Tag Archives: yahoo

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Advertisers need a competitive market : The return of Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo

For those of you who have been living through the digital advertising era from the start can not help but notice a little resurgence of what used to be the only names that counted in digital media. In those early and exciting years AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, Excite ruled the landscape until they started to come under fire from the upstarts, not least a start up called Google. The pursuing years saw these companies lose their place in life as more and more competition entered the marketplace. It is not to say of course that they have not always been major players, but without doubt lost their way in the face of Facebook, Youtube and others.

In the last couple of years we have seen a come back, it started with AOL. Launching Project Devil to stamp some brand credentials on what was mostly a DR product through Ad.com, the purchase of GoViral started their video offering and then more recently Huff Post, all adding up to create some powerful content. The final act though has been to embrace the programmatic era and to beef up video with the purchase of Adapt.tv, rounding off what is now a far more interesting offer for agencies and seemingly leading them to a return to the top.

Yahoo have seen a similar track, they had a head start with Right Media in programmatic but did not know what to do with it and in my opinion lost a few valuable years vs Google when they should have been ahead of the game. RM was neglected and allowed to become a down market solution, when it should have been the forerunner of private marketplaces. The much hyped arrival of Marissa has had many words written about it so I wont focus on that but it appears that a series of purchases in mobile is starting to bear fruit. Marissa has in fact bought 35+ companies since joining, the largest of course being Tumblr. The good news is that mobile traffic for Yahoo is on the up, in fact it is up 47% year on year. The approach towards native ads such as ‘Stream Ads’ and away from banner should also increase yields and encourage brand advertisers onto mobile. If you believe the press releases Yahoo plan to phase out all banner ads by the end of the year.

So that leaves Microsoft. Working with Microsoft over the years has been like watching a wildebeest bog down in sinking mud, struggling harder and harder but just getting into a worse and worse situation. Microsoft have always had the ingredients to make an incredible meal, but somehow the planning and then the execution always fell short. I have for many years looked to Microsoft to turn that corner, they have the four screens, an incredible offer in the Xbox and Kinect, turned a corner in mobile and yet stiching these things together always seemed elusive.

I remember for instance sitting in a presentation in Cannes where Microsoft was presenting the new Windows8. It looked great, but telling to me was little or no information about how advertising would work within it. The potential tiles as Ads in W8 was clearly an early example of a Native Ad – although luckily the term had not been coined yet! However these tile Ads would be perfect for programmatic – unique to Microsoft but definitively able to be automated. However no one had planned that far ahead, the company worked in silos. What a shame for them and us.

Programmatic as a whole also demonstrated a lack of future planning. When Google was buying companies and integrating them, Microsoft was desperately trying to protect its direct ad network business. Even today they are behind the curve, they started fast and then went backwards a little with limited targeting capabilities and a seemingly disconnected leadership who were not willing to move faster and embrace programmatic. The recent launch of Microsoft Video Network is both a step forward and a step sidewards versus competition. Microsoft are taking their valuable data and applying it across the video exchanges, where AOL are buying the tech outright rather than licensing. Where Google are buying Invite and Doubleclick, Microsoft bought 5% of Appnexus. Even the Crown Jewels of Xbox and Kinect have been under utilised, I am still yet to see an Ad pushing Xbox as anything more than a games console when in reality it is so much more, I think we will see that change over coming months as Google TV, Apple TV and others ramp up their efforts.

But is not lost because the big picture for Microsoft is changing. The new leadership for a start. Microsoft ended up choosing from within, disappointing for some but as Satya Nadella says himself ‘he is now looking at the business through fresh eyes.’ He is also super bright, passionate and has accelerated change in just a few short days. Recently there have been a couple of large events, the launch of Office 365 and most notably onto Apple devices and the Build 2014 conference. Both these events have revealed that Nadella has big plans and wants to shake things up. Microsoft had already started changing with One Microsoft where they tore down siloes and made sure that cross divisional work and idea sharing started to happen, so someone creating software for the phone was thinking about advertisers as well. The example I sight above about the tiles would probably not have happened today.

More importantly Nadella has pushed through changes inconceivable a few years back. What has changed. As Nadella describes it, we are now in an era of ubiquitous computing. Connected users, devices all relying on the cloud for delivery of ever more complex solutions. Not for today but importantly for Microsoft they see their customers as consumers and IT professionals, the corporate world and only Microsoft really has the range to answer to both of those – this should rediscover for them differentiation.On average the consumer is carrying/using four devices and Windows and Microsoft want to span all those devices seamlessly, they want the canvas for software, Apps and their developers and users to be as wide as possible. So what are they doing?

