Adblocking – I am going to make you an offer you cant refuse

Italian organised crime started with men ‘offering’ to protect the olive groves of Sicily from the roving gangs of people who ‘might’ burn them down at any point. It was a slightly one sided offer in that they had little choice as to whether accept that or not. As I have been reading and listening to publishers I have started to see some parallels with the Adblocking industry, especially as you delve into the commercial relations behind the scene.

As a publisher, under so many different pressures, probably the last thing you were planning for was a slick salesman roll up and make you an offer you could not refuse. Pay us some money and we can make this ‘adblocking thing’ go away or if you don’t give us a cut, we are going to let the adblock software loose on your site. Of course the publishers are not the only ones being shafted. The customer who signed up to the software may be surprised to find that he or she is seeing Ads again because the publisher paid the protection racket.What you need is a saviour of course and so enter stage left the guys that come and offer the publisher an option to block the blockers. Now of course they are not quite out of the Superman annuals as you have to pay them as well but I guess its better than not getting any ad revenues and they are working to some extent in their interests.

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Overall the whole landscape is very messy, very challenging and right now seems to be a little too much like the Sicilian olive groves of yesteryear.

Should advertisers care about Alphabet?

This was first posted on Campaign – link here.

In the dead of night (UK time) one of the biggest news stories in advertising slipped out into the blogosphere.

‘G is for Google’ announced some pretty significant changes down at Google HQ. The creation of a new corporate structure called Aphabet, that now houses Google as just one of a number of businesses, has taken with it the founders of the behemoth that is Google as well as some other luminaries.

When you consider the heat that went with the appointment of a new Microsoft chief executive, and all the column inches associated with the departure of Steve Ballmer and the promotion of Satya Nadella, it is remarkable that Google just appointed a new chief executive for Google, a $450+ billion company, and announced it through a blog post.

This approach, and the very fact they have created this structure, shows that Google is desperate not to become Microsoft. There was already some commentary floating that Google was becoming a little too like Microsoft as it grew and grew and was slowing in terms of innovation and ability to make smart bets.

So, in part, the opening comment on Larry Page’s blog that says we “wrote in the original founders letter 11 years ago, Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one” is a warning shot to announce their intention to continue evolving.

I would suggest that most of this is about corporate and financial motivations and has little impact on the advertising community. I do think however, that we can look forward to a more simplified mission with regards to Google.

When we talk about working with Google, it now clearly means search, video, maps and all things connected to their advertising business. The new chief executive, Sundar Pichai, can be singular in his ambitions to grow and innovate without distractions and this can only be a good thing for the business and for their largest advertisers. It is also reassuring that things will not go the way of Microsoft albeit it from a different angle; they gave up advertising for software.

With these changes it is clear that Google is not going to be distracted on its advertising offerings by saving the world or allowing us to email and drive simultaneously.

YouTube could have spun off into the Alphabet organisation such is its size, but I think they did well to keep that under Google. Video is now an integral part of the media landscape and needs to be intrinsically linked to all the other Google offerings.

The announcement earlier this week, that YouTube inventory will no longer be available on the open exchanges, re-enforces Google’s commitment to dominate the video space as it did with Search. It sent a strong message to all third party video companies that the doors are now closed for direct business only, a trend we are only going to see get stronger.

Both Sergey Brin and Larry Page are engineers. They like to build things and the creation of Alphabet is an affirmation of their desire to continue to do so. The new pared-down Google will come out of it stronger and more powerful. Watch this space.
Read more at http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/googles-alphabet-restructure-shows-its-desperate-not-become-microsoft/1359549#pcoO7ZdQJikIljKt.99

Youtube ADEX closure – Is the future a closed ecosystem?

Originally written for Digiday – link hereimages.

I have watched with interest the backlash against the Google decision to pull its YouTube inventory back from DoubleClick Ad Exchange. It got me thinking about the past and the present and the fact that there is this view that all companies must make everything equal to everyone. Google has disabled something that represented 5 percent of its total YouTube sales — is that really worth all the fuss?

