Hyper(Ad Network)Tension

November 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

Tension follows the ad network model like a bad penny, doesn’t it?

Erick Schonfeld’s “deep dive” at TechCrunch into Demand Side Platforms (DSPs), and particularly the relationship between Google and Publicis’s VivaKi unit illustrates it again: where the ad network model goes, tension goes with it. One might start to think, what’s wrong with this picture?

The short answer is a lack of transparency. In the desert south west, guides will tell you not to stick your hand where you can’t see it lest you be bitten by a poisonous snake.  The warning is enough to make you tense for the duration of any walk, despite keeping your hands in your pocket.  A lack of transparency is a fearful thing.

Unless you‘re Gavin Dunaway. Over at Adotas, he vigorously rebuts Schonfeld’s commentary in a piece that says – basically – get over it. Writes Gavin:

“Sure, you can complain about a lack of transparency in the buying process, but do advertisers really care about all the nitty gritty details? If their campaigns aren’t showing results, advertisers will move on.”

That’s a very good question. How much do advertisers care about “nitty gritty details”? Of course, if their campaigns aren’t showing results, what’s to blame: the details, or the lack of details? And which details specifically: buying details or creative details?

Home is where the details are, so is it a creative business (therefore advertisers care about creative details) or a buying business (therefore advertisers care about media buying details)?

Gavin implies it’s still a creative business. The “nitty gritty” details of media are what they’ve always been: the brief thirty minutes that follow hours with the client discussing advertising creative and strategy.

This is the problem with supposing that new media is the new creative. We don’t want to agonize over media. It is why the ad network model has persisted, for the most part, in its “don’t ask, don’t tell” form. It doesn’t confront the world with the details, except, occasionally, when things go boom.

Notes Kurt Unkel, VivaKi’s Senior Vice President, who is quoted in both stories:

“We used to have a reliance on intermediaries who gave the appearance [emphasis added] of adding value. They were able to take on risk and remove complexity. I now can create that in house, and don’t have to pay as much.”

He gives the appearance that nothing much has changed, except the actors. Not surprisingly, the tension remains.

Feeling the “Grudging Acceptance” of Online Video Advertising

November 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

AdWeek and others have reported that online video is winning grudging acceptance from consumers. comScore says the total number of online video viewers is up 5% in October, as well as the amount of time viewers are spending watching video, which is now 15.1 hours per month. In parallel, FreeWheel reported that in the third quarter 54% of consumers made it through the completion of pre-roll videos, up from 45% in the first quarter.

AdWeek’s story, by veteran Brian Morrissey, notes the difference that professional content makes in a consumer’s willingness to sit through pre-roll. User generated video still has a hard time being worth the intrusion.

I can relate to that: this morning I started to wait through a pre-roll to get to a professional news clip of Prince William and his fiancée, Kate Middleton. When the commercial went on for more than 10 seconds I snapped out of it and moved on to other things. But, I was ready and almost willing, and I thought – in a vivid, thinking kind of way – wow, that felt almost like television: I was prepared to outlast the commercial by turning my attention to other bits of things at my desk in order to get to the programming.

The AdWeek story makes this point. It says: “[the FreeWheel] report concludes that the Web video ad market is starting to resemble TV — at least for content that’s professionally produced.”

Which drove me back to a funny conversation I had earlier this fall with an experienced media buyer who described substantiating an online video buy with a client by comparing it to TV. Said the client, “No one watches online video commercials!” Replied the media buyer, “No one watches TV commercials!” Thus, was approval won for the online video buy.

I don’t know. The Internet was supposed to help resolve certain consumer – advertiser relationship problems. We seem happy to simply transfer them. We appear to have a problem comfort zone (All video is broken. Long live video). Maybe also a sense of denial. The AdWeek headline, for instance:

More Videos Ads, More User Acceptance

Folks are showing grudging acceptance of such interruptions

Sounds like my father could sometimes sound. “You’ll learn to like it.”

I don’t know. For days last week, Simon Sinek’s piece, “The Ad Industry Needs More Accountability” ran in The Huffington Post (suggesting either the editors were delighted by his arguments or users were) discussing the ad industry’s logical disconnects and repeated avoidances. It was a bit of a rave that, when it got down to it, was about lousy commercials on television. But the final seething bit was about online.

