Tag Archive: digital advertising

  1. The Facebook boycott: what are the implications for brands and for Facebook itself?

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    Facebook has faced significant challenges over the last few years, notably since 2016, which saw the tech giant embroiled in controversies relating to the election of President Trump in the US, and to the UK’s Brexit referendum. 2020 is not proving to be any easier.

    The world’s largest brands boycott the world’s largest social media platform

    The current controversy was sparked when President Trump reacted to the Black Lives Matters demonstrations in a post on Twitter and Facebook, which he ended with the phrase ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’. Twitter reacted by hiding the post behind a warning that it ‘glorified violence’; Facebook, on the other hand, did nothing, with Zuckerberg saying that it was “better to have this discussion out in the open”.

    Shortly after this debate, a consortium of civil rights groups started urging advertisers to reduce or even halt their spending on Facebook throughout July, under the #StopHateForProfit hashtag. The campaign gathered momentum, peaking with Unilever’s announcement last Friday (June 26th) that they would cease all their US advertising on Facebook until the end of the year. Within two hours of the announcement, Mark Zuckerberg released plans to prohibit hate speech ads and to better protect groups such as immigrants on Facebook. He also said that the platform, undoubtedly with one eye on President Trump, would label posts that violate their policies but need to remain published ‘in the public interest’.

    Facebook’s changes weren’t enough

    But Zuckerberg’s pledges weren’t sufficient to stem the flow: over the weekend and into the beginning of this week, more and more brands announced they would be joining the boycott. Facebook is now facing the loss, at least temporarily, of income from 150 brands as large as Verizon, Starbucks, Adidas, Coca-Cola and Honda – as well as Unilever of course. To give an idea of the amount of money this means, Unilever and Verizon spent $850,000 and $504,000 respectively on Facebook in the first three weeks of June alone. The World Federation of Advertisers claims that a third of the world’s biggest brands will, or are likely to, suspend advertising on social media, while an additional 40% are undecided.

    What are the implications for Facebook?

    The loss of income because of the boycott will undoubtedly be a real blow for Facebook – but by no means a fatal one. The majority of its income comes from the longtail: eight million small and medium-sized companies who are priced out of TV and therefore can’t afford not to advertise on Facebook. However, Facebook’s share price was affected by the boycott, down by 10% to $212.50 over the course of the week to June 28th. They have no choice but to closely consider their next steps, particularly ahead of what is sure to be a contentious presidential election in November.

    The Facebook boycott was catalysed by the Black Lives Matter movement, but came amid a context of haphazard policing of the site. Facebook’s stance on hate speech has long been less clear than its position on other controversial content such as nudity; this is partly because it believes that it shouldn’t be responsible for this content, and partly because it’s so much more difficult to automate this work. It has made significant progress in this area: according to its Community Standards Report, in 2017, Facebook identified just 25% of hate speech removed from the platform itself, relying on users to flag the other 75%. By the spring of this year, however, 88% of the hate speech removed was found with its own tools, meaning it could remove or restrict four times as much as it had two years earlier.

    Facebook, and many of the other social media companies, continue to maintain that they are tech platforms, not media platforms, with the limited responsibility for content that that status implies. However, in introducing measures such as those described above, they are arguably de facto admitting that they are publishers and therefore have a duty to ensure that their content abides by local and international laws.

    What is motivating brands to boycott Facebook?

    Facebook has long been a key advertising platform for brands, giving them access to billions of users across the planet. Boycotting the company as part of the #StopHateForProfit campaign is a very sound PR move, and a great example of the world’s largest corporations using their power for good – in this case, holding social media companies to account. Advertising budgets for many brands, especially travel and consumer goods brands, are shrinking as the world faces an almost certain recession following the coronavirus pandemic. They will be seeking to make cuts and the #StopHateForProfit campaign may have presented an opportune moment to start making those cuts whilst simultaneously spurring change. What’s more, media cost deflation for most traditional media types and lower-than-expected inflation for digital channels mean that advertisers may feel they are in a strong position regarding where they place their advertising spend, allowing them to boycott a previously key channel. However, it’s important to remember that, while this move by advertisers may have been partially instigated by the fall-out from Covid-19 crisis, digital is a key channel and has become even more so during the pandemic as billions seek entertainment and information at home – this is a big move. Some brands will also undoubtedly use their break from the platform to evaluate the impact that Facebook activity has on their marketing results. In short, the move by marketers to boycott Facebook is both altruistic and strategic: it will be fascinating to see how it pans out.

    Brands have long been uneasy about advertising on Facebook, thanks to historical brand safety issues and because they are worried about contributing to the consolidation of the Facebook-Google duopoly. No matter what the reasons or motivations for the boycott, perhaps now is the time that Facebook will be forced to implement fundamental change to the platform, including allowing marketers to better control where their ads are placed, and making the algorithms that control content more transparent.

    Image: BlueSkyImage / Shutterstock

  2. Will the demise of the cookie lead to better brand building opportunities online?

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    By Victoria Potter, US Business Director at ECI Media Management

    Google announced in January that it would be phasing out the cookie in its Chrome browser over the next two years. Apple’s Safari and Firefox have already killed off the cookie in their browsers, but Chrome is by far the most popular browser in the world with 64.1% of global market share in January 2020, so Google’s decision will lead to a major industry shift.

    A pivotal year for digital advertising

    2020, then, is a pivotal year for digital advertising. But exactly how it will change is as yet unclear: how will tech companies, agencies and advertisers react? Will the digital landscape change dramatically or imperceptibly? Will that change be positive or negative?