1. Windows is being introduced across all devices including Kinect for Windows. A huge step forward for users and developers a like. Design once for all devices is crucial in this connected world. Still Apple and Android want people to design for mobile and desktop/laptop. As a user the more seamless the App the better the experience across devices.

2. Use the power of Office – making it available cross all devices is huge, anyone who uses iPads know the big issues is with opening Powerpoint in particular, but to make it free is a massive step for Microsoft, putting it all in the cloud also makes it entirely portable and for developers they can use Office 365 log ins as an identifier

3. Welcome to the new world of Kinect. App developers can now design Apps once that include Kinect technology to make incredible user experiences, this will make that box in your room, even more interesting and put Microsoft right back in the game as far as Apps. Likely end result being even your PC being able to work through motion.

4. Smaller signs of change have been to provide solutions that allow people what they want on their desktop like the start button. Some describe it as retreating, I call it sensible. Microsoft is listening and that is the main thing that we all want and need.

There have been other innovations with Cortana the voice assistant, great that it has been introduced but not sure it stands out vs Siri and of course has arrived considerably later, but again an extra ingredient to create experiences for users.

Microsoft really wants to get into the Internet of Everything and with their very close partner Intel they can start to revolutionise the home and out of home with Windows being the glue to make it all happen.

Microsoft have realised that the world has changed and you need to pull users in with what is still a great set of products used by over a billion people. Microsoft have the opportunity to be a partner to your life in a way that no one else can, I say an opportunity. It is what they do with it that counts. Microsoft have a leading position in the home with Xbox, software and cloud computing has always been their strength, it is just application they must work on, phones and tablets need more work but by making life easier for developers and IT professionals they can solidify their position spanning consumers and corporate.

Overall Microsoft, more than anyone has the plumbing, the hardware and most importantly the software, and they are focused on a mobile world. They need to make room for the marketeer in all of this and bringing them to the table, we as advertisers are desperate to make sure that Microsoft is central in plans but they need to make this easier for us. As with AOL, Yahoo I hope that we see a strong resurgence from Microsoft and it seems that Satya Nadella has the right ideas and guts to push them through. Just don’t forget that the advertiser would like to be involved.

About these ads

Is this the 2nd most successful paid for social network?

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In the last three weeks I have responded a couple of times to Tweets regarding social media. One was entitled ‘would you pay for social media’ and it got me thinking that when we talk about social we often forget Flickr. Then I see a tweet about the way most of the mobile Apps for Google+ and Facebook are evolving into a series of rich images to scroll through and again I think to myself what a whopping missed opportunity Flickr was and how a lack of foresight led it to be a photo repository for the average user.

Flickr has 50m registered users, pretty good but when compared with what it could have been! It was bought for $35m dollars in 2005 by Yahoo, it seems so cheap and in terms of what it could have been, a steal! I think the timing of the purchase was unfortunate with Yahoo in some of its biggest disarray in terms of position in market anbd future strategy as well as FB etc coming to town. Back then Flickr had a function to bring people together to ‘chat’ around subject matter photos – the equivalent of a ‘Hang-out’ at the time I guess. Basically what Flickr lacked was someone who could see the future and how social and sharing was going to be HUGE.

Would you pay for social media? I do every year when Flickr say to me that if I ever want to see my photos again I better pay up! That is one of the best social media payment models in the business no? Now of course I resent the ransom note every year but begrudgingly admit that they do a job, they hold this for me, allow me to share it, although their god awful privacy controls are difficult to fathom, normally when you want to send a single photo you send people everyone of your private photos!

I notice that Flickr has started to adapt, new interface, new controls and a far more user friendly interface, but they need to do more, they need to create an easy way to share, comment, bring in friends, let people announce things, set up environments for events and..oh is that not Facebook? I would like to see a ‘hang out approach’ on videos you want to share, invite them live and so on, the opportunities are endless and this is what makes me realise what a terribly, terribly big waste of an opportunity it has been thus far. It is however not too late in my mind.

There has been some debate about their revenues, conservative at $50m ranging upwards helped by Getty Images, Advertising on billions of impressions and other partnerships so it is a good business from the outside, I will be intrigued to see if the most successful pay-for-play-social-media-platform in the world can continue to adapt and grab the new opportunities before it is resigned to being a bloody good attempt at a social network from 2005.

AOL may have had it right all along!

