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Transparency: Marketing’s New Currency – Part II

Last week, we looked at some of the current issues around advertising in part I of our two part series on transparency. This week, we examine why these issues must matter to agencies and advertisers and what needs to change in order to restore consumer trust.

Why are these issues a big deal?

In the case of inconsistent metrics, it’s is a problem because it could potentially impact revenue: video viewing times were used to determine how much money was allotted to video spend in with Facebook vs other video channels such as YouTube, or even TV ads. This also impacted the types of content shown to viewers. If the metrics are giving brands the wrong information about viewing audiences, then in turn, they are delivering the wrong video content and ultimately, wasting ad spend. While some marketers said the initial damage by the Facebook metrics snafu was negligible, the latest blunder where Facebook underreported the amount of traffic coming in was serious enough to merit concern with some major brands like Buzzfeed and the Washington Post who saw up to 20% as diminished traffic reporting.

Facebook marketing strategist, Jon Loomer, pinpoints the main issue with this: “On one hand we expect the numbers to be accurate, we need the numbers to be accurate. And Facebook, for the sake of perception and trustworthiness, needs the numbers to be accurate.”

Accuracy and trust are integral to any brand. While Facebook has received the brunt of the fallout from this, it isn’t just a problem with Facebook; the issue goes well beyond them. Even if marketers are unsure of where they sit in terms of the damage caused by the Facebook reporting scandal (or non-scandal), the issue remains two-fold: 1.) that companies like Facebook are viewed as operating from within a “walled garden”, a closed system with little to no objective scrutiny, 2.) With no reliable third party measurements in place across the board, it means a serious loss of trust, and that in the long run, is the biggest issue for advertisers going forward.

Fight Against Fraud

While the fight against fraud has intensified, according to eMarketer, ad fraud costs advertisers billions every year in lost revenue, to the tune of $7.2 billion in 2016, according to Ad Age. In spite of this staggering amount, many agencies display a rather ambivalent attitude when it comes to ad fraud. There is a persistent idea that it just comes with the territory, it’s just part of the cost of doing business. There is also the belief that ad fraud will never be fully eradicated because, for all its losses, it is too lucrative to abandon entirely. Ad fraud measurements haven’t been standardised, allowing agencies to pick and choose what anti-fraud companies will make their practices look best. Even fraud detection companies don’t want to combat fraud too effectively because they would essentially put themselves out of business. Fraudsters, ad agencies, and fraud-detectors are all making money, so while the complaints fly, there is still an understanding that this may never be fully eradicated. This puts marketers in a difficult position (going back to transparency) because this sort of activity is anything but transparent.

What Needs to Change?

In July, The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) released recommendations that advised brands to create a Chief Media Officer role within their organisations to facilitate better transparency between advertisers and consumers. It also included a series of guidelines to combat the unethical practices that have been plaguing the industry.

In terms of ad-fraud, agencies can also use third-party verification to ensure objective authentication that what the client has paid for will land on a credible page to prevent their ads from being shown alongside undesirable content. Third party ad verification also helps prevent any bidding on these types of auctions. Some DSPs also have built in technology to automatically detect and block bot traffic.

Citing Google’s inability to ensure ad safety as an unacceptable risk, several large companies pull ads from the platform last week. After large brands like Lloyd’s, McDonald’s and the UK government have dropped them, Google were quick to release a statement apologizing the oversight and laying out a step-by-step plan to combat the issue and ensure brand safety. Concerns were raised after ads landed on pages associated with terrorist activities. Until Google can assure brands that their ads won’t land on dangerous sites, brands will take their money elsewhere, leaving a dent in the advertsing platform’s revenue.

This signals a major shift in the industry – brands are no longer willing to put up with excuses from agencies and marketers. Expectations are higher, as is the demand for action and transparency.  If Google can be affected by such a large scale revolt, complacency and lack of transparency will invariably negatively impact smaller agencies that can’t account for their client’s ad whereabouts. Advertisers need to take their cues from Google and make similar changes in order to keep up with these new industry requirements.