    An opportunity to refocus on brand building

    For a very long time, advertisers have been able to follow consumers from page to page across the internet, understanding their consumption patterns and using that insight for targeting. Focus has turned away from more difficult to measure brand building activity. It’s always easier to value what you can measure over what you can’t. But now that the cookie is on its way out, advertisers and agencies will need to re-evaluate what they use digital advertising for. Could brand building, traditionally the realm of TV and OOH, be one of its new uses?

    Harnessing digital to build relationships with consumers

    Before the advent of the cookie in particular, and digital advertising in general, building brands was always at the heart of advertising: trusted brands are fundamentally important in helping consumers make choices. In this new era of digital advertising, can we harness its strengths to make this the new way to build relationships with consumers and earn their trust, rather than just trying to push them to click and buy? This will be particularly important for brands who do not have access to high-quality first-party data, for example FMCG companies.

    Context-based media buying will become a key tool

    A key tool will be context-based media buying, with advertisers seeking out environments where their broader target audiences congregate. Ben Plomion of tech company GumGum advises that marketers should “use the insights they generate from their current cookie data to inform their future contextual strategies”. Technological advances and the growth of AI are making contextual advertising an increasingly powerful tool: they can be used to understand web page sentiment, understand linguistic nuances, verify the content and tone of images and video, and automatically configure ad creative so that it complements the context.

    Premium publishers are able to offer brands superior contextual advertising opportunities thanks to their high-quality inventory and relatively low ad loads, creating a better experience for the user. This means they can help advertisers obtain meaningful reach and build trust and connection – all valuable assets for a brand building campaign.

    Plan to build relationships with humans, not to reach consumers

    At the heart of these approaches is planning with humans – not ‘consumers’ – in mind. Without the targeting and measuring abilities associated with cookies, refocusing on enriching people’s lives through advertising will become critical for success – and that is why we believe the demise of the cookie should, on balance, be a good thing for advertisers.

    Walled gardens could increase the dominance of the tech giants

    There are some pitfalls to look out for. Of course, Google and Facebook’s walled gardens will be largely unaffected by the decline of the cookie (indeed, some believe that Google decided to kill the cookie so that it wouldn’t have to share its data with anyone else). Advertisers will still be able to leverage the first-party cookie within these walled gardens, which will further strengthen the tech giants’ position and even allow them to raise their prices, if advertisers don’t push for content strategies to find their target groups in the digital space.

    In the face of Google and Facebook’s strengthened position, publishers might be tempted to increase ad loads in order to avoid declining revenues; with advertisers struggling to drop their reliance on last click performance metrics, this could lead to an increase in irrelevant ads, which would in turn lead to a rise in ad blocking.

    It’s time to revisit priorities and foster deeper connections

    The decline of the cookie is a seminal moment in the history of online advertising. While it could undoubtedly spell trouble for those unwilling or unable to adapt, in our view advertisers should see it as an opportunity to reappraise and revisit priorities, and to create brand-building campaigns that foster deeper connections with human beings for greater trust.

    What’s your opinion?

    We would love to hear from brands, agencies and tech firms about how they envisage a cookie-less future. What do you think will happen? Do you think the decline of the cookie will usher in a golden era of advertising, or is your forecast less optimistic? Comment on our LinkedIn post, or email us at .

    Image: Kim Reinick/Shutterstock

  3. Insights from day 2 of CES 2020

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    The momentum doesn’t slow for a second at CES! On day 2 in Las Vegas we were treated to a smorgasbord of innovation – some ready-to-go, some just conceptual, but almost all are exciting and will transform how we as consumers go about our everyday lives.

    Hollywood meets Silicon Valley – but will it work?

    We started the day by attending one of CES’ flagship corporate keynotes. This one was from Jeffrey Katzenberg, former Disney Chairman and founder of Dreamworks, and Meg Whitman, former President and CEO of eBay and Hewlett Packard. They were unveiling Quibi, their mobile entertainment platform which they have positioned as the sweetspot where Hollywood meets Silicon Valley; they underlined the collaborative aspect of the creative process, where content creators and engineers work hand-in-hand right from the start to drive innovation. Quibi offers viewers a ‘revolutionary’ video-streaming technology that delivers portrait and landscape video at the same time, and allows creators to take advantage of other mobile capabilities such as GPRS, time, camera and interactivity. All content is in ‘quick bites’ (hence ‘Quibi’) of 10 minutes or less – so that it can be consumed in those historically hard-to-reach moments on the go. This means super-short series episodes and splitting movies into ‘chapters’.

    A lot of emphasis was placed on the opportunities that this platform represents for advertisers, especially the fact that it specifically targets the hard-to-reach millennial generation at a time when they are particularly hard to reach – on the go. Their low ad-load will also no doubt appeal to ad-weary generation Y. Quibi’s first-year advertising inventory, worth $150m, has sold out and they have many world-famous brands on their client roster, including AB InBev, Procter & Gamble, T-Mobile and PepsiCo; the latter was invited on stage to talk about the innovative, collaborative creative process and the brand-safe, brand appropriate environment.

    Quibi is undoubtedly an innovative new streaming platform and the idea of creating short-form video content for the on-the-go generation is a good one, but some questions remain. In the age of the streaming wars, how will this young start-up fare against established competitors such as Disney, Netflix and Warner? And will viewers really want to keep flipping their phones while they are watching a show to get the full Quibi experience? Furthermore, with content costing on average $100,000 a minute to produce and with plans to deliver a huge amount of content, is the business model sustainable? Quibi launches in April – after that, time will tell.