Does anyone remember the sitcom from the US called ‘Soap’? It was about a mad bunch of individuals who were pretty dysfunctional. At the start of each episode there would be an introduction recapping the previous episodes. That summation was invariably confusing and left you having no idea what was going on. The image below may jog your memories for those of you over 37 I am guessing.

The Soap cast

Confusion reigned.

Why am I writing about that? Well recently through a combination of my own experiences and reading the press I have been thinking that in the world of tech, social and mobile we are experiencing something similar. To recap;

- Google and Apple were good friends, admirers even until Google started to like phones..and music..and books, now Apple does not like Google so much and is not keen on using their search tool on their phones.
– Twitter and Google liked playing together as Big brother Google helped the new boy get a bit of traffic, now the new boy has grown up he has decided he does not need Big brother anymore so cut the rope.
– Facebook and Google were colleagues and admired each other until Google started to like this social media thing and Facebook got the hump with that, they too have decided they want to keep their people to themselves.
– Twitter and Facebook enjoyed each others company for a while until Facebook liked the look of the Twitter approach and changed their updates accordingly, this has meant of course that they will not share anymore and never the twain shall meet
– Lets not forget some other long distant cousins! Yahoo and Facebook have not crossed swords too much in the playground until Yahoo decided Facebook had copied a lot of their IP and are now contemplating suing so that will be the end of that friendship
– Samsung and Apple have just had an all out fight all over the globe and frankly not seen eye to eye for some time!
– Even the lovely and friendly Amazon has had to get dragged into the cat fight with its entry into the tablet market which annoyed Apple who promptly stopped their Kindle App from being e-commerce enabled – surely no one falls out with cuddly Amazon?

All of this squabbling leads me to see a future where we have one of the most siloed ecosystems we have ever known. Years after we criticised AOL for its wall garden approach to media we find ourselves with more walled gardens than we know what to do with and as consumers that is the honest truth.

We are edging towards a world where Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google, Twitter and beyond will all be managing their own ecosystems and not allowing us as advertisers or consumers to mix and match and join up all of the platforms. It is a frustrating development as a consumer as it would be nice if Facebook and Twitter could find a way of working together. It would also be a better Google search experience if we could find results from not just G+ but also the other social media players.

As I have written about before it gets worse when you move to looking at the tech marketplace with our homes being divided into either an Android home, Apple home, Microsoft home or Samsung home, we have to make a decision and stick too it as we can’t get all our toys to play nicely together.

I am not sure how this will play out, but it is messy and not particular user / consumer friendly in my view and probably going to get worse as these Big 5 getter bigger and stronger.

Balancing short term demands with long term strategy

As the digital landscape evolves so the companies within it have to adapt as well, but actually we all live in a short term world. Both publishers and agencies have their work cut out for different reasons but all too often good strategic decisions are being strangled by short term demands. This challenge has never been more obvious than right now.

I have been talking daily to organisations both in our group and externally about how we plan and adapt for the future, we can all see the major digital portals for instance having to sit and scratch their heads a little about dealing with the here and now but planning for the future. Take a Yahoo or a Microsoft, they have both embraced the new world of exchanges and yet somehow want or need to protect their network offerings, the two don’t sit easily in reality. As strategies they should be rewarded in their approach of embracing the exchange world, but instead they are under pressure to deliver their targets based on a 2010 estimation, when the world was entirely different. Was it that different? Were we not all talking about exchanges etc back then? Well yes we were but the spend was not backing up the rhetoric, 2011 is a different story. Audience On Demand, as the biggest exchange trader in the UK has accelerated incredibly, and that growth is having an impact. Look at Specific Media who but a year ago was recruiting staff and buying Myspace and a few short months later is making redundancies, that’s how quickly things move.

We are though at a juncture, and it’s for that reason we need some patience from the bean counters. 2010 did not properly represent the Exchange growth, 2011 is closer to the truth but 2012 will be big. As the long tail of Ad Nets is absorbed into the more focused addressable media hubs and digital consolidation continues, the likes of the Yahoo or Microsofts will begin to see the benefits of the exchange infrastructure and will be able to let go of the old DR network approach. They will start to reap the spends that once went to the Ad Nets, but this time via exchanges.

It is refreshing to see the strategy Yahoo are playing out in the us. There was an article today in fact on this in Adage – click here. They are going to take a hit in the US with their strategy of blocking the Ad Nets, Criteos and others from buying their inventory. Yes short term that is going to hurt them, longer term its a great move and will pay back undoubtedly. We are seeing a significant adjustment in the digital ecosystem.