“The final example is what ad agencies are doing online. When advertising plays before a video streamed over the internet, viewers are prevented from fast-forwarding or skipping the ad. It’s like that scene in Clockwork Orange when Malcolm McDowell is forced to watch disturbing images while his eyes lids are held open. In an effort to force people to watch their “valuable message” advertisers are simultaneously infuriating and disturbing their customers. On sites with large video libraries, news sites for example, customers are often forced to watch the same ad over and over and over each time they click watch a different clip. Even if they don’t want to watch the whole clip, they have to watch the whole ad first. I, for one, will not visit one of the network news sites anymore because I can’t stand the thought of being forced to watch an ad before every clip. With perfect irony, the advertising is actually hurting the viewer experience of the media platform that accepted money to run the ad. As for the strategic merit, yes a viewer can be forced to watch an ad, but they can’t be forced to pay attention. That little delicacy can only happen if the advertising is entertaining or compelling enough to hold someone’s attention.”

I don’t know. I’m not feeling the “grudging acceptance” here. More to the point, as brand champions and stewards, are we really in the grudging acceptance business?

Social Media is Reaching a Saturation Point. Now What?

November 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

Forrester Research released a new report on social media that suggests it is reaching a saturation point among online users. Today, per the story in MediaPost, Forrester says 59% of online adults in the U.S. maintain a profile on a social network, which is pushing-up against the 71% of adults that reportedly use a search engine at least once a month.

Three short years ago, also per Forrester, the percentage of U.S. adults maintaining a social media profile was only 25%. The number has doubled since then, the pressurized affect of which has been an ongoing deluge of news about social media, growing concerns among users about privacy (the point that dominates the MediaPost story) and even a movie, with heroes and villains.

Social media has been like so many Internet trends, which aren’t really trends at all. They’re explosions. They erupt, boil over, harden and cool. They ultimately alter the landscape and raise the bedrock of the industry above sea level, one layer at a time. And, they always manage to send people into the streets screaming.

Social media is cooling. Its advance is slowing as it reaches the edges of terrain. Picture a bunch of people with fireproof waders up to their hips wading into the muck with rakes trying to groom the landscape before it’s over and done. “As saturation approaches, increasing the size of your base of fans, followers, and advocates will require new strategies, insights, and tools,” says Forrester analyst, Augie Ray, in the MediaPost story. Social media Joiners are up since 2007 but Spectator behavior is down. The people with rakes will need to hurry.

Then what? What will capture the industry’s attention next, sending people into the streets screaming? And how much longer before the eruptions cease, the foundation sets and the real building begins?

Facebook Grabs Display Ad Title From MySpace. Are We Making Progress Here?

November 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

The news is that according to a report by Reuters picked-up by the SmartBrief people Facebook served nearly one out of every four display ads in Q3, per comScore. In fairness, the Reuters’ story points out that analysts note Facebook sells display ads “at a significant discount to display ads sold on traditional Web portals such as Yahoo.”

One has to think, why is this important? But, one becomes distracted by the ever present sense of recuringness online.

A quick search on Google (another notable display seller) and there is this from Internet News in 2008.

New figures from comScore are the latest sign that ad business is heating up at social networking giant.

August 27, 2008
By Kenneth Corbin:

Driven by heavy traffic to the popular social network MySpace, News Corp.’s Fox Interactive Media division served more display ads than any other U.S. Web property in June, according to new figures from online metrics firm comScore.

Of the 52.3 billion display ads FIM served, MySpace accounted for 51 billion. The nearest competitor was Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO), which served up 34.7 billion throughout its Web properties.

By market share, FIM accounted for 15.9 percent of all display ad views, compared to Yahoo’s 10.5 percent.

Honestly, do we feel like we’re making progress here?

Media Robots in an Age of Starvation

November 5, 2010 § Leave a comment

Given only one word to describe 15 years of digital media’s evolution it would have to be robotic. Nothing says this better than the balanced and comprehensive piece by Nicholas Spangler about his 40 hours, or so, as a Demand Media writer that appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review and was brought to light here thanks to MediaBistro’s Morning Newsfeed.

As a journalist that worked for years for The Miami Herald, Spangler writes with open resignation, but not malice, about the end of his journalistic world and the rise of the new one typified by Demand. It is a world of “commercial content,” driven by algorithms “without”, he writes (perhaps quoting Clay Shirky), “regard to civic value or subjective judgments about quality or any of the other sentimental trappings of the Murrow century.”

It is a drab landscape he paints. Gray and Eastern bloc-ish. It is all cement. Combined with similar trends on the media planning and buying side of the business – the automated this-and-that of real time buying and audience targeting – we appear ready to enter a machine-led world where imagination is being wrung from the fabric of information in order to reduce the high cost of it.

It is a world empty of bravery and out of step with the needs of brands except, perhaps, the needs of their capitalist overseers. As importantly, of course, it is world out-of-step with consumers. It seeks control. 