    A dose of futuristic technology

    After Quibi’s talk we made our way up the Strip to the Las Vegas Convention Center, where the world’s leading future-facing brands showcase their innovations. The Center is mind-bogglingly huge with the footprint of many exhibitors’ ‘stalls’ matching that of a mansion. We made a beeline for Samsung’s space, eager to see for ourselves the products that they revealed in their keynote speech. There’s so much to say about Samsung’s contribution to CES that we will be posting a separate blog about it tomorrow, but suffice to say that their space was seriously futuristic and shakes up what the future of the home, the city and even of you (and me, and all of us) looks like.

    It’s all about screens

    Screens were a big area of innovation. Our eyes were drawn by LG’s undulating display of their OLED screens – and as we entered the LG space we were shown just how slender these screens are. There was also a roll down screen on display – similar to the roll-up screen showcased a few years ago and which is now available to buy. Meanwhile, Samsung displayed its enormous MicroLED screen called ‘The Wall’. MicroLED technology allows screens to be built at any size, and The Wall is truly huge, at 292 inches or 7.4m. Its sheer scale and extreme brightness and contrast meant that it was truly a sight to behold!

    Flexible screens were another big talking point. Intel showcased its conceptual 17-inch foldable screen which works as a laptop or monitor, while Lenovo unveiled the ThinkPad X1 Fold. It seems inevitable that foldable screens will become far more commonplace over the next few years.

    Tomorrow: Samsung deep dive

    We’ll be posting a deeper dive into Samsung’s presence at CES tomorrow, including their keynote and seeing their innovations in action on the show floor. In the meantime, if you’d like to discuss anything at CES and how it affects marketers, please contact us on

    Image: Alex Matthews

  4. Insights from day 1 of CES 2020

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    Las Vegas, early January: it must be time for CES, time for 180,000 delegates to discover, quite literally, what the future holds. Alongside the famous show floor, where delegates can enjoy futuristic product demos from brands as diverse as Samsung, Nikon and Impossible Foods, there is a dazzling array of talks and discussions on a wide range of topics, from smart cities to health and fitness.

    We spent our first day on the ‘Future of TV’ tract, a series of panel discussions and talks featuring brands, agencies and TV experts discussing what the future holds for TV, and what that means for advertisers.

    A mantra for the new decade: progress before perfection

    The day started with a session on ‘The New Frontier of Television’, with the Editor of Forbes’ CMO Network, Jenny Rooney, interviewing Deborah Wahl, Global CMO of General Motors, about what developments in TV mean for her brand. Deborah talked about how GM has reaped huge benefits from the rapidly changing TV landscape – their effectiveness has increased by 10% over just three month – and how they are embracing the change by getting their teams comfortable with learning and failing. She noted – as have many over the week – that failure is inevitable, but that’s ok. If everything you do is working all the time, then you’re not doing enough, because there’s so much out there to play with. Deborah’s mantra epitomises this mindset: progress before perfection.

    Deborah also discussed how excited she is about the future of TV and how the huge amount of data available to advertisers now is helping creativity to become scientific. It’s delivering faster, better, more measurable results so that creative can be customised in almost real-time, creating content that is better for consumers – and therefore better for brands.

    When CTV effectiveness is fully measurable and provable, ad dollars will shift quickly

    Next up was a panel featuring Lynn Blashford of White Castle, Gustavo Alvarado of Activision and PepsiCo’s Kate Brady, facilitated by Innovid’s Stephanie Geno. The group discussed scaling success in connected TV (CTV), and started out by discussing what is holding brands back from CTV: it receives just 3% of media investment in the US, despite accounting for 30% of media consumption. The key reasons given were measurement, high CPMs, a lack of inventory and proven models from linear TV: investment in tradition TV has always led to an increase in sales, and it’s difficult to take money away from something that is proven to work. Brands are still looking for ways to illustrate success as clearly and quickly for digital devices and CTV so they can start shifting significant ad dollars to these platforms.

    Kate Brady mentioned how her ultimate goal is to harness data from CTV to optimise activity on a weekly basis – and ideally even more frequently – ‘the more data we can have, and the better we can optimise, the more it will help us’. She emphasised the importance of using data to work out what resonates with one customer versus another, so that personalisation can drive brand love as well as ROI. Meanwhile, Gustavo Alvarado discussed how direct response hasn’t been a focus on how we buy TV, but the opportunity to ‘add to cart’ direct from a CTV ad would be a really exciting development for advertisers. However – he said that whatever the future holds, it must be measurable. Measurement is key.

    What do the streaming wars mean for CMOs?

    With the launch or imminent launch of streaming platforms from Disney, Apple, NBC and Warner, we were particularly excited about the next session, about what the streaming wars mean for CMOs. Innovid’s Tal Chalozin interviewed Rich Greenfield from LightShed Partners about how CMOs can best navigate this new landscape. Rich noted how numbers for live TV are down by double digit percentages, and even when we do watch live TV we are not as engaged as we used to be, particularly during ad breaks. That’s true even for live sport, the saving grace of linear TV. This is partly because the ad experience on traditional TV is not nearly as engaging for viewers as it is on, say, Instagram. TV advertising has not kept up with the internet and isn’t customisable or shareable. He went on to discuss how expensive channel bundles are and how they force consumers to pay for channels they are not interested in. This, combined with a frequently heavy ad load, sends consumers straight into the embrace of the streaming platforms which are cheaper, offer content that they actually want to watch, and allow them to watch it seamlessly across devices.