 

 

Ignorance is Not Bliss: Steps to Protect Your Brand from Bad Advertising

There has been a recent spate of articles calling out brands whose ads have appeared on political websites, sometimes event inadvertently funding terror or hate groups.

This should never happen. So how has it been happening?

Brands are paying a lot of money to have agencies place ads for them and since this issue keeps cropping up, something is clearly broken. Accusations have been levelled at YouTube, unscrupulous advertisers, and shady programmatic advertising practices. So who is really at fault and what should agencies be doing about it?

Why This Happened

This issue became newsworthy as the line between brands and politics became blurred during the recent US election. The ripple effect has become a tidal wave, and brands are being affected globally as consumers are taking cues from the US and aligning their shopping habits with their personal and political beliefs. A pair of jeans isn’t just a pair of jeans anymore, who made them? Who owns the company? Where is the company’s money going in the political arena? All this matters to consumers now.

Public opinion in a heated political climate can make or break a brand. Advertisers have been quick to react to their customer’s political leanings by donating money to certain causes and groups, boycotting merchandise, or taking a stance on government policy.

Who is Responsible

Many brands have been caught off guard when their image has been tarnished by appearing on sites that don’t align with their political or brand beliefs. Sleeping Giants, a Twitter account that names, shames, and encourages consumers to call out brands for appearing on hate sites, has witnessed an unprecedented following. Consumers have been quick to condemn and boycott brands that are found wanting in their political leanings. The claims of ‘we had no idea’ ring hollow when ads appear on Neo-nazi websites or under ISIS videos. Brand managers, advertisers, and agencies are expected to do their due diligence before the company’s logo appears on a terrorist or hate group website. There has been plenty of hand-wringing and finger-pointing, but the truth of the matter is, from a programmatic viewpoint, it’s preventable.

Prevention

The underlying issue is that RTB programmatic buys an audience, and it’s easier to reach people where they appear online rather than targeting specific sites. There is also the problem of fraudsters pretending to be legitimate sites and bypassing Google’s controls, but in the majority of cases, it’s simply down to inventory that has yet to be classified, or a site not declaring their URL. Where advertisers can run afoul of their clientele is that by not bidding you could lose up to 30-45% of your inventory options. Unknown inventory isn’t always the proverbial ‘bad guy’, it’s just uncategorised. Google isn’t able to keep up and categorise every single site by the time bidding occurs, and not all sites have adequate content to be classified.

Even given the speed at which programmatic buying and selling takes place, there are steps that can be taken to make sure your (and your clients) are protected from landing on dubious websites. Tools exist that provide pre-bid ad-verification, which intercepts the auction, and, based on data passed during the ad call such as, the publisher’s ID, the site ID, or publisher’s site URL, will prevent the buyer from bidding all in a matter of milliseconds. This also taps into third party ad-verification providers who have databases of unsafe sites that are constantly updated, doing the heavy lifting for you so that you don’t have to manage the process manually.

DoubleClick also contains preventative measures to protect clients from ending up on nefarious sites. DoubleClick categorises websites when they receive ads and can quickly scan the site for words or URLs that are problematic. It also will exclude categories of websites when problems are found.

If All Else Fails…

Post-bid, if your ad slips through the cracks and lands on an unwanted site, ad-verification partners can help by preventing your ad from showing. This means that while your ad still lands on the page, it will serve a white box that protects the brand’s ad from being seen by users if it detects unsafe content. While this is far from perfect, since the client is still paying to end up on this site, the good news is that their brand is protected from being inadvertently associated with something that in this climate could, quickly and negatively, impact their reputation. Finally, advertisers and agencies can be more proactive by creating exclusion lists which they are consistently reviewing and updating.

The Shift in Facebook Sharing

Media sites have been abuzz the past few days with news that Facebook’s heyday has passed; announcing that it’s a waning social media player, eclipsed by Millennial upstarts like Snapchat. What’s caused all this noise?

Recent investigations into Facebook user habits have indicated that the majority of people on the platform have seriously curbed their social sharing – meaning personal posts like photos, status updates, and milestone announcements. Instead, Facebook users have been sharing news articles, weblinks, and videos. Innocuous, and impersonal. Just how deep is the drop? According to Business Insider, personal social sharing fell by as much as 15% over the last  year and Inc. reported an even steeper drop the preceding year of 21% for the 2014-2015 period.

