convinced that if brand stories were half as interesting as traffic accidents consumers would turn off their ad blockers just to learn more. We should take that as a challenge to re-invigorate the advertising industry.

 

The Unbundling and Rebundling of Video

If there’s one thing that is always predictable in the online media business, it’s that next year will be different from last year. For 2016, that means the end of the cable bundle.

For almost fifty years, the cable providers have determined what channels they will allow on their networks, and therefore what content we will see. However, the switch to mobile has upended all of that. The new world of video will not be like the old world of TV, where the power was with the major networks. It is now possible to see premium video content outside of cable,  via apps like HBO Now or Showtime. We are watching our video content on everything from Vine, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook to Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu.

While Netflix is a pure subscription model, YouTube and Facebook are ad supported, except for YouTube Red. and Amazon and Hulu have options: if you pay for Amazon Prime, you get certain programs included with your subscription, while for Hulu you can pay a more expensive subscription price to lose the ads.

This unbundling of video content cannot go on forever. Consumers paying subscription fees will quickly rack up costs similar to the cable bundles, and whether ad-supported or subscription, it’s now a real challenge to find the “TV Guide” for this new system.

Thus, new bundlers will emerge. Perhaps it will be Neflix, Hulu and Amazon, perhaps YouTube and Facebook. These new “publishers,” because they aggregate content as well as produce it, are already platforms of a sort. Where will the content come from? Well, in the case of Facebook, You Tube, Periscope and Vine, it will come from us. The largest platforms will monetize our eyeballs, albeit in different ways.

Pre-roll. Pre-roll will not be the source of most video ad dollars, because it simply doesn’t scale. It comes in limited supply, and consumers hate it. Consumers are already running ad blockers against it, and people like the CEO of Pepsi have decried it as unworthy of his brand.

Native. What is Pepsi doing instead? It is paying to have its brand written into the script of the hit series “Empire,” which is available both over conventional TV and on Hulu. And when we say written into the script, we mean the making of a Pepsi ad is part of the show’s plot line, in which one of the main characters actually becomes a spokesperson for Pepsi and gets paid a lot of money.

This is a new kind of native advertising far beyond mere product placement or branded content produced by Pepsi itself. It is fully integrated into “Empire’s” content.

Branded content. Sites like Buzzfeed and Vice, which produce high quality shareable content, are producing it through their in-house agencies for major brands like GE, and these campaigns are running on all sorts of social platforms–though sometimes not even on Vice and Buzzfeed themselves.

Outstream. Video ads appearing on non-video sites, outside the usual stream. An example of this is our inArticle format, which produces the highest CPMS for our publishers.

2016 is likely to be a period of trial and error transition as video leaves the confines of the TV screen and accompanies the consumer into the supermarket and on to the subway. As in the past, the dollars will follow the consumer, for obvious reasons.

One thing we know, dollars are already certainly leaving traditional TV advertising for video at a very rapid clip.

Back to the Future for Ad Formats

Those optimistic about advertising’s future — including us–think it depends on better creative. So let’s try to imagine what this could look like. In the current environment of hostility to tracking and data collection, it looks a lot like plain old information-sharing, which is the way advertising started.

We know advertisers love data. But how about

– Innovations that rely more on story telling and creative – like TV
– And great data inferred from sites and devices rather than tracking

Let’s say I am a consumer who owns a Ford Mustang convertible. It’s three years old,  and I’m about ready to trade it in. However, I don’t have to. It still runs, and I could keep it. What should Ford, or perhaps Chevy, BMW, or anyone else who makes a convertible do now?  What would it take to put me in the market for a new car? And why would I choose one brand?

It would take good information delivered in a non-interruptive way to a place I already visit. And by good information, I mean telling me something I don’t already know, but want or need to know. Tracking me down wouldn’t be appreciated, nor would it be necessary.

For many people, good information means a product review. That’s why Consumer Reports is so popular. Today, a “review” could be a video that demonstrates the car. Not just its beauty or its speed, but its capabilities and its price. The video could be fifteen or twenty minutes long.  It is a piece of “content” created by a brand, and placed on YouTube, where it can be found by people searching for cars.

Then ads can tell people where to find the product review. The ads can be shorter videos, banners, photos that drive traffic to the review.

The most important part of this campaign? Respect for the consumer’s time and desire. Nothing that autoplays noise. Data inferred from my devices. Useful content. No crossing the creepy line.

Although we’ve spent the past decade glorifying data, we’ve actually painted ourselves into a corner. We’ve overused it for targeting to the point where consumers are on to us and know they’re being tracked. They are voting with their ad blocking apps. If we’re not careful, we will lose the best business model that has ever presented itself for media.

And the biggest irony? All this tracking hasn’t really helped. As marketers, we are still not getting good ROI on our ad spend. Only now it’s not because we targeted incorrectly, but because we’ve opened ourselves up to fraud and made consumers angry in the bargain. We could argue that we don’t have any better an idea of who the consumer is than we did when John Wanamaker famously said that half his advertising was wasted but he didn’t know which half.

Informational creative, bought on private platforms that already have the premium audiences, are what is needed to win consumers back to trust for advertising. Our ZINC platform can provide a buying experience without data overlay gimmickery that  makes your customers angry without delivering better results.