    An interesting point that Rob raised was the fact that wealthier consumers are now effectively able to buy themselves out of advertising – so how do we reach them? The obvious answer is live sport, but there simply isn’t enough to satisfy the demand of the many brands for whom wealthier demographics are their target audience. It’s a question that has yet to be answered, but integration may be part of the solution.

    Moving from creating ads to curating experiences

    Next to take to the stage was the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Mastercard, Raja Rajamannar, in discussion with Innovid’s Beth-Ann Eason about Mastercard’s new approach to marketing. Raja started by emphasising that Mastercard now looks at consumers as people, for whom consumption is just a small part of their lives. What happens outside of that consumption – how they live their lives, their values, their passions – informs how and what they consume. People are bored of ads and care more about experiences than things, so Mastercard’s marketing strategy focuses on ‘nothing but curating experiences’, targeted in a highly effective way. Raja’s team divided people’s lives into 10 different passion points, such as music and food, and curated multi-sensory experiences at scale, with seamless and non-intrusive integration of the Mastercard brand. These experiences engage people completely and make them want to tell and spread the story of that experience – word of mouth for the 21st century. This strategy and razor focus on experience has helped Mastercard to move from number 87 to number 12 in Kantar’s ranking of the top 100 most valuable brands, and to be named Interbrand’s fastest growing brand across all categories.

    The future of linear TV in the US relies on NFL

    Innovid’s ‘Future of TV’ tract was wrapped up by Luma’s inimitable Terry Kawaja, who took us on a rip-roaring ride through the stream wars and the future of TV. He pointed out that the streaming wars have created Nirvana for customers, who have more choice at less cost, and that the future for linear television in the US essentially rests in the hands of NFL. NFL contracts are up in the next few years, and the big tech companies such as Amazon are getting ready to swoop – Jeff Bezos himself has said that Amazon wants to use live sports to drive value for prime customers. The big problem for the linear TV companies? Those big tech companies have a lot more money, and global reach. In order to defend themselves, the broadcast networks are turning to scale consolidation, direct OTT distribution and CTV tech acquisition – but they need to do it quickly.

    There are few losers in the future of TV

    One of our favourite slides of the day was one that we shared on our LinkedIn page here. In it, Terry showed his audience the winners and losers of the streaming wars. For agencies, tech intermediaries, big tech, content creators and consumers the streaming wars are undoubtedly great news, while for media distributors it is less positive. Terry believed that for brands it could go either way, but in a subsequent panel discussion that he hosted with brand CMOs and TV experts, he revised his opinion and decreed that the age of streaming was in fact a great opportunity for brands!

    An opportunity to bundle streaming service packages

    Another key takeaway from Terry’s talk was his prediction that the myriad options available to consumers would in time open up an opportunity for an independent third party to re-aggregate the streaming platforms, bundling up their services in order to make them more manageable – and more affordable – for consumers. His prediction for who that third party could be? Apple – who could well want to position themselves at the top of the TV ‘waterfall’ in the same way that Amazon is for shopping and Google is for search.

    More insights from #CES2020 tomorrow

    Day one at CES was an incredible opportunity to hear from experts about their vision and predictions for the future of TV: if you would like to discuss anything you have read here in more depth with our experts then please ">get in touch. In tomorrow’s blog we’ll be covering the keynote from Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman on their new mobile entertainment platform, Quibi, and bringing insights and innovation from the CES show floor.

    Image: Alex Matthews

  5. Why the decline of the online tracking ecosystem could be the start of a golden age for digital advertising

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    Advertising without digital is like transport without engines. Yes it’s possible and yes there is something quite charming about it, but it’s old-fashioned and less efficient: once you’ve tasted modernity, you can’t go back. Digital advertising has brought us capabilities beyond the 20th century marketer’s dreams: individual targeting based on behaviour and preferences, as well as cross-device tracking, programmatic buying and real-time optimisation.

    Much of that was made possible by the humble cookie, but after 25 years its very existence is under threat. Indeed, tracking online activity is a house of cards that has been slowly but steadily collapsing over the last few years thanks to ad blocking, browsers blocking cookies, the rise of walled gardens and cookie-free environments such as apps, connected TVs and the Facebook stack, and privacy regulations. But what does that mean for advertising? In truth, no one really knows. Should marketers be quaking in their boots? Will programmatic die along with the cookie? Is the cookie even dying? In all the uncertainty, we can be sure of one thing: digital advertising will change and the successful marketer will be the one who adapts.

    Look beyond the cookie for reach, frequency and frequency capping

    Cookies can still be used to track and control reach and frequency in Google’s Chrome browser, which still has a majority market share in many countries, although its key competitors – notably Firefox and Apple’s Safari – have smart cookie-blocking technologies activated by default. This means that all browsers except Chrome are a black hole for measuring reach and frequency based on cookie data. Furthermore, Google is moving towards an opt-in version of cookie blocking, making the future of cookie-based tracking precarious.

    One solution for ensuring that reach, frequency and frequency capping are still tracked effectively is the use of audience verification services, for example Nielsen DAR and ComScore vCE. These services validate delivery, reach and frequency for real human audiences with much less reliance on cookies. However, very few advertisers outside the US invest in these products – we expect this to change as the cookie continues to decline.

