An Englishman in NY (well Chicago)

After another two month stint in the US, I am flying home to take up my role in London. In 2014 I had the good fortune to work for six months in New York and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, this time it was Chicago in my new CRO role for Performics. I have found myself analysing the country more than I did in NY, I guess the second time around was more critical than the first and I seemed to soak up more of normal life this time.

A few things have struck me this time, small often, some big but just areas of difference between US and UK, work and otherwise.

  1. They love DOGS. Holy shit, they love them, every shape, size, colour. I thought the UK was a nation of animal lovers but its on another scale here, every apartment block has them pouring out in droves.
  2. US offices are so much quieter than UK. There are arguments pro and con but on balance the life that exists in UK offices outweighs the sometimes oppressive silence of US offices. I would be tearing down the cubicles as fast as I could.
  3. I am left dumbfounded by the level of waste of food and lack of recycling. Restaurant portions seem to me gluttonous to the point of not really understanding who eats it. It perhaps creates a sharing culture as people don’t order dishes each, but mainly I just see waste.
  4. How much more friendly and relaxed Chicago is to NY. A totally different experience, people are so friendly and helpful and makes for such a nice pace of life vs NY.
  5. You have to work here to get the scale. Europeans who moan about the US, need to understand more about the US before passing judgment. The numbers, the opportunities, are immense.
  6. Love – taxis taking cards as a matter of course, yet at the other end the card payment processes seem really behind with limited Chip and Pin, let alone contactless.
  7. Eating and drinking in the US is interesting. Service is great generally, some restaurants wont let you sit until your other dining partner arrives which frustrates me. The dropping of the ‘check’ on the table when you have barely finished is both irritating and fantastic, one pushing you out, on the other hand, you don’t have that frustrated process of catching waiter’s eye to get the check.
  8.  Stop spilling iced water all over the table. Please.
  9. I still find that there is too much hierarchy in US businesses, I would prefer to see much less focus on titles and seniority and more on great and accountable relationships with the teams.
  10. So kid friendly. playgrounds around every corner, children’s menus, museums etc, Chicago but also NY have been fantastic for kids and I love the place for that.

I hope to get the chance to come back here again, America is a great country and from a work perspective it is a must and would recommend to anyone. I have enjoyed a wonderful time here with the Performics team, a great team and look forward to what the future holds!

Thanks windy city, its been a blast!


Adblocking -please advertise responsibly

Ad-blocking, is now in its next chapter. The converted network in the form of Three is going to banish ads en masse. We have lived through a number of chapters in this story, we are reading fast because it is such a page-turner and on a panel a week or so ago I was asked a number of good questions.

The first was why had we taken so long to wake up to the issue when ad-blockers had been around for some time. The second was “what are we actually going to do about it?” and finally a question about what advertisers think. The questions raised some good points because right now the whole industry is standing around admiring the problem with little visible action.

Let’s start with the advertisers, why are they not up in arms on this topic? Well the answer is that it has not affected them, as far as they can see. They ask for media and they get media, often at a lower price than last year so everything is rosy. The mobile network Three’s partnership with the ad-blocker Shine might start a trend that means the only feasible answer is restricting inventory and increasing pricing. Advertisers will then find the cost of their digital ads goes up. When you see that six months after bringing in new rules on its exchange Appnexus has reduced traffic by 90 per cent, you start to see the potential impact if you clean up ad fraud and restrict eyeballs.

I believe we did not notice the problem until other businesses started to make money out of the problem. Not unlike the earliest protection racket that started up around the olive groves of Sicily, once it was clear that there was money to be paid the topic was widely distributed by the aforementioned racketeers, sorry ad-blocking companies. Since then, ad-blocking has seeped into the common consciousness appearing in articles, films and more. In fact as Caspar Schlickum of Xaxis said, we basically brought it upon ourselves by talking about it so much.

We are now admiring the problem from every angle like a fine work of art. Yet this is an industry issue like no other we have had before. This is an issue to end the industry and we need to create a collective approach to the problem. We have to do something on the scale of the alcohol industry. “Please drink responsibly” needs to change to “please advertise responsibly”. We need to get behind a body of people capable of creating change.


