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.
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A list of observations. In a list.

Today I just wrote a list. A list of observations from the sales side of the house from a recent ex agency person. Headline is ‘long time agency executive did not self combust when joining a sales organisation’ Here are some insights for those of you thinking about crossing the divide…
  • I really did not know where anyone’s offices were and Christ you do a lot of travelling around. Google saves hundreds of hours by getting everyone to come to them.
  • You get cancelled a lot. No biggie, shit happens, but you get cancelled a lot
  • What I assumed would be an awesome event to attend is actually just competing with loads of awesome events to attend
  • People cancel late – main thing is to cancel, even that day, but not so late you can’t find a home for the ticket, even if I bring my mum
  • Learning all about restaurants in a 5min circumference from each agency
  • I have competed with many, annoyed some, but overall everyone has been hugely welcoming of my new role.
  • Agencies are working their socks off on pitches. Every.Single.Day.
  • There is some cool shit going on in agencies, fascinating to see and hear it. One even came to tell us about it.
  • I am really enjoying getting to work with all the people I used to work with but are now scattered across the industry – chance to see everyone again
  • Agency chat involves a lot about offices. A lot. More even than Google and Facebook talk about theirs.
  • People talk about Google and Facebook a lot.
  • There are so many people I did not know but glad I am getting to know.

I have not self combusted.

When the last planner leaves the building, please turn off the light.

Our industry is small, relatively speaking. There are three, maybe four parts to it. Agencies, Advertisers, Media Owners (in all their shapes and forms) and technology companies.  I have no idea how many people in reality, hundreds of thousands globally let’s say.

Have you seen the make up of those agencies? Generally speaking if you look at the average age of a media agency or creative agency it is pretty low. Let’s say it’s in the early 30s. If you take a look at most of the departments like search or programmatic then that age dips even further. If you don’t work with agencies then let me describe it. Rooms full of young people tapping away, chatting, calling, looking at screens, learning and hopefully enjoying themselves, some pissed off, but normal life.

If you ask them what they do, they will say they work on x client or y client. They will tell you how they are buying something, planning something and trying to deliver something for clients. I can tell you what they are not doing.  They are not planning a way to be ‘stealing, lying or cheating their clients’ they will tell you that they are working for their clients and trying to do a good job.

At the same time I see a lot of attention being aimed at how we bring people into the industry, all facets of it, but certainly at the agencies. We all pour efforts into bringing them on and training them so they are good and better than the competition. We want to bring the smartest and brightest to our industry.

Trouble is that is going to get very hard. It’s going to get very hard for a few reasons. The first is the blanket accusations aimed at agencies. To be clear, if there is anyone at fault, I guarantee you it is not the kids working their socks off, it’s not the 99%+ percent of people in agencies. By the way these are the very same you want us to bring into the business, the ones you want to pull away from other industries and wow the clients. But no one is thinking about that. Everyone is rushing to shout as loud as possible about how corrupt agencies are, how they are not trustworthy. When you say ‘agencies’ who are you aiming that at?

Why would anyone want to work in agencies? Between trade bodies, marketing experts, auditing companies, intermediaries, journalists all bashing the agency land, why would anyone want to work for an agency? Mark Ritson said ‘what the fuck is happening in our industry’ well I will tell you. It is being killed by broad brush stroke, highly audible voices (like Mark) that is going to mean that no one will work for agencies and then I wonder where that leaves us. Death by a thousand cuts.

What I can’t work out is that what they want?

I am genuinely interested in whether some of these interested parties really do want agencies to go away, because at the moment they are certainly sounding like it. There is no balance, there is no moderation, there is no qualification, just straight outright, broad brush strokes of criticism. I am here to defend the armies of keen, young, committed people working late, working weekends for their clients. I would like to hear some balance from some of these parties, I would like to hear them support great work and great people, just a little to balance the ones who are razing the whole place to the ground.

When the last planner leaves the building, please turn the light off.

 

If you want to understand Ad blocking, look to the youth.

Original article posted on The Drum here

So much of the talk on ad blocking is focused on battery sucking ads, data sucking ads, bad ads and so on. There is hand wringing at every corner of the industry.  Today I saw a tweet from an advertiser bemoaning how it is messing with their site analytics.