    A return to contextual marketing

    Targeting is another area that will be dramatically affected by the change in the tracking landscape – and nowhere is this truer than in programmatic buying. Much of what we recognise as programmatic buying relies on the cookie and is therefore likely to decline. That doesn’t however mean that DSPs will become useless: marketers will still be able to efficiently handle direct, high-quality publisher deals, as well as buy lower cost, mixed quality data-free inventory across select sites on the open web.

    While the ability to target individuals on the open web is likely to decrease with the collapse of the tracking house of cards, contextual targeting is set to explode. Contextual targeting is based on the content the user is looking at, rather than their behaviour profile, meaning that ads are more likely to be relevant to their current activity. It puts an emphasis on the placement of the ad, so is similar in that respect to traditional print advertising – the focus is on producing and distributing relevant content. This approach allows advertisers to deliver marketing messages to consumers when they are in a specific situation or frame of mind; as consumer behaviour becomes more fragmented and unpredictable, taking the guesswork out of advertising can only be a win.

    Contextual targeting is not just an answer to the demise of the cookie: it is also an antidote to many of the issues around brand risk and safety, and is a way to be less dependent on the personal data that is so heavily regulated by GDPR and CCPA.

    Is this digital advertising’s moment?

    While the collapse of the digital advertising house of cards may seem catastrophic to brands who have relied on precise targeting in their advertising strategies, in reality it opens as many doors as it closes. Indeed, with consumers now spending more time in apps than in longtail websites, making programmatic audience-targeting even more challenging, many marketers will already be exploring ways to bypass programmatic altogether. The resultant high quality, content-focused advertising is pushing out and replacing click-bait strategies. Perhaps the decline in the online tracking ecosystem will herald a golden age for digital advertising because, ironically, the shift away from targeting individuals will lead to a better user experience.

    Image: Shutterstock

  6. Is Snap really a threat to the Google-Facebook duopoly?

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    A few weeks ago we wrote about how Amazon poses a serious threat to Google’s search dominance. But Amazon is just one of a few companies snapping at the heels of the Google-Facebook duopoly that has for so long dominated digital advertising. Third quarter results, released in the last few weeks, revealed that the ad businesses of Amazon, Pinterest and Snap all grew more rapidly than that of the industry giants in Q3. Amazon is the biggest disruptor in terms of size, but it’s Snap – owners of Snapchat – that is enjoying the fastest growth.

    Snap’s growth is remarkable

    The latest round of quarterly results were not a resounding success for Facebook or Google. While Facebook’s results were better than expected, it recorded its third consecutive quarter of sub-30% expansion; meanwhile, Google’s growth is languishing below 20%, at 17.1%.

    Things were much brighter for Snap: its ad business grew 50% year on year in Q3, and its stock price surged by over 175% this year as advertisers increasingly look to the platform to provide a return on their investment. Why?

    What is behind Snap’s success?

    Snap’s CEO, Evan Spiegel, has credited two major changes at the company for their success. The first is an initially poorly received redesign which Spiegel says boosted time spent watching premium content by 40%, thereby increasing ad revenue; the second is their adoption of a self-serve ad platform over the last two years, which has made it easier for brands to buy ads on the platform and expanded Snap’s ability to sell ads.

    Those ads are increasingly popular as Snap is good at leveraging its hard-to-reach audience and building innovative, intuitive ad products that increase ROI for advertisers. Its core userbase is the often hard-to-engage youth audience: 90% of 13-24 year-olds in the US say that they use Snapchat, and they’re highly engaged – they open the app on average 20 times a day, and dwell time is around 25-30 minutes, significantly longer than that of other social networks. All this gives brands plentiful opportunities to reach their audiences at the right time, with the right message – and that amounts to increased ad revenue for Snap.

    Snap’s range of ad products come in a range of different formats, including Snap ads which allow users to swipe up to visit the advertiser’s website or app and can be optimised against reach, clicks and sales; and commercials, a more premium offering which are unskippable and appear within premium content. They feel more like a TV buy for advertisers and have high viewability and completion rates. In October, Snap launched a new product to target direct-response advertisers, for whom Instagram – their historical home – is starting to feel a bit crowded. Its new dynamic ads allow advertisers to create ads linked directly to their product catalogues and can be served to users based on their interests, using a variety of templates created for mobile. This new product brings Snap’s offering more in line with that of its bigger competitors, and is one of a range of features that has helped to make Snapchat more shoppable, engaging and effective for marketers.

    Snap’s focus on the development of effective advertising formats is commendable, and will be key to its future success; indeed, it will be key to the success of the digital advertising industry as a whole. Traditional channels continue to have the upper hand when it comes to the price-effect ratio, and digital players must aim to emulate their success.

    AR is key to Snap’s future success

    While Snap’s star is certainly in the ascendant, there is still plenty of work to be done: it is still unprofitable and it only has 210 million daily active users – mediocre compared to the 500 million who use Instagram’s Stories product every day. CEO Spiegel stated on the quarterly earnings call last month that augmented reality (AR) will be crucial for the company’s future: each daily active user interacts with a Snap AR product, such as lenses and filters, an average of 30 times per day. This month the company is launching Spectacles 3, a redesigned version of its augmented reality sunglasses, and in the next seven to 10 years plans to integrate other AR wearables into its range. Snap has historically led the way in AR and has had viral success with some of its AR filters, but Instagram and Facebook are moving into the space, so Snap will need to move quickly to retain its first mover advantage and remain the dominant AR platform.

