Programmatic advancement? : Just look to Amsterdam

A few years back, around 2012/13 we discussed how we could grow Audience On Demand more quickly in the region. How could we support all those smaller markets that could not sustain headcount dedicated to programmatic and yet wanted to be part of the picture. Back then we set up the ‘Amsterdam Hub’ for AOD and the very talented Anke Kuik came in to run it for me. We quickly built a buzzy and vibrant business servicing 10+ markets and successfully growing the programmatic footprint of AOD.

As was widely reported, VivaKi eventually decentralised all these teams and so the hub was no more.  Soon after that, I worked on global programmatic strategy across top clients and had the chance to see, hear and contribute to their progress. In almost all cases the advertisers were going back to basics and evaluating their tech, strategies, data plan and more, they wanted to set some common guidelines to many markets. As a result of many of these pieces of work we saw the re-emergence of the hub. Amsterdam is a particular favourite but I think it is fair to say you can find them all over, in London, Paris, US and so on, point being, the Hub is back.

However the big difference with the new hubs, either at a client or agency level are they are there to support ALL markets, big or small. They are there to support tech, data and media buying across a whole range of markets and with that you see a huge shift in how media is being traded, more so than ever before. The true potential of these hubs is becoming a reality, something that has been promised now for some years but is really taking shape and with that shifting the way we all do business. On my side having been a founder of a hub and now on the other side and working with them, it creates a fascinating dynamic as you have to work on many different levels. You need local expertise talking to local countries. You need local people talking to central hubs, you need International teams talking to the hubs. Wow, thats a lot of talking. It is all work and needs lots of coverage of teams, especially where hubs are at an advertiser level.

The thing is, these all take work to start with, but the benefits very quickly become apparent, as the rhythm settles in and people get used to the system, create a list of key partners, know where to go for certain inventory, on the sell side you start to see the benefits, especially where you have such strong, brand safe inventory as Spotify. Suddenly the much vaunted efficiencies of programmatic become apparent and we all start to benefit. Once the heavy lifting is done on the agency side or clients side and all their markets are adjusted to this new way of working then they can spend less time on execution and more on increasing sophistication of offering. Creating trusted market places of inventory, consolidating inventory decisions, partner selection, data strategy can all become the primary focus areas rather than the previously disjointed, inefficient work that happened five years back.

With every passing year this model is really starting to come together and I thoroughly enjoy seeing it, in some ways, even more from the Spotify side. I think we are going to see rapid acceleration (as if it can get faster) in programmatic. The clients and agencies are doing a great job of organising around this new world and I am excited to see how it progresses in the next five years!

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The re-birth of digital advertising

So I thought for a change from talking about Spotify, I would give my humble views on the latest digital furore.
It is a well trodden path – Scandal first, debate and finger pointing and finally actions and solutions often leading to a better future state. We see it in everyday life with so many different topics.  It is always a shame that it gets to that point but at the same time we should grab the opportunity that it presents us.
I know I sound like an old git and have said it before but I have seen so many stages of digital, starting with the concept of selling hits. Ironically we never knew less about what we were selling in 2000 but it was probably in front of humans back then, Ad fraud was not on the radar. We have seen the social media wave, video, programmatic,  and on it goes.
However this latest scandal is not about impressions appearing against unfavourable content, and by all accounts a tiny amount,  it’s about the fact that everyone just got a cold bucket of water thrown over them and screamed at to wake up. The bucket was thrown by The Times as it happens but this topic has been on every stage in programmatic for two plus years. It has been the sell of many companies talking about brand safety for years but the truth is, no one listened. In 2014 I was at a ANA conference with hundreds of buyers and I asked them if they cared about brand safety and unanimously they said they did. I then I asked them if they bought blind performance or blind inventory through any number of RTB networks and most did. I ended with the phrase. ‘Then you don’t care about brand safety’ this is not to have a dig at those companies, by the way, many still operating, but to make the point that the issue has been out there for some time.
My blog is littered with articles I have written on this topic and I was not the only one of course. Trouble was no one listened.  Ask any agency that wanted to deliver more brand safe impressions, the toughest thing was applying quality inventory, whitelists, vetting etc and still hitting cpms demanded by auditors and pitches.
So now the scandal is passing and we have had much debate, now on to the solutions. Here is my take out on the topic. Here are the likely developments for the industry:
  1. Advertisers are going to continue to take more ownership of their programmatic work in some way, hopefully finding a happy balance with agencies, combining best of both worlds
  2. Quality media will see a resurgence – it will at least be given air to breathe. Quality sites will be seen for what they are, brand safe with quality audiences
  3. Verification will be standard for Facebook and Google – at last advertisers will be able to see what their viewability scores are on puking rainbows
  4. Standards are about to shoot up. At Spotify we sell all video with Moat HAVOC standards – Human, Audio, Video, on complete. Our ads deliver 100% SOV, 95+% viewability. See these as becoming standard.
We are entering a new dawn for digital advertising, the question is whether everyone goes back to sleep or decides to get up and out. Take the opportunity to make our industry a better place.

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.

image: http://offlinehbpl.hbpl.co.uk/news/OMC/richedit/DrinkResponsibility.jpg

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.
Read more at http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/ad-blocking-end-industry-why-no-one-stepping-change-that/1384789#7uGwk0Qmp1bklfyh.99

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.