While it is an issue insofar as many businesses are built on the back of disruption and filling niches and a multitude of other business models, Google has no obligation to make life easy for them. Indeed, Google is not alone. Facebook locked everything up; Amazon would rather shut sales down that let you get hold of its data; AOL, Yahoo and others hold all their best inventory back so you can only buy it through their platforms.

Welcome to the future. These companies have invested billions into their product, and they have no obligation to make other competitive businesses rich on the back of their investments. It is called competitive advantage.

Holding on to the Google debate a little longer, five years ago it had a poor ad server and limited display business. It was seemingly going backwards in terms of innovation outside of search and video. And then a few things happened: Some smart people made some smart decisions. Google bought companies, it invested in their stack, it invested in data, and before you knew it, it was dominating display. It did the same in video, so if it chooses to limit the access to just three entry points from four, then that is Google’s business. If AOL, after investing in content, tech and data, wants to only allow access to the best of what they have via its platform, that is its prerogative.

It was only five or six years ago that we were all forced to work like this. If you wanted inventory from The Telegraph, you rang up The Telegraph, likewise Guardian, ITV and so on. We were forced to deal with hundreds of walled gardens. We have improved the situation with technology, so now we have many fewer entry points to inventory, but when we started down this road no one ever said everyone had to sign up to this new way of working, the deal was that we could buy inventory through platforms and use data — not — be able to access all inventory through any platform.

As an example, AppNexus is the self-proclaimed independent solution outside of Google. It is doing well. But should Google then help AppNexus or worry about whether it can get access to YouTube inventory via AdX? Of course not. The same would go for many other demand-side platforms that would issue complaints on the topic.

Now, as a buyer, we would prefer to see an ecosystem where we can access whatever we want from wherever we want. And we do rally against the approaches of Google, Facebook and Amazon. But at the same time, we have options. We can work around most of this, and we will create solutions that help us navigate and deliver against the utopia we were once searching for. That said, this is business. This is about companies investing and then looking to make returns off the back of it. YouTube is not the BBC, and it can decide how you buy its content.

Annual interview with Beet.tv in Cannes – entering good times in programmatic

Every year at Cannes before the Rubicon Panel we discuss with Andy at Beet.tv where things stand in the programmatic industry and this year we discussed a brighter future. 2014 was the lost year to the topic of transparency but I sense we are over that now and have moved on to programmatic strategy and all the possibilities.

This year also marks a big step for us as we see the completion of the move of campaign planners and buyers into the agencies out of VivaKi and I hope will be the start of a new age in the agencies.

Programmatic in Cannes

Will media owners and tech vendors be scrutinised by procurement?

25-30 Billion dollars of spend up for pitch. The whole industry is alive with comment on it. What does it mean for the agencies, who is up to lose the most and so on. The reason for it has been unclear, could it be digital capabilities, transparency, a stagnant commercial marketplace meaning advertisers have to extract more from their business, there have been many suggestions. Perhaps it is a simple as no one wanting to miss out.

All that said, the blog is not about that topic per se, more what impact all of this is having on the whole industry. There has not been too much of a knock on effect to the world of technology, technology that is now powering so much of the agency media landscape. Across the whole landscape deals have been done, tech fees agreed and contracts signed. The tech companies and tech/media companies are sitting back and watching this all play out with little impact to them, at least for now. But how long can that continue?

As all these pitches play out one thing is for sure, media fees will have reduced across the board, one way or another. Not to say that with increased billings they can’t find other offerings and models to make it up but at a media level, they will be squeezed. So those fees are reduced but the tech fees remain the same. The managed services and RTB networks and even one could argue Facebook and Google margins remain solid and published. So at what point does the advertiser start to turn their attention to those parties?

If the squeeze continues then how can an advertiser be happy that Criteo and Rocketfuel are taking 50+ of their IO and turning it into revenue for themselves (published numbers). Is the only answer to that ‘they are not an agency of record?’ If you can squeeze a percentage point out of an agency, how about 10 from the people your dollars eventually end up with? The topics of taking it house and aggressive sales tactics direct to advertisers such as Tubemogul and others also means that they are trying to take the role of the agency and so would surely have to make sure that their every transaction, their every margin on data and tech be revealed.