    So, is Snap a serious threat to Google and Facebook?

    Snap’s product development and innovation are turning it into a serious contender for advertisers’ ad dollars, and its growth rate means that the digital advertising giants – Google, Facebook and increasingly Amazon – need to pay attention, particularly as Snap has such high access to the millennial and Generation Z audience. It does however have a lot of work to do if it is to grow exponentially and become a real threat.

    Image: Shutterstock

  7. What Ad/Fin’s closure signifies for transparency in digital advertising

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    It emerged a couple of weeks ago that ad tech company Ad/Fin has folded. It launched in 2012 as a tool to benchmark pricing data in programmatic media and made a name for itself by partnering with the ANA to shine a light on non-transparent practices in the digital advertising industry. It struggled to generate a sustainable business model, reliant as it was on the data of the very agencies whom it was trying to expose, but was ultimately a victim of its own success: the advertising industry has of late started to clean itself up, rendering Ad/Fin’s offering obsolete.

    Transparency has been a major issue in digital advertising

    Since the emergence of the programmatic market, worth $60 billion in the US alone, market dynamics have often been awkward. Advertisers, agencies and ad tech providers have been vociferous in blaming one another for the issues – such as poor brand safety, fraud and wastage – that arise from a lack of transparency. No one really knew exactly how much money was being spent with each vendor, or how much was given to the publisher. The market was becoming increasingly complex, and it was felt that agencies were taking advantage of this complexity to exploit vendors. The result was a chronic lack of trust, largely of agencies.

    What did Ad/Fin achieve?

    Ad/Fin was established to try to address these issues. Its business model was based on auditing the breakdown of advertisers’ programmatic spend to provide an independent, unbiased view of the costs and performance of the market, with advertisers and other partners such as PwC and Accenture purchasing and reselling the technology.

    In 2016 the ANA, in partnership with K2, released its seminal report on media transparency, creating waves across the industry with its claims that non-transparent practices were pervasive. The report led to a huge feeling of distrust in the industry, leading to a concerted effort by advertisers to take greater control of their digital advertising budgets. Some larger ones such as Vodafone and P&G announced that they would be taking their digital media buying in house so that they could negotiate their own contracts with DSPs.

    Following the release of the K2 report, Ad/Fin teamed up with the ANA in May 2017 to create a study that exposed hidden costs in programmatic buying. The study was the result of analysis of over 16bn impressions from winning DSP bid transaction logs, which amplified conversations about the need to take control of contracts. However, the vast majority – 95% – of the transactions processed for the study were not bought by agency trading desks, despite the fact that they oversaw the majority of programmatic spend at the time. They were the least transparent entities and refused to participate, which they could do because it was they, not the advertisers on whose behalf they were acting, who owned the transaction data.

    What is the state of transparency in digital advertising now?

    There has been significant progress since the release of the K2 report in 2016, and Ad/Fin’s subsequent study with the ANA the following year. Standards have advanced: the ANA updated its guidelines in 2018 so that they were better aligned with the IAB’s definition of programmatic advertising, while six major ad exchanges signed a letter from the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), vowing to make programmatic buying and selling more efficient, transparent and fair. The industry itself has also started to come together to clean up transparency and safety, insisting on more third-party accreditation and transparent contracts, and have started shifting budgets to more reputable publishers, using contractual obligations to ensure that ads appear as promised. There is also more emphasis on verified, viewable delivery in brand-safe environments – many prominent brands have been burned by brand safety scandals. Marketers accept that they need to take some of the responsibility in the creation of more transparency – prominently, P&G’s Chief Brand Officer Marc Prichard laid out his plan in a speech in April for a new supply chain with transparency at its heart.

    What still needs to be done to drive more transparency?

    All these measures fail to address the issue at the heart of the transparency challenge – that too often, programmatic campaigns simply don’t provide value, or can’t prove that they do. As digital media becomes more dominant, a lack of transparency enables productivity issues: ad practices that annoy consumers or violate their data and privacy rights and thereby contribute to ad blocking, and ads appearing alongside unacceptable content. In a survey of 5,000 marketers across 16 markets, 71% agreed that over the last five years it had become more difficult to measure the effectiveness of their digital media investments. In this AdWeek article, Nicholas Bidon points out that ‘marketers need to leave behind the poor proxies for success most often used to measure programmatic campaigns’, as they were designed to understand whether an ad had been delivered, and not whether the ad had delivered against success criteria. It is the effectiveness and the outcomes that really matter for the client – such as sales or purchase intent – that need to be measured. That will by default lead to transparency. We need to focus on the results rather than the technology, the data and even the reach.

    What’s next?

    There is a lot still to be done to make the digital advertising industry more transparent and to restore trust between the players. Marketers have an important role to play by having a clear sight of the right metrics and working with agencies to put the right motivating factors in place: a focus on rock-bottom pricing is not entirely without blame.

    At ECI Media Management we are pioneers in programmatic audit, and can help advertisers to increase the transparency and effectiveness of their programmatic activity. We work analyse and scrutinise our clients’ programmatic activity in great detail to generate concreate action points, which have had proven effects on efficiency, effectiveness and quality. Please do contact us to discover how we could help you drive transparency in your digital advertising.

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  8. Apple is retiring its iconic iTunes in a move reflective of a changing industry

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    Apple is retiring its iconic iTunes in a move reflective of a change in industry

    Back at the beginning of the millennium, the music industry was in a serious state. CDs were in decline as consumers digitised the way they consumed music: but they were doing it for free via Napster and other pirate websites.