Once the go-to place to share personal life events for many users, Facebook was their photo album, contact list, job board, events hub, and way to keep family and friends connected. So the question remains why the sudden shift and hesitation towards personal sharing?

  • Privacy Concerns: While Facebook does have improved privacy settings, they are difficult to navigate and locate for most users, and are onerous to apply for every single “friend” on your page. In addition, Facebook friend lists themselves no longer feel personal, where they were once the domain of close family members and friends. Fast forward a few years, and people will add you as a “ friend” if they have met you once at a bar, or you may find half-remembered coworkers from three jobs ago counting themselves amongst your 350 “friends”, and one-off acquaintances you made over a long weekend in Miami buried in that list. This expansion of what the term “friend” actually means has caused people to be more careful about what they post.
  • Facebook is about Facebook: Users have also been quick to catch onto the fact that Facebook is now about Facebook, not the user experience, no matter how much they claim to be constantly trying to improve feeds and content. It has become a home for brand content and users don’t feel the relationship is reciprocal, they are not getting a good deal. Inc’s Bureau Chief, Jeff Bercovici recently said,“The massive decline in personal sharing is a sign that large numbers of people have started to figure out that the value they get out of Facebook is a lot less than the value they put in.” 

This could sound off putting to advertisers, but this is only one side of a two headed coin. Facebook users are now more likely to share branded content than personal posts in the form of news articles, videos, and informative links. With this being the case, the shift is something brands can capitalise on so long as it is non-intrusive and provides value-added information. Publishers can also ensure that content is professional and of good quality; i.e., post your best pieces, share your most popular and engaging stories. Facebook has been prioritising quality over quantity for some time now, penalising click-bait posts and rewarding brands that give something back to the user in the form of relevant, interesting and engaging material.

Furthermore, in addition to the shrinking personal profile information, Facebook primarily uses to channels for advertisement targeting: online search behaviour, and third party data. This leaves advertisers with incredibly accurate, granular data targeting options outside of being solely reliant on what users are willing to post to their pages.

Ultimately, a reduction in personal social sharing does not mean the end of Facebook, in fact user numbers have been increasing inspite of the noise around the platform saying it is past its prime. At the end of January 2016, Tech Crunch reported that Facebook had hit 1.59 billion users and growing. 80% of their revenue now is via mobile advertising, and mobile-only users have shot up by 13.2% from last quarter. These are respectable results indicating that it’s far from over for Facebook.

 

Panel Discussions at GADM’s Ad Blocking Friend or Foe?

The first session of the day’s conference, Ad Blocking: Friend or Foe was formal, but for the remaining guest speakers, talks were broken down into casual panels, giving the audience a better chance to ask questions and join the conversation.

This first panel, The Big Questions – Adblocking Friend or Foe?, caused lively debate because it featured Christian Dommers, Head of Development of AdBlock Plus, defending the ad blocking perspective from a volley of heated panelist and audience questions. He argued that although this issue seems to have exploded fairly recently, with the advent of mobile ad blocking, it’s not new, “Ad blocking has been an issue for years, it’s about the user, and his rights, and his right to protect himself.”

AdBlock Plus recently came under fire from advertisers and publishers for their part in the creation of the Acceptable Ads Board. The Acceptable Ads Board is an independent industry-wide group that determines which ads will make it past AdBlock Plus’ filters. The sticking point has been the accusation that AdBlock Plus are making money off the backs off advertisers and publishers while pretending to be the Robin Hood of web clean-up. AdBlock Plus faced harsh criticism this past September when the Wall Street Journal reported that several large advertisers had come forward, claiming they were being asked to fork over a portion of their ad traffic in order to be whitelisted. Dommers was adamant that AdBlock Plus was not earning at the publisher’s expense, nor engaging in underhanded tactics; he argued that this has been an issue since 2002, and that whitelisting certain ads is best practice.