Advertising needs its own version of the ‘drink responsibly’ industry effort

The question is who is going to put their hand up? The Internet Advertising Bureau, IPA, and Advertising Association have to come together to start the ball rolling. Some of that should be official sounding work and some more basic. The easiest example is to all collectively agree to not build certain ads.

The IAB with its “lean” approach is starting with that, but we should all get behind it. There was a time in 2002/3 when pop-ups were banished to whence they came. They were not cool, the sole preserve of gambling and porn companies. In the last few years they have made a return in a big way, but disguised as something more sophisticated. We have to cut them out. None of this is pretty and we have to get on the front foot.

And as a parting remark, I would say it is not helpful that other parts of the business are rubbing their hands together on this topic. Whether it be people working in other media channels like TV who think that people actually like TV ads, when actually they have no choice really, give them an app to dodge TV ads and they will, or creative agencies blaming programmatic. We all have a part to play and it threatens all of us.

One thing we could all do is not allow ad-blocking companies into conferences as the IAB did in the US because the lights that beam on the stage, the food they happily eat in the break, the drinks they consume in the bar afterwards and everything in between is paid for by advertising. For that reason alone they should not be invited.

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, 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, 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.

The least well known, best attended event: Webit 2013


Probably 6-9 months ago when November seemed a life time away I received my first communication from Webit. Come the day I walk on stage, myself and fellow speakers had received according to the hosts around 36,000 emails in the arranging of this event. Based on my own experiences and those of others, it felt like at least 36,000 as well. As time went by I started to talk to more people who appeared to be attending this mysterious event in Istanbul and so I decided to have a go.

Welcome to Webit, 8000 people from 103 countries all converging on the astounding Istanbul. Link to event here

The 36,000 emails was a precursor to a peculiar event, just as Istanbul sits between Western world and Eastern world so the event seemed to attempt to straddle both but with an emphasis on the Middle East. I think to call it an International event is slightly over stating, I would suggest that 80% of attendees were local or from the Middle Eastern region with a smattering of people from the rest of the globe.  The genius of these conferences is that a smattering of logos gives it the appearance of something that perhaps it will be one day but not yet. Vevo, Yume, VivaKi, Omnicom (Nikki Mendoca flew in for a morning to grace us), Facebook etc all make it look a big deal and yet many presentations were far from International.

As an event I believe it over stretched itself although I am not sure the organiser thought so, there was no hint of embarrassement that they had spammed people with communication in the run up, so much so that basically everyone I met had given up caring and waited until the last minute to work out where to go next. There is less hierarchy in an arilines exec club status than at this event with three or four different tiers of ticket and then corresponding content. As an example the Telco area and presentations was only available to Platinum, consequently there were no people in the sessions! Different rooms, different tiers and thousands of emails led to a pleasantly chaotic environment. 

I think the focus on start ups and innovation is probably very valuable to the area and I think the mentality of networking very strong and so this side of the event was more powerful than other more sedate affairs. The outside areas and exhibition area, actually quite small, was more like a souk atmosphere with human interaction front and centre. I certainly have never had so many spam contacts, apologies, new business opportunities sent to me and continue to be so. A small point but I feel like I have signed up to the biggest direct mail database by attending the conference, as my inbox seems to be now filled with new biz opportunities. My favourite being:

‘We partner with firms to enable you to expedite time-to-market and improve Return-on-investment by providing cost effective solutions’

I think the area that the organiser most needs to focus on is the matching of titles and content, the Big Data session as an example had at least two presentations that niether mentioned the words Big Data or in fact had anything but a tenuous link with it. Some might say that is the norm, but watching a number of the sessions, it felt to me like too much time spent on creating an overcomplicated infrastructure and not enough on the content, both original content and how it is coordinated. The Panels at times had 8 people on them, this format needs some work, too many people not saying enough, less is more definitely springs to mind!