I think we are entering interesting times and auditors and procurement are going to run out of room on the agency approach, something has to give. In my eyes their valuable media dollars being passed to tech and inventory players will have to come under scrutiny a lot more than today, and if you want to be the partner that dis-intermediates the agency then you will have to answer to the same scrutiny an agency does, not just commercial but standards of protection, payment terms and all the other lovely stuff that goes with it. But first lets start with the 50% of the advertisers dollars that don’t make it into media.

Stunned by Microsoft Hololens : Future in our hands.

Over the years I have been asked to join a number of client advisory boards for a multitude of companies. Today I was with Microsoft, I was expecting to be discussing data and tech and some of the hot topics of programmatic. However there was an agenda item I was certainly looking forward to. Hololens.
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The whole Virtual reality, hologram excitement had passed me by to date. Oculus was gaming with a motorcycle goggles on and although not correctly in the same camp, Google Glass was just a let down. That said I am a techy at heart and so was keen to see what it could do.
I was left absolutely gob smacked, I think the room was and even more so when we found out that everything I was seeing was actually real, not mocked, real. I know I was not the only one who left that room thinking that we had just seen the future, a future that changes everything and I am talking about how we see, think, learn, and do. I will come back to marketing later but first let me try and explain it.
You slip on the goggles with visor that gives you a big visual canvas but still allows you the opportunity to look down and out the sides, giving you a sense of stability and less motion sickness. Once you put on goggles they take in your surroundings and you can start to create a VR world layered upon yours. There were so many highlights – check the video here, but let me list a few of the simpler ones!
  • Watching – open the Netflix App and turn it into a 40″ viewing experience or a cinema experience on your wall – or at least that’s the impression you get.
  • Communicating – take Skype app and have it float in mid air, following you as you walk and chat simultaneously or just there as you sit.
  • Educational – Need to change that fuse but don’t know how? Get your dad to dial in via his tablet on Skype. He sees what you see and can annotate and point right in front of your eyes so it looks like he is actually circling the wire, he can show you exactly what to do.
  • Schooling – your son needs to understand the body? Well have him see a life size body being stripped to bones / organs and more in a non gruesome way and see how the body functions.
  • Gaming – let’s face it Warcraft gets dull in the same old environments, turn your house into the playground, right up to knocking huge holes in your walls to reveal another universe the other side.

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What I love about this tech is that you can pin Apps to locations – so when you put the glasses on, if you want to have the Netflix app always on the same wall – it will be there just like your big TV screen. If you want the weather and your to do list on the fridge door, so be it. Alternatively if you want them to follow you around, it can do that too. You create another parallel world that appears every time you put on the glasses.
Don’t you have to wear those crazy glasses all the time? Well yes you do but first expect to see the tech get smaller and smaller and secondly imagine at least to start with that they will be used in a task led way. Watch something, talk to someone, demonstrate something, I could see it working. As the apps that are created grow I can see this being something that truly changes our world and from an educational, human support perspective very much for the better. Some have made comparisons with Google Glass but they wanted you to walk the streets with Glass, these are more for home and office which makes the act more manageable.
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Of course in our business we have to answer the big question of what it means for marketeers. The first thing I thought was that this was another topic to add to my blog ‘the death of advertising.’ When asked by Microsoft about advertising I think we were all suddenly shocked to find that we did not want to think about it, it was too blunt in this environment. As we chatted though we started to realise that the role of marketing is to provide experiences not Ads. We have talked about this theme for some time but this was the opportunity. Live chat customer service turns into holographic walk through of what to do, car configuration is life size in your room, hotel reviews include walking into the room to see it and so on. What it is not is Blade Runner esq Ads talking at you from every angle when you put the goggles on.
The overall sentiment was that we as an industry have an obligation to protect this new world and enhance our marketing opportunities rather than ruin the Hololens experience. We also get that the data generated by such a system will mean an even deeper lense into how we behave and consider purchases and again we need to have the utmost respect for that data and privacy. As this whole system will be on the Windows 10 platform it will also connect with all your other Microsoft activities and be just another ‘screen’ meaning further data connectivity.
Be clear though, in this session we saw the future in our hands today, scary, amazing but bringing a world of opportunity and I think for the first time Microsoft just made the others look ordinary.