Agencies are evaluating just as fast, less from a revenue perspective, more from a structural perspective. If you designed an agency today, would you do it the same? I doubt it and yet the upheaval required sometimes makes people think twice and come up with a number of reasons why they should not do something even though in the longer run it makes perfect sense. This requirement to change however on agencies and publishers comes from a number of key trends;

consolidation of digital, we have all seen the stats that show the big digital companies control a huge percentage of the total spend and audience, even within the exchange space you are dealing with a few big partners. I believe that clients are starting to see a new digital landscape that is not 40 sites on a plan. They are realising that actually they can achieve almost all they need with API buying, Audience On Demand and Search, its a shift, everyone is looking for scale and efficiencies.

Globalisation of media and advertising. Most pitches are becoming global, not all, the recent in for ZenithOptimedia of RBS proves that, but many are. As such as the clients think more globally then they look to the agencies to do the same, and the more you think like that the more the scale partners of Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, Facebook etc become important to them and us.

Commoditisation drives value. This is an interesting development for me. Years of being told by Microsoft and Yahoo etc that their inventory is ‘premium’ has rarely been backed up by any real insight except their own research. Now we have commoditisated huge swathes of inventory through DSPs and exchanges we are being able to see what value inventory has and what performs. We see the volumes of money we spend with these companies through the DSPs and what eCPM we pay for them, none of this is determined by a person or a power point slide or negotiation. Tech has decided, results have decided and demand has decided and the patterns are very interesting indeed. After millions of pounds of spend through Audience On Demand we now see the true value of inventory and yet it has never been more commoditised.

Technology is in fashion. Of course tech has always been in fashion but never more so than now. It has been developed for agencies in a meaniful way. Demand Side Platforms for exchange trading, Bid optimisation platforms for search and API buying, these things have been designed to help us drive efficiencies and improve performance and we really see the opportunity now. It’s brutally competitive though and VivaKi have decided to work with the best partners and then develop tech that links all those partners up providing an interface to work with, this we see as the great opportunity, if you then add that to new streamlined teams and workflow, you have a heady mix that can deliver fantastic performance and service.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us with a lot to do and we need more people to take up the challenge and either drive the change through their organisations or give the people who have to do it a break so they can work through this transition. The end result though is the ship has sailed, the change is underway and we need to embrace it or become a dinosaur.

Cannes Lions Festival – You dream it, we deliver it

Monday to Thursday was the plan, but then work got in the way! So instead we went for a Tuesday afternoon flight, one that I of course missed by one minute, one minute that cost me 8 hours! I eventually arrived via Amsterdam and immediately got out into the thick of the event, it’s an impressive set up, there are not many places where you can meet up with all of your work colleagues from across the industry in one single city which is buzzing with both work and play conversations.

Down at the Gala event it was heaving with people from across the business, the business being very varied. Media groups, advertising groups, content companies, digital, film, music you name it, all here. A lot of drunken idiots as well to be fair, in fact some people were such imbeciles I was amazed they had been let in the country!

It was a fantastic evening, I met with Christian and Kate from AOL at their own party on a roof top, very civilized and a great ease into the evening, obviously as a reciprocal arrangement from zeitgeist, who should I see there but Damian Burns, Global Head of Agency Relations and Ben Faes from Google. Later in the evening there was Tom George from MEC, Stephen Haines from Facebook and a few other golden oldies. Although of course most of the talk is social, there is some interesting conversations about what has been seen and heard during the day. Apparently the Ben Stiller/Yahoo event was a little weird and did not entirely work, that said by then we outside the cleverly Yahoo sponsored ‘gutter bar’ which was the end destination most evenings and stayed open until way beyond you should have been in bed, luckily it was next to the Martinez where I was staying, so that worked!

The next morning after 2.5hrs of sleep Vivaki and Microsoft had their ‘steering committee’ meeting which lasted for some hours and covered the state of the nation between our two companies, an interesting meeting with some grand ambition which I am looking forward to working on in the coming months. After a lovely lunch a couple of meetings around ad exchanges (my topic of choice at the moment) and then on to the football. Microsoft hosted a great event with all of the UK people seemingly choosing their beach club to watch, great atmosphere not least as the US were playing and the Americans were getting very excited about their game too, we exchanged cheers through the afternoon, although i suspect they were less sure what they were cheering for!

Later at the awards I took my seat, waiting to see what award winning work looked like, there was some great stuff, I loved the recruitment work from one agency that distributed a calendar with a resignation letter for each day, waiting for the day you had had enough. The Aides campaign from TBWA France was also the rudest thing I have seen on the web, a willy chasing a vagina round a homepage and eventually having sex once safely inside a condom was pretty risqué, but brilliantly done.