The discussion then moved onto whether charging advertisers and publishers for whitelisting was acceptable. Martin AshplantMetro’s Digital Director challenged Dommers, asking, “Why do you get to say whats OK, and not OK? You’re the arbiters of a system that penalises”. Dommers stood firm saying, “AdBlock Plus are not arbitrating, the users of Adblocker make the decision of what’s deemed an acceptable ad, and what’s not an acceptable ad.”

Ashplant took a harsh stance towards ad blocking activity; Metro actively bars content to users who have ad blockers installed. Ashplant says it’s a big issue for the Metro, 19% of their impressions were found to have ad blockers installed. Other large publications have followed suit, The New York Times has recently experimented with similar messaging with some users. When the user with an ad blocker installed visits the page, a message pops up saying: “The best things in life aren’t free.” and then prompted to whitelist the paper or subscribe to read content. Ashplant felt publishers were being punished for the ‘worst in class’ players, and users who had one bad experience weren’t going to turn ad blockers off for advertisers who did have decent ads. “There is certainly room to improve at the moment and also, just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. We have to work very hard to convince those who use adblockers, not to use them.”

More control for publishers might be around the corner with Google’s launch of AMP, which creates web pages that load quickly. This may be an avenue worth looking into for advertisers, Ashplant added, “What will the monetization from this look like? It could be an interesting proposition, and give publishers more control.” Another suggestion was for publishers to look at apps to circumvent ad blocking and to better engage with consumers. Ad blocking on mobile is still relatively minimal because people spend a lot of time in app on their phone, but it’s still popular on desktop.

57% of people polled by the IAB had no clue that advertising funded the content they saw online. IAB CEO, Guy Philipson suggested that in light of this grim statistic, advertisers need to reframe the conversation with the consumer and better educate them about the relationship between ads and content. Philipson also mentioned that retargeting is an issue; users don’t like being followed around the internet, or like having their transaction data used later for advertising purposes.

What do we need to do to move forward towards change? Dommer concluded the session by maintaining the that its up to the individual to be able to control what they view online, while Ashplant appealed to advertisers in the audience to take the issue very seriously, “Companies and organizations will be forced to close down, or put that charge on the consumer because someone has to pay for that content.”

iStock - Angry manThe second panel, Creative, the Value Exchange and Targeting Millennials, focused the conversation on ad quality, creative spend, and native advertising. Lolly Mason, Head of Media Partnerships EMEA at Celtra issued a challenge to advertisers: “Let’s create something awesome that people want to interact with. We’ve been disrespectful as advertisers to users, so it’s not a surprise to see an increase in ad blocking. People are annoyed by interstitials that won’t close down, or ads blasting loudly on your desktop or mobile, it’s a horrible experience. Millennials are not used to seeing the rubbish sites of the 90s.”

The panel agreed that people don’t necessarily hate ads, citing the earlier Ipsos example of John Lewis and Sainsbury’s Christmas ads. People talk about them, anticipate them, and like sharing them. The same holds for movie goers, who go to the theatre early to catch movie trailers. People will watch these ads and engage with them because they are done well.

Laura Jordan Bambach, Creative Partner at Mr. President felt that the balance between creative and message spend is out of whack. Brands are not spending enough on the message, and the quality of message is suffering. “You forget the person on the end is a human being and might want to be inspired.” The creative element is under a tremendous amount of pressure, with many creative agencies dying out because they can’t keep up. Bambach added, “The split between media and creative has really done us a disservice. We’ve become very lazy as an industry. There are opportunities to do really exciting thing, workout side the box.”

Panel moderator Bob WoottonISBA, noted that the creative being offered now is clearly insufficient, with all the ad blocking taking place, and Dale Lovell, Chief Digital Officer at Adyoulike suggested that the technology that underpins the ad process is struggling to catch up. Lovell works with native advertising and indicated that the majority of native ads are user initiated. He also said that Millenials are very demanding, very impatient, and have set the bar high for advertisers. The session concluded with all panellists optimistic about the future.

The final panel discussed The Future of Ad Blocking. What should advertisers do about ad blocking? How are they affected?