Evening entertainment was very good, especially for the speakers and panelists and the men, a wonderful evening boat ride and dinner followed by cool party on night one and then night two a meal followed by probably the least likely entertainment – a mass naked Hammam..umm. This combined with some liberal belly dancing left a few of the International ladies wondering whether this conference could be a little more balanced in its approach to men and women and indeed I doubt anyone really cared about how many women there were on stage – the answer. very few.

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All that said it was an amazing location, infectious atmosphere led by Plamen and I am sure it will continue to grow and grow. I feel like it needs to take a lead from other large events in how it is set up and run to streamline everything and have less of the workings on show and more of the content. If you want to really ramp up business in the area I also believe it would be a great starting place. For VivaKi expanding and increasing the Audeince On Demand services there it worked well on the back of the AOD Publisher Day we had before it and I am sure many other International teams will see similar opportunity.

The event also created two side lines, the first is that myself and Brian from Digiday have coined the phrase ‘they did a Webit’ and that Brian has big plans for bringing programmatic to the Bazaars of Istanbul, he is particularly worried about the longevity of the exclusive superglue stall man in this new era of RTB!

Persistent Identity – holy grail available to some..

I am Just back from meetings in Seattle and San Fran with the Big 4. Big 4 you ask? Well in todays world of data connectivity, mobile innovation and growth as well as digital commerce the big 4 has changed. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon are now gunpowder and bullet. The others more and more the barrel.

The message that is coming out loud and clear is that these players in their own varied ways are out to maximise the insights they have on their users and customers through a single themed approach of ‘Persistent Identity.’ I heard it a few times over the time I was out there, I have seen it mentioned in the odd article. But when you get to spend three days with all these market leading companies it becomes loud and clear that the data they hold on consumers is the key to their future and the single most valuable asset.

Persistent Identity is a fancy way of saying ‘we know who you are, we know where you are and we know what device you are on, the holy grail of data. The kind of data and insights advertisers are crying out for. What strikes me about this data is how much more powerful it is than third party data sold by any number of companies, data which is slightly worn out, like an old apple at the bottom of a bag, still edible but just not as fresh and juicy as when it was picked.

The ability to recognise you, add insights to your iD, serve ads depending on which device you are on, understand you through your behaviour by device, friends, clicks and links is so powerful, so powerful in fact you can see the likes of Facebook being the defacto judge of what is good or accurate data instead of the traditional players. That has already started of course but I think will gather momentum. Watch out panel data.

When you take a step back and realise what data they have you can understand why they are reticent to share it or risk it being stolen, putting up walls of protection around it. Amazon with their marketplace, Facebook only allowing access through API, Twitter pulling info from Google, these are the actions of companies with hidden treasure. These businesses dont need all the old methods of tracking whether it is panels of adserved cookies, they know their people, signed in, registered people at scale.

Persistent identiity is powerful and logical, the only problem is that you have to stack up on these solutions. Like having a car and pulling up at the fuel station and putting 3 or 4 different petrols in to be able to get the car going. I want to recognise everyone through the ability of joining up these players – I would love to spot a FB user who has been updating a status about an iPod, browsing on Amazon and nail them with a promoted Tweet or video Ad to close the deal. I know it is too much to ask to have all these companies reveal their secret source but targeting would be fun..

Either way, data businesses will need to work hard and fast to justify their models in the face of the biggest digital players in the world starting to pull up their sleeves and flex their guns, because be under no illusion they are big guns.

CES My overview: Content and technology at odds when it comes to mobility

CES never ceases to astound, not least because the sheer scale is incredible. Over 150,000 people gathered this year to see the onslaught of new gadgets and software, with over 20,000 new products being launched. However this year I was less surprised by the products being launched.

Yes there were bigger TVs, thinner TVs, TVs with the most incredible picture quality, more tablets, more phones, more games and even fridges that talk to you. Loads of great stuff. But not loads of surprises. The focus as far as I could see was in making all of these things talk, connect and share with each other.

