Programmatic advertising

How to make programmatic advertising work in a post-GDPR world

How to make programmatic advertising work in a post-GDPR world

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you’ve probably been bombarded with news about privacy, data and our favourite 4-letter acronym: GDPR. One of the biggest stories was the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, where over 50 million Facebook profiles were harvested to target political adverts. This shook the world and ever since people have been questioning how their personal data is actually being used.

Though, the issue of personal privacy has been cropping up for years. Although the internet has made it easier to collect personal data, there’s been controversy surrounding the invasion of privacy long before the wide use of the internet. For example, at one point, a bill was put forward in the state of California to ban caller ID because they felt it was a breach of privacy for the caller to have their information displayed.

But it’s only now that substantial steps are being taken to protect personal data, hence the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was born.

GDPR: one month on

If you haven’t heard about GDPR (though, how could you avoid it?), it’s a law that aims to protect all EU citizens from privacy and data breaches. This regulation was enforced a month ago, on 25th May 2018.

So, what’s happened since? Businesses within Europe that handle personal data are facing more legal obligation for how they collect, process and store this data. Within the digital advertising world, personal data is collected for audience targeting, but this strategy is changing – big time. As a result, we predict other marketing and targeting techniques will flourish and ad tech will play a dominant role in this change.

How is GDPR affecting Coull?

Data privacy is affecting most businesses, but some more than others. At Coull, we’ve always taken our user’s data and their privacy seriously and so we haven’t had to change our business processes or behaviours. Though we have updated our policies and contracts to reflect our adherence to the GDPR guidelines and we will continue working closely with our partners to ensure compliance.

Ultimately, GDPR is an opportunity for responsible businesses to add value in an open and transparent way. We hope this is the start of a new era of transparent data processing across our industry.

How is it affecting the digital advertising industry as a whole?

Many digital advertising strategies rely on collecting a person’s information through browser cookies – which stores information such as age, gender, location and general interests. Whereas GDPR means that people now need to ‘opt-in’ to having their information collected. This poses a problem for advertisers who want to target audiences this way.

However, changes are already happening, such as a push towards more sponsored, social media and influencer marketing. For example, Adidas has quickly capitalised on the World Cup, by working with footballers and celebrities for social media content, directly targeting their followers.

Does this mean programmatic advertising is dead? No! Of course not. There are still successful and ‘GDPR safe’ ways to use digital advertising…

All in context

Contextual advertising is one way to avoid using personal data. It uses information on the content itself to make assumptions and then target the audience with a relevant advert. This is ‘GDPR safe’ because it doesn’t need to use personal data.

Contextual targeting has many different levels, depending on the technical and analytical capabilities, such as targeting by domain, keywords or location. For example, Land Rover may want to contextually target their audience at a domain level with an advert on a car review website.

contextual programmatic advertising, OverStream OnPause format

An example of Coull’s OnPause format displaying a Land Rover ad in a contextually targeted environment.

Retarget without using cookies

Cookie monster eating cookies

Source: Giphy

Advertisers can be real cookie monsters, collecting as many cookies as possible to target a particular campaign to the same person, again and again. However, without consent to collect their data, it can make retargeting hard. So let’s forget about the non-edible cookies, shall we?

This is where ad tech can really make a difference. For example, our format, DoubleUp, delivers a ‘two-part’ retargeting campaign in the video player. First of all, a pre-roll ad is shown, then the video plays and the second part of the campaign, a display creative, is presented in one of our OverStream formats.

As an example, Emirates might want to advertise to and retarget international travellers. They decide to put a pre-roll ad before a video about Dubai on a travel tourism website:

Contextual programmatic advertising, pre-roll DoubleUp

Emirate pre-roll (first part of a DoubleUp campaign).

Then as the video content starts playing, they can use the OverStream Banner format to retarget the same person using a CTA banner from the same campaign:

contextual programmatic advertising, OverStream Banner DoubleUp

An example of Coull’s OverStream Banner in a DoubleUp campaign for Emirates.