Nigel Gilbert, VP and Strategic Development EMEA at AppNexus, said, “The commercial issues are fairly obvious, if 30-40% of ads are blocked, it creates scarcity and prices will rise. The other issue is that with ad blocking, there is a part of the demographic you can’t advertise to, and that’s a problem and something advertisers need to get ahead of.”

Piers North, Strategy Director at Trinity Mirror noted that the monetization issue is more of a desktop problem than mobile at the moment. While mobile will be impacted, it’s a much smaller share of the pie in terms of ad blocking activity.

The panelists were asked if they felt there was an onus to educate publishers and advertisers? Nigel Gwilliam, Consultant Head of Media and Emerging Tech at IPA, responded, “The short answer is yes. It’s a very important wake up call…Consumers are telling us there is an issue here. The way forward might be to ask what do we do about that other than threatening to turn off content. Are there better ways? We need a better understanding of what is OK vs what is entirely unacceptable.” He concluded by suggesting that “badges” might be a solution.

Dr. Johnny Ryan, Head of Ecosystem at Pagefair felt that advertisers want a reduction of clutter, and cut right to the chase saying, “The meat of the discussion is this: advertising 1.0 is over. We have a smaller sandbox. Focus on premium ads.” 

The common refrain of the day was that ad blocking is a wake up call to advertisers and publishers. While ad blocking activities have been around for several years, the renewed interest and surge in the installation of ad blockers, especially on mobile, is sending a clear message that consumers are not happy with what they’re getting. Advertising is no longer about captive audiences, users are actively participating in, and now controlling, what they want to see.  Advertisers with shoddy practices and ads are being taken to task. This is a call to action; consumers are no longer willing to be subjected to intrusive, disruptive advertising. The advertising industry must sit up and take note, listen to consumers, or face the very real prospect of being shut out across all screens.

The Benefits and Challenges of In-App Advertising

In-app advertising is a medium that has grown since marketers have taken advantage of the upswing in mobile usage over the past few years. Optimising for mobile web use is a great start, but it’s only one part of the mobile advertising equation. Seeing as 80 million people will pay for mobile apps at least once a year (that’s 1/3 of all mobile users) and 93% of mobile (and 90% of tablet) users will download and install apps, it’s hard to ignore the strong engagement and app installs brands can earn going through the in-app advertising route if done properly. Here are a few things to know before you dive into in-app advertising.

Benefits
In-app advertising provides a better consumer experience than display advertising within the mobile web. Ads on the mobile web are often compressed and unappealing to smartphone users. In-app ads are scaled to fit the screen and look better, thereby improving over all engagement.

Location is a big factor in being able to deliver relevant ads in-app to users. Certain technology providers, such as specialist DSPs, have the capability to determine where the user is at that exact moment and offer real time services or products that take into account location. For example, if you’re male, 18-25, and near a JD Sports store, you can be served a relevant ad based on this information.

Accessibility is another beneficial factor to consider when creating in-app ads. Since most users have their phones with them around the clock, wherever they go, it’s easy to reach them with in-app mobile advertising. You have access to a captive audience, i.e., users who are already using the app and interested in you. Since they’re already engaged, it makes the conversion process an easier win.

Challenges
Many mobile users are unwilling to pay for an app so developers have had to come up with creative ways to monetise. One of the ways to do this is through subscriptions on app purchases. Gated levels are another means to monetize and move users from a “freemium” app version to a paid one by allowing them to use the app, but barring some functions such as ads.

Tracking is another area where advertisers are facing challenges. Advertisers may find it difficult to track post-view conversions and tie it in with in-app conversion. Many advertisers have been falling back on using CTR as a form of measurement but this model is inaccurate as it a doesn’t account for accidental clicks, which are common with smartphone use. Adwords offers the ability to track through their free conversion tracking tool to capture iOS and Android app installs, and in-app activity.

For more information on how to maximise your mobile advertising performance, download our white paper: To Mobile, or Not to Mobile

Facebook Has Introduced New Features for Local Advertising

With the aim of making advertising easier for local businesses, Facebook introduced local awareness ads in the US in October 2014, and rolled them out to the UK and other territories last summer. Local Awareness is one of Facebook’s campaign objectives; it can target people when they are within a certain distance of a store if they have location services enabled on their device.