The solutions are diverse and range from technical to blocking the blockers or even worse paying the organised crime like protection rackets that some of these ad blocking companies are offering up.

If you really want to understand ad blocking you have to look to the youth.  Because the youth are not moaning about ads sucking their data and they aren’t obsessed with being followed around the web.  They don’t care about any of that.  They do talk about the quality of ads.  They just don’t understand the relationship between ads and free things.  Those free things are many and varied and they have not stopped to think about the reality of paying for them.

I’m part of a project called Speaker4Schools where I run educational sessions on the media industry for 16 and 17-year-old school children.  Recent presentations I’ve given have involved talking on the subject of the value exchange between advertising and the free services the children receive.

As I work through the presentation I ask how they would feel paying for Facebook (no one), what about Instagram? Yes, but a tiny amount and email? You get the idea – they don’t want to pay and can’t actually get their heads around having to pay.  As I explain that advertising is subsidising all these great services they feel are essential to their lives, I see the realisation dawn that they have really never considered the relationship at all.  Ads are just there to sell product.

I also asked the students if they use ad blockers.  30-50 per cent said they do or have done so.  They do it just because they can.  They do it because ‘there is an app for that’.  These are the young consumers of the future.  The problem of course stretches further in to older age groups which are where I agree with publishers blocking people from seeing their content.  The problem is however that fundamentally if we can’t explain to the younger generation that they get all this free stuff because of advertising, and it won’t be free for long if the use of ad blocking continues to rise, we have a much bigger problem.

It’s time to get together.  Just like the alcohol industry and its ‘drink responsibly’ campaign we need a major advertising push.  We have a massive job to do on educating the population, and perhaps along the way, help our industry attract new entrants.  It’s imperative we do this rather than lining the pockets of every ad blocking and ad blocking-blocking company and the myriad of other tech companies claiming to solve this issue.  Let’s put our energy towards a true industry effort to change perceptions and save our business.

At the same time we do have to improve creative, reduce ads, agree some standards on viewability measurement and reduce fraud.  But first and foremost we have to educate the youth that if they want to Snapchat for free they need to see ads.

Dmexco – powered by professional energy

Perhaps a surprise to some but this year was my first year at Dmexco. Every year it has clashed with something or other, but this year I was there, well for a night and a day at least. It is usually the happenings around the conference that garner the most interest but at Dmexco it IS the conference. Dmexco is a REAL trade show, a place where companies come to show off their goods and hope that the circling hoards will come buy.

There is something refreshing about that, it felt a lot more meaningful, a place where business came first and rose second. Don’t get me wrong I have no issue with rose and I am certainly not one of those bitter nay sayers that write about the pointlessness of Cannes, no siree, I am a fan, but that said Dmexco felt solid and meaningful. There is no other place that so neatly distills the lumascape into a real environment, where you get to see the colossal competition for the buck all in one place. I think it is that which really struck me, just how many people are out there in the martech, adtech space and all with their piece of the action.

I did not get a chance to truly get around everything but I sensed there was a pecking order with the smaller stalls gathered in one place. They are all looking to grow of course and move into Yr2 with the big guys. Big guys they are as well, over the years the stalls have apparently grown and grown and it appears to be like Yachts with everyone weighing and rating each other up based on size and how many people fit, after the size comes facilities – does yours have a coffee machine? Meeting rooms? TV centre – shower? Swinging dicks aside it is an amazing array of companies all sat alongside each other from Adobe and Oracle to MediaMath or the agency lounge. It was great to see all the Publicis agencies there, not too big, not too small. GroupM were clearly out to make a statement on the other hand, commercially powered by Xaxis.

What I have been impressed by is the level of seniority of attendees, Global CEOs, Group CEOs all attending an event that is relatively new. All around the event you will find leaders from every corner of the business and with that brings some gravitas and focus and less feel of a jolly that comes with Cannes.

I hope to go for longer next year and attend more of the actual presentations, but for a first trip I was hugely impressed and will definitely prioritise. The event ended on a high as I managed to hitch a lift with the lovely (am I allowed to say lovely?) Nikki Mendonca who had a cab waiting for me even as I stood in a long queue.

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.