It struck me at CES just how much technology enables a seamless, frictionless ecosystem for us and our consumption of content. There were some fascinating examples on the show floor that all point to the consumer being able to do exactly what they want to do, when they want to do it. I can guarantee that our children will be demanding a completely open proposition when it comes to media consumption. They will want and expect it in a non- linear fashion as well.

A prime example of this was DISH, who is trying everything to help us do that. First they allow the recording of every primetime network channel automatically on to your set top box and then they have enabled the transfer of this content to your iPad for later viewing on the go. A brilliant idea which fully utilises the tablet / PC and TV.


Intel and Comcast are working to make sure that the average home can have a number of different devices wired up so individuals can watch and do whatever they like in whatever room of the house they are in. This allows the consumer a seamless movement of viewing / playing around the house.

And with Intel’s Microsoft Windows 8 laptop come tablet devices users can play with based on their mood – laptop for work, tablet for play. There is no one device that has come to the fore here and I am sure the best route will take a while to play out, but it will.

Samsung’s interactive TV’s continue to delight with the ability to talk with friends via Twitter, Skype etc… and indeed there are now competitors challenging the idea that adding these interactive services does not need to push up the price tag so considerably. Hisense is democratising these services and has entered the market with an affordable Smart TV for everyone.

Interestingly, the superstores in the US are also trying to push this out of the preserve of the lucky few. Both Walmart and Bestbuy will now only sell Smart TV’s, trying to drive further adoption of these ever connected devices. Intrinsic to growth in the connected TV area (there are 35 million connected TV devices in the US) is just that, getting them connected.

The Wi-fi revolution has meant that it is now so easy to connect a new device and adoption rates are high in the Smart TV market. All of this means we are very quickly going to arrive at a world where the lines between your TV and mobile devices are seamless.

This is being accelerated by a need to can the wires, a greater desire for social TV and a realisation that the TV can be a great central hub for all content wherever it comes from, and indeed can be the starting point for finding content and sending it outwards. In addition, on demand services and social apps also mean that people will be looking for Smart TV’s as a matter of course. Driving further adoption.

The key issue, however, is that the devices are seamless but the content is not. Broadcasters in particular are trying to manage a market that is shifting rapidly around them. In my home where I don’t have an aerial and the digital aerial does not work I turn to Apple TV. Apple TV is great for streaming to the TV, but who are the people that won’t let you do it – C4, ITV, Sky etc. How limited and short sighted are they? What are the alternatives? I don’t watch their programmes, or I do?

My Samsung TV has no 4oD, the result is I don’t watch this channel as much as I would. Comcast in the US is not letting people stream programming from the likes of HBO Go, it is being artificially restricted. This strangulation by these broadcasters needs to adjust and fast as viewers will not put up with it for much longer.

One huge irritation I have is the fact that Sky won’t let me have unlimited devices to watch SkyGo on – we live in a world where people often have an iPad, an iPhone, an iPod and perhaps even a Nexus 7 – I want to watch SkyGo anywhere I want,  at any time – that drives loyalty.

How technology will impact advertising

So, we have a seamless technology ecosystem developing, let’s look on the bright side and suggest that broadcasters do give up their old school methods and let us all do what we want. There will be two implications for the advertising business. The first is that measurement of viewership will become an impossible task without some improvement in the technology tracking it – a big ask. And that leads neatly to the second – addressable TV advertising.

DISH is currently piloting zipcode targeting – basically they download ads to the set top box and then fire them to the appropriate household and hopefully in time, person. How can they do that? Well, if a household is governed by a central console like a Comcast box, then we could be in a position to more easily identify who is watching what content and serve them relevant advertising.

Simulmedia recently released numbers that suggest that as much as 75% of TV ad impressions are reaching just 20% of their target audiences. If this data becomes verified, advertisers will be looking to alternatives and addressability will be paramount.

So, after a few days in Vegas we did not see a great deal of change, more a rapid progression of technology that was present last year – more tablets, more Smart TV’s, interchangeable laptops and tablets, sharing technology, social technology. As a result our industry also needs to rapidly progress. The consequences for the media will be far reaching and affect all of us.

Marco Bertozzi is executive managing director of Publicis Groupe’s VivaKi