All the winners can be seen here

An evening spent with Google was very entertaining and good to be on the inside when they win a big lawsuit with CBS! It also appears that I was sat down to one of the men who has contributed most to the uk digital scene, our own Bruce Daisley, winner the next night at the NMA awards for the accolade. I am very pleased, if disbelieving for the lad, he is a great practitioner and a great guy, he is just no good at hosting jollies as he reminded me of our jaunt to Germany for the football.

The next morning I got the chance to see the Microsoft Experience centre, packed full of their three screens, windows 7 phone, Xbox and Kinect. All of them looked amazing and full of potential for an advertiser. As I went round though It just reminded me of how little of this stuff the average planner or advertiser has seen or experienced. There is a gap between the possibility and the reality, I don’t think advertisers see how a touch sensitive table could drive their crm or sales. The Xbox is a home entertainment system with connectivity, content and games, do advertisers see this? I don’t think so and even worse I don’t think the agency folk are much better. If you get a chance go experience it!

As my trip came to an end and I got a chance to catch up with some other agency friends on the way home I thought to myself what a fantastic event, yes there is a lot of fun and drink and socializing but it’s a chance to bring a lot of very interesting people together and the opportunity to see some great work and technology.

A 4 hour delay on the way back, rounded the whole trip off. Thanks to Microsoft, sorry I did not make it on your video blog, I must have been as dull as my blog. When I got home I had an iPhone 4 waiting for me, that’s my next post..

Au Revoir

The portal could be back..

How on earth do you stay in touch with all of your communications? So whats normal nowadays? Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, your blog? News feeds from wired, trade news, world news etc etc. I think that the world is getting out of hand in terms of comms solutions.

How right then that AOL, Yahoo and more recently MSN are simplifying their pages and letting in the competition to allow us to connect to all of our accounts from one page. This would have been unthinkable a few years ago, when I was working on a film release the film maker had a promotion site made by Yahoo and therefore contained its logo, even this was not allowed on the MSN site at the time. How the world has changed, but it needs to!

The idea of a Portal is never more relevant, perhaps more relevant than when the portals genuinely ruled the digital waves. I could see these portals gaining back share with the advent of letting people add their own widgets. Yahoo / MSN and the like need to go even further down the road to the likes of netvibes and their many lookalikes

and allow absolutely all the links you could ever want on your page, become like them except you have content, news, entertainment etc. The Portal is back, lets hope they make them better than ever because all i know is I need one place to go to, not 5 or 6. On that point, I have to say that I am thoroughly disappointed with Linkedin external linking strategy, they have one of the poorest iphone applications, they have a useless netvibes widget – what are they doing, they are meant to about being a business network, they need to speed up this part of their developments..

Integrated, digital at the centre, agencies have changed, how do media owners respond?

Just before the recession kicked off every article was about digital, within the agency world it was the key battle ground, who had more of it, was it integrated, who was pretending etc etc. The recession seemed to put pay to that for a while, everyone concentrating on survival. What the recession will have done in many agencies is allow them to make a lot of change very quickly, people are a lot more receptive to structural change when their jobs are at risk. The end result of that will be that agencies have perhaps now taken a bigger step forward in a shorter period of time than at any previous period of the past.

Most agency groups now have pulled together or bought up a vast array of digital properties and now the task is to link them all together and make them something that clients can genuinely buy into, thats the biggest task of all and there are definitely some struggles out there.

Likewise the media owners are having to adjust at the same pace, they have also battled with separate sales teams, on and offline, agency relationship managers, sponsorships and many other properties but to make them work the teams have to work together and present a coherent face to the marketplace.  Guardian teams have been well known to be struggling in this regard and have done for some time and perhaps this is now being reflected in the IPA Media Owner survey. The Telegraph made a very high profile office move and merged teams far more quickly and effectively and they seem to be benefitting from that move.  The thing that stands out for me at the more successful media properties is that they all have two common themes; the right people in the key jobs and a desire to completely reinvent. AOL was down on its knees but therefore had little to lose and have completely re-engineered themselves and came to market with clarity and ambition. Telegraph was a similar story in terms of their ambition to completely evolve.

There is a lesson in that and some agencies could also look at those examples and shake things up, there are many agencies that have the same people, in the same roles and in the same format. Look to the brave and reinvent your offer and be brave enough to change. Change is addictive, tough to start with but once you do it, you can make a real difference.