This feature:

  • Retargets someone in a ‘GDPR safe’ way
  • Gives people a direct ‘Call To Action’ for the pre-roll
  • Shortens the customer journey by immediately retargeting whilst you still have the customer’s attention

Aside from using different targeting techniques, education and transparency are now more important than ever. If advertisers want to continue collecting data in a post-GDPR world, they’re going to have to win back the trust of the people, through respect and complete transparency. This involves, being open about their policies and making both opt-in and opt-out options clear and easy to follow. But unfortunately, many organisations are simply using confusing wordplay to give consumers no other option other than to simply ‘accept and close’ to approve the collection of their data. This is misleading and isn’t an effective way to earn trust.

Website GDPR privacy data consent

An example of how some organisations mislead their audience and are able to gain consent to collect data

But, there’s still hope. The digital advertising industry can be incredibly creative, so it’s a matter of ‘innovate to survive’ in the world of GDPR. Perhaps this will not only encourage transparency but also give the industry an opportunity to rethink ways to deliver great advertising without invading people’s privacy. We will have to wait and see…

Posted by Mark Lee in Coull comment
One idea, countless battles: Coull’s journey against ad fraud

One idea, countless battles: Coull’s journey against ad fraud

Coull's journey against ad fraudCreativity at the heart

Born out of the vibrant streets of Bristol, Coull has always had creativity at the heart of the business. Coull’s founders had a vision of making online video advertising an engaging and interactive experience. The idea was brewing away in the background since 2005, but the online video world was still growing and adapting. High-speed internet hadn’t appeared and many different video formats made things more complicated.

Skip forward a few years to 2007, YouTube had grown to over 50 million users and high-speed internet had arrived. Families were able to watch a cat play the piano, a dog surfing and someone biting Charlie’s finger, from the comfort of their own homes. It was revolutionary and people couldn’t get enough. The popularity of video content shot up and the creators wanted a way to profit from it.

Cue Coull. 2008 was our founding year and although we’ve come a long way since then, it was always about our love affair with video.

Introducing…programmatic

Programmatic arrived like a whirlwind in 2013. By connecting everyone and allowing quicker, more efficient sales, it sounded like a dream. Caught up in the vortex of the programmatic online world, Coull started out with an ad network model. We were integrating with leading programmatic platforms to enable delivery of interest-based, targeted advertising at a global scale.

One problem: ad fraud

All of the innovations emerging from the humble office in Bristol were exciting, but there was one big problem with the online ad industry: fraud. The regulation of crime, particularly ad fraud, couldn’t keep up with the digital world.

But Coull was prepared. We were producing our own in-house anti-fraud technology in the background for some time. Such as domain and IP filters, URL detection and implementing the IAB’s VPAID specification.

As anticipated, the talk about fraud in the media increased and some shocking figures flagged up. Behind the scenes, fraudsters had been on a crime shopping spree and cost the industry billions each year.

We quickly realised that, although ad networks were great for connecting us, the business model was a doomed one. It was undifferentiated and arbitraged inventory, combined with a justifiable loss of trust from buyers resulting in an inevitable race to the bottom. More importantly, it didn’t represent our original vision to be unique and think outside the box.

Dedicated team

First and foremost, at Coull, we pride ourselves on being a technology company. We have a dedicated team, many of whom are developers, and a fresh minded approach. This has lead to building and launching the Coull Platform. Our Platform consists of the Coull SSP, Coull Exchange and distinct Coull advertising formats, which are all self-built to fit Coull’s vision.

With us, publishers can earn revenue without spamming their content, advertisers can benefit from effective formats and users don’t get overloaded by ads. Not only this, we have a very comprehensive compliance process paired with a strong company ethos in combatting fraud.

We’ve invested in and improved our proprietary technology to ensure anti-fraud and brand safety. Applying our technology, we have a dedicated compliance team and partnerships with industry-leading verification vendors. Using their audit results, our true URL detection product and IP filters, we can effectively fight domain spoofing, bot fraud and build trust among our partners.

Viewability

But we aren’t stopping there. Viewability is of paramount importance. We currently measure viewability through our partners, but we have additional plans to improve our business. Using our technology expertise, in combination with our measurement partners, we expect to build our own viewable inventory marketplaces.

Regulation and transparency

Unfortunately, the internet won’t ever be fraud-free. Even recently, the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) estimate that ad fraud is likely to exceed $50 billion by 2025. Much like a game of whack-a-mole, as soon as one source of fraud is stamped out, another three pop up. But by having our own technology and platform, regulation is a lot simpler for us and being transparent with partners is easier.