Writes Nicholas Spangler:

“…there is a point where traditional news organizations, which target to a greater or lesser extent a mass audience with advertising to match, will always fail: that failure to meet the needs of someone, somewhere, is built into their business model. Consider: The Miami Herald usually runs a story about the Kentucky Derby. It might also run one about pony-rental businesses in South Florida, and if magazines like Ponies Illustrated and Children’s Parties Monthly existed, they might do something similar. But no publication could afford to devote regular space to topics such as pony rides without ponies. Besides, no writer could conceive of such a story and no editor would assign it, because nobody could anticipate the need.

“This is the famous “long tail,” an example of what Shirky calls the “nichification” of the media landscape, unfeasible under the conditions of twentieth-century oligopoly but happening now before our eyes.”

No, it happened over 15 years ago. Demand Media didn’t invent the long tail. People did. And the point is that if fear weren’t the governing factor of life inside our new media industry today we might have stepped outside by now to discover this highly imaginative, highly responsive, highly personal, colorful, brave new world. Instead we send robots.

Brave new world, indeed. One Huxley might recognize.

There will be a final conflict and the people will prevail.

Sensitive About My Areas: Media Measurement Company TRA Matches Shopper Data to TV Set-Top Boxes

November 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

It was only after five or 10 minutes of pondering the significance of new data from media measurement company, TRA, linking toilet paper purchasers to TV programming that it dawned on me: wait…how did they get that information? The answer, according to the story in Ad Age, is that TRA combined shopper card information with TV set-top box information and, voilà, showed that not only the internet can harvest valuable (in this case, personal) audience data for the benefit of ad targeting.

There was nary a mention of privacy in the story. Nor did it cross my mind until, as I say, I gave up trying to glean the opportunity in knowing that “Two and a Half Men” beat out “America’s Got Talent” and “Big brother” for “the distinguished title of the show most likely to get people to buy toilet paper.”

Actually, I think the sentence as it appeared in the Ad Age story probably misrepresents the research. I’m not sure it can be said that “Two and a Half Men” is “the show most likely to get people to buy toilet paper.” I believe the research says, instead, that the show reaches more toilet paper purchasers. There’s a difference.

I am a “Two and a Half Men” viewer (sigh), which is in syndication on local TV during the make-dinner hour in our house. The show is one long sexist bathroom joke. If it is getting people to buy more toilet paper, well…gosh…then, the results are hardly counterintuitive, as Ad Age suggests. Indeed, the results strike an enormous blow for advertising intuition and should motivate toilet paper marketers everywhere to pursue similar, below the waist programming.

In which case, we can avoid all the exertions and privacy entanglements that may be associated with matching offline shopper card data to in-home TV set-top box data.

Which entanglements, if we were writing about internet media, would certainly be the story here, wouldn’t it?

Unless it’s just me being too sensitive about my areas.

Exclusive Relationships

November 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

It finally comes down to this: exclusive relationships. If you are an actor in the internet display space of the future you will need to be vested with exclusive access to customer relationships, either buyers or sellers.

Brendan Moorcroft got close to making that all important summary point during a panel on which I participated at OMMA’s Ad Net conference in New York. Quoting him today Media Post wrote:

Going forward, what do ad networks need to succeed amid intense competition, and what some see as industry consolidation?  “Good technology, exclusive relationships,” said Brendan Moorcroft, CEO of Cadreon, an ad network launched by IPG’s Mediabrands in mid-2009.

“If an ad network doesn’t have a unique set of [assets], they’re not going to be around much longer….The space is growing, but simply filling orders” is not going to cut it.

Brendan would probably hasten to make clear, as he did on the panel, that “unique assets” can be either relationships or technology and, indeed, a couple of the other panelists leaned forward in their seats to stress that some networks are about the technology, not the relationships (with the clear inference being, they come in peace).

Maybe. No doubt there will be (first mover) technology companies that continue to exist in the middle of the display supply chain providing pick and shovel services: ad serving companies, for instance (of which there are basically two or three today), rich media and data companies, or research companies. But establishing anything technically “unique” in the open source world of the Internet is/has been/will likely continue to be…what’s a good word to use?…antithetical to the market. This is not the pharma business.

It is also worth observing how many other companies that walked onto the field with a sign around their neck reading “Not an Ad Network” evolved into ad sellers – going back to companies such as Adsmart and Flycast, continuing with Adify (see also: history of Flycast) and, soon, I suspect, when all the “filling order” networks have been pushed aside that create the necessary deal flow, the yield optimizers such as Rubicon. They will sell media next.

So, under the heading of “unique set of assets” the viability of unique, or exclusive tech assets seems doubtful long term; but, not the viability of exclusive relationships – the contest for which should finally lead to clarity in the value chain.

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