    And then, in 2001, the industry’s knight in shining armour appeared, in the shape of Steve Jobs. He announced the birth of iTunes at the Macworld Expo, heralding a music revolution. The era of MP3 music was here, and over the next six years Apple would sell more than 100 million units of the iconic iPod with which to listen to those MP3s. Apple was at the pinnacle of its success, having redefined what music ownership looked like: no longer physical records, tapes or CDs, but a world of songs in your pocket.

    In the 18 years since its launch, iTunes has become a media behemoth, a one-stop shop for users to consume not just music, but movies and TV and, latterly, podcasts too. But over the last few years, downloading has been eclipsed by a new kind of access: digital streaming.

    A new contender in the market

    In 2008, just a year after the launch of the first iPhone and when iTunes was at the height of its powers, a small Swedish start-up called Spotify launched its music streaming service across eight European markets. Its two-tier model – free to the consumer ad-funded, and a premium subscription option – gave users on-demand access to stream millions of tracks. Music streaming was still in its infancy, accounting for just 1% of global music revenues in 2007, and Spotify’s initial growth was good but unremarkable. By 2013, they had 30 million active users and 8 million premium subscribers.

    It is the six years since 2013 that have seen a seismic shift in how music is consumed. By March of this year, Spotify’s user base had skyrocketed, with 217 million active users and 100 million premium subscribers around the world, a number which looks set to continue growing. By opening up the streaming market and persuading users to give up ownership of their music, Spotify has arguably redefined the music industry, just as Apple did when it persuaded users to give up physical ownership.

    The consolidation of Apple

    iTunes’ download model was starting to look clunky and old-fashioned. In 2015, Apple launched Apple Music, its streaming service which it hoped would compete with Spotify and other broadcasters with its three distinct components – on-demand streaming, radio and Apple Connect, which allows artists to upload songs, videos and photos for followers. Since then, as streaming has increasingly become the norm, there have been rumours that iTunes would be wound down.

    That finally came to pass this week, as Apple announced at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose that it would replace iTunes with standalone music, television and podcast apps. This will align Apple’s media strategy across the board: iPhones and iPads already offer separate apps for Music, TV and Podcast, and Mac/Macbook users can expect the same.

    However, the move is symbolic as well as practical. As Amy X Wang says in Rolling Stone, “by portioning out its music, television and podcast offerings into three separate platforms, Apple will pointedly draw attention to itself as a multifaceted entertainment services provider, no longer as a hardware company that happens to sell entertainment through one of its many apps” – and that’s increasingly important as iPhone sales have started to slow.

    Consolidation moves reflecting the wider market

    This move towards entertainment services is being seen across the technology and communications sector: we’ve seen the tech giants buy up rights to live sport, while AT&T acquired Time Warner for $85bn and Disney bought most of the 21st Century Fox empire, fending off an offer from Comcast. This trend is of course being driven by changing consumer behaviour as internet connections over 4G and now 5G accelerate – allowing for uninterrupted streaming of music, TV and films. We’re seeing the effects of technology on the media and communications industries, and lines between these sectors will continue to blur. This blurring of boundaries will then pose another issue on how they can all be monitored & assessed both separately and in totality.

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  9. Changing the rules of the internet: can Zuckerberg turn around Facebook’s fortunes?

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    After a difficult year, Facebook is looking for solutions

    Facebook is facing heavy scrutiny from people and governments across the world after a range of transgressions: the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the hiring of a PR firm to attack George Soros, the departure of 10 top executives and the livestreaming of the Christchurch terrorist attack among them. These and other issues have forced Zuckerberg and his senior management team to appear before governmental committees and the press to explain exactly how they are going to change. This was all reflected in Facebook’s share price, which peaked in July 2018 but had plummeted by 40% by the end of the year.

    The conclusion? Facebook must focus on real, meaningful evolution in order to ensure a prosperous future – and that’s just what they appear to be doing.

    More cooperation between governments and tech companies

    After months of appearing before government committees and journalists around the world, in March this year Mark Zuckerberg seemed to finally kick off the evolution that his organisation so urgently needs. Having rejected demands for increased regulatory oversight of Facebook for years, in an editorial in the Washington Post Zuckerberg called for more cooperation with governments to deal with the problems posed by internet platforms and emergent internet technologies: “By updating the rules for the internet, we can preserve what’s best about it – the freedom for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things – while also protecting society from broader harms”.

    Changing the rules of the internet

    Zuckerberg argued that there were four areas that would require deeper cooperation between tech companies, governments and regulators: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability. Measures he suggested included the creation of an independent body to review Facebook’s content moderation decisions and the formation of a set of standardised rules for harmful content; regulation for common standards for verifying political actors; a focus on creating laws that address advertising for divisive political issues; and GDPR-type regulations across the world. Nick Clegg, the head of Facebook’s global affairs and communications team, spoke about how “the way that the rules are drawn – or not drawn – will be quite different to how they are drawn in ten years’ time… and I think big tech companies have a choice: either they play ball and they try to play a responsible role in that debate, or they try to duck it all together.”

    Practical changes for the Facebook platform

    Facebook hasn’t stopped at promoting cooperation between tech firms and governments: the evolution strategy has also extended to a series of changes, announced in April, that ‘put privacy first’ because ‘the future is private’. These changes include encrypting Messenger messages and fully integrating the Messenger platform with WhatsApp; trialling a ‘private like counts’ feature; and ways of sharing content without a permanent record. Furthermore, the company is rolling out ‘FB5’, an aspirational redesign of the platform that puts the spotlight on what Facebook would like to be – thoughtful, meaningful and calm. The Groups functionality will be central, and there will be an increased focus on Marketplace as well.