In a recent article from Facebook, they outlined eight reasons these ads can benefit businesses:

  • Encourage consumers to shop in store
  • Increase local brand awareness
  • Help specific stores meet their sales targets
  • Tell consumers about new store locations and grand openings
  • Get the right individuals to your event
  • Tell consumers in the area about current events
  • Build buzz by rallying local communities
  • Spread the word about local promotions

With mobile advertising becoming increasingly important, it is not surprising that Facebook is rolling out new features in this area. Since the launch of local awareness ads, Facebook has introduced new call-to-action options in addition to the ‘Get Directions’, ‘Learn More’ and ‘Like Page’ buttons originally available. These include a ‘Call Now’ button and a ‘Send Message’ button, enabling customers and businesses to connect immediately.

On the 6th November, Facebook announced two new developments: Multiple Store Locations and Local Insights.

Multiple Store Locations

This feature makes Local Awareness campaigns easier for businesses with numerous stores.  Advertisers using the Locations for Pages tool to manage multiple store Pages will be able to target individuals who are near any one of their stores, and serve them with a location-specific ad.

There are three main benefits:

  • Customers are shown highly relevant ads: based on the information from the store Pages, location-specific ad copy, links and call-to-action buttons can be inserted into the ad.
  • Simpler ad targeting: businesses can choose which stores to show ads for using the addresses attached to their store Pages.
  • Performance Analytics: Advertisers will also be able to analyse the performance of each store using location-specific ad reports.

Local Insights

In addition, Facebook augmenting the Page Insights section; a Local Insights tab will be coming out soon. This tool uses data from devices with location services enabled to show overall demographics and trends relating to users near a store. It allows businesses to find out:

  • The area’s busiest times of day and days of the week
  • Demographics of the people nearby (such as age, gender, tourists and local residents)
  • The percentage of people nearby who have seen the ad

These trends will help advertisers form a balance between reaching a larger percentage of people nearby and accomplishing their goals by targeting the right people at the right time.

Implications

Facebook says: “Updates to Local Awareness Ads are now available globally through the API and will soon be available in Power Editor. Local insights are rolling out to Pages in the US starting today and over the coming weeks.”

The Multiple Store Locations feature as well as Local Insights will not only support businesses with local advertising, they support Facebook’s growing mobile advertising revenue which made up 78% of its total ad revenue in Q3 of 2015.

However, according to a recent survey by mobile location network Skyhook Wireless, nearly 40% of mobile users are hesitant to share their location data due to privacy concerns, not seeing the value in doing so, or battery drainage. As a result, 18% have location services turned off for all their apps and 20% disable location services to avoid ads. Only 25% of those surveyed keep location services turned on for notifications, despite 83% saying that they thought location services are important.

We don’t foresee deactivated location services being detrimental to campaign performance at the moment as advertisers are still reaching individuals with hyper targeted and relevant advertisements. This means while you may be reaching fewer consumers, the impact of these ads will be greater.

Google Launches Black Friday & Cyber Monday Ad Extensions in the UK

Google have relaunched their Black Friday/ Cyber Monday ad extension to make more of the weekend!

The ad below is an example of this new Black Friday Paid Search ad, which was available in the US only last year. The ad allows you to add specific Black Friday and Cyber Monday attributes to your ad text. These attributes are displayed as an extra line on the ads.
Google-Black-Friday Ad Extensions UK

*Text in image has been made bold to emphasise change to ad.

The extension allows you to actively promote your offers for the Black Friday weekend and will appear in your AdWords account on 9th November. Once the extension has been set up, it will start appearing from 24th November. The extension will switch messaging automatically to Cyber Monday part way through the weekend and will stop showing on the evening of 30th November.

We recommend monitoring the percentage of time the extension shows with your ads, and testing whether ad copy also containing ‘Black Friday’ performs better or not.

We will be reporting on the results we saw when the weekend has finished, so stay tuned!