    Other ideas for how to control Facebook

    The challenge facing those governments and regulators with whom Zuckerberg wants to work to create a new, brighter internet is massive. Siva Vaidhyanthan notes that “regulators are trying to address Facebook as if it’s like companies they have encountered before. But Facebook presents radically new challenges. It is unlike anything else in human history – with the possible exception of Google.” Governments are trying: the UK, for example, proposed a duty of care standard for platforms to ensure they filter harmful content, and the US government is expected to issue a $5bn fine for the violation of a 2011 order preventing the distribution of user data to companies such as Cambridge Analytica. But Vaidhyanthan compares this approach to dealing individual weather events rather than tackling climate change. Others have suggested more radical approaches: Facebook’s co-founder Chris Hughes called for Facebook to be broken up because “Mark’s influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or government. He controls three core communications platforms – Facebook. Instagram and WhatsApp – that billions of people use every day… The government must hold Mark accountable.” Meanwhile, US senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren proposed dramatic antitrust regulations, and a Bloomburg article suggested that, as social media has been proven to be addictive, it should be regulated in the same way as the tobacco, alcohol and gambling industries – and not the communications industry.

    Radical solutions for a brighter future

    The issues that Facebook faces are dramatically different to, and more important than, those faced by any other company, and they require dramatically different solutions. The varied approaches announced by Facebook in recent months are collaborative, radical and positive, and we at ECI Media Management look forward to seeing them come to fruition.

    With increased transparency in the Facebook marketplace, response from consumers is likely to be varied. Users, Governments and Corporations alike should clearly understand how their data is being used by Facebook to target Ads.  Changes to transparency and the required investment into security, will no doubt impact the firm’s profits. As customers and co-operations learn more about the result of their time and investment into the platform, initially it is likely demand for the Ad space will see a minor drop, before companies become educated on how to utilise on this newfound transparency. At ECI Media Management, we recognise the value and immense scale of Facebook, which will be crucial to monitor as it moves into this new era.

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  10. US senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren takes on Big Tech

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    Embattled tech firms face a new challenge

    There’s no denying that the tech giants are having a hard time of it at the moment. There have been the scandals that we’re all so familiar with: Facebook is still dealing with the fall-out from the Cambridge Analytica affair as well as accusations that it allows interference in national elections, while earlier this year Google once again had to face the wrath of angry advertisers whose ads had been run alongside inappropriate content on YouTube. They’re also facing numerous legal challenges from national and EU lawmakers in Europe over issues such as privacy, fake news, tax and competition – and of course there is GDPR to contend with.

    Into this rather bleak landscape strode Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic candidate for the US presidential election in 2020. In a blog post Warren laid out a plan to break up the tech giants, namely Amazon, Facebook and Google, by forcing them to divest some of their biggest acquisitions and money-spinners.

    Why is Warren proposing such radical antitrust measures?

    So what are the reasons that Warren gives? There are two key ones: in her view, the big tech companies damage small businesses and innovation which stifle healthy competition. In effect, she believes that Facebook, Google and Amazon in particular have too much power over the economy, society and democracy. Facebook scored an own goal by promptly removing her ads around this issue from the platform. It later restored them, but they had neatly illustrated Warren’s point for her (!).

    What would these antitrust regulations mean?

    The implications of Warren’s proposals are huge. She would pass legislation designating platforms with more than $25bn in revenue as ‘platform utilities’, which would be banned from owning both the platform and the participants at the same time. This would mean that, for example, Google would need to spin off Search, with Amazon doing the same with Marketplace. Perhaps even more dramatically, Warren also claimed that she would appoint regulators to reverse mergers that had already been completed – including Facebook’s purchase of Instagram and WhatsApp, and Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods. This would lead to a world where Facebook would be competing with Instagram and Amazon’s power over sellers – and buyers – would be curbed significantly.

    Warren wants to implement these measures to “restore the balance of power in our democracy, to promote competition, and to ensure that the next generation of technology innovation is as vibrant as the last”. She points to the antitrust case involving Microsoft in the 1990s which forced the ‘original’ tech giant to behave with increased restraint into the new millennium and, argues Warren, paved the way for the growth of the very giants she now wants to shrink.

    Are there alternative ways to promote competition?

    Warren is not alone in wanting to address the huge power held by the tech giants, particularly as the public feels increasingly uncomfortable about the amount of power they wield, but she is the first to have crossed the threshold to an antitrust solution. Of course, the chances are that Warren will not be the next President of the United States (she’s up against many other Democratic candidates, not to mention the incumbent) and, even if she is, many believe that her measures will be extremely difficult to implement. However, what is undeniable is that the tech firms must evaluate how they operate in order to regain trust from users and from governments. A middle ground could be, as suggested by the Report of the Digital Competition Expert Panel, which was commissioned by the British Government and led by Barack Obama’s economic adviser Jason Furman. The report recommends a new regulator to force firms to ‘rewire’ themselves so that users have more control of their data and can switch between providers; it also suggests modernising antitrust rules.

    As ever, Google, Facebook and Amazon have an uphill struggle on their hands, and they must examine their business models hard if they are to continue their success and deflect the scrutiny of governments across the world.

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