After nine years of a bumpy rollercoaster ride in the online advertising industry, we’re now proud to say we’ve come a long way, keeping our founder’s vision alive and continuing to aspire. We have a strong ethos on ad fraud and are always trying to be transparent, educate and work with partners to tackle ad fraud together.

Find out more about fighting ad fraud by reading our last blog post: “Combatting ad fraud on the wild, wild, web“.

Posted by Naomi Sandercock in Coull news
The looming video ad tech apocalypse of 2017

The looming video ad tech apocalypse of 2017

The ad tech apocalypse is upon us, here’s how we got there and who will survive it.

The video advertising industry has experienced rapid growth over the last 5-10 years, spawned from the increasing popularity of the format. During this time, it’s become awash with intermediaries, all trying to claim their slice of the cake. Many of these middlemen have taken that slice without contributing to the publisher, advertiser, or viewer in any valuable, tangible or measurable way.

When we look back the video ad network arbitrage model circa 2011, we see a simple model for programmatic advertising that’s done a job, but that’s lacked the necessary measurement and invalid traffic detection required today.

The ad tech apocalypse

It now seems we’ve gone from one extreme to another, with a plethora of intermediaries filling every possible space, and yet the solution for quality video advertising has not yet been achieved. We’ve reached a point of reckoning. The middlemen who aren’t contributing or performing will be vanquished in 2017, leaving a trail of destruction.

The background

The video ad network arbitrage model

The video ad network arbitrage model

2011

This is the year video advertising started becoming popular. The biggest problem was that there wasn’t enough pre-roll (an ad before the content). This stunted the growth of early video ad platforms. So, with display advertising getting cheaper and cheaper, brands and agencies bought ad slots on web pages originally designed for display banner ads. As these slots are inherently smaller, generally muted and not as obvious to a user, they were far less effective than pre-roll. Thus, in-banner video was born, bringing with it a multitude of problems that Tubemogul called out at the time.

The video exchanges didn’t do any dynamic analysis or fraud protection at the time, so buyers didn’t know if they were buying real pre-roll or in-banner. This Adexchanger article on the subject divulges more.

Video ad networks soon followed, white labelling these same platforms to create in-banner video ads, and then selling it back to platforms. These platforms like Liverail loved it, as it gave the plausible deniability as to where the inventory came from and made them grow enormously.

In 2012, some video ad networks were making 300% margin.

Cut to 2017

Let’s jump to the present, and take a look at what has happened since:

Video lumascape ad tech apocalypse

  • There are now hundreds of companies arbitraging, all buying and selling to each other. Take a look at any of the many lumascapes of the ad industry that further illustrate this point.

  • All the first generation video SSPs have been bought and cleaned up their acts (in Liverail’s case completely closed), so there’s nowhere easy to sell it.

  • Third-party vendors now exist to show what is in-banner from real pre-roll, creating transparency.

  • Facebook is the king of in-banner and can demonstrate a clear ROI. If you want to buy it, you go there.

  • Ghost sites and fraud paid-for traffic are easier to detect.

  • Advertisers are demanding clawbacks on media buys that are flagged as fraudulent by the vendors.

  • Average 90-day payment terms mean that they carry large liabilities.

  • The CPM prices have dropped now advertisers know what they’re buying.

  • Zero-sum game. All the growth in ad spend is going to Facebook and Google – aka the walled garden – not to the open web.

  • Disintermediation, with advertisers going directly to publishers for the best inventory.

Having spoken to many publishers, their average margin in 2016 was 20%!

All this adds up to a rough 2017 for the all the middlemen, who are now scrambling to rebrand themselves video SSPs with a “proprietary exchanges” and “patented algorithms”.

  • If you are a publisher with quality inventory then don’t mess around, get on one of the big video SSPs, and do PMP deals directly with brands and agencies.

  • The only tech that publishers should be using, is that which creates more of or adds value to their existing supply. It’s never been easier to sell it yourself.

  • If you are a middleman, then create something of real value. Solve a real problem for publishers, not just an inefficiency.

If you’ve been watching the market for the last few years you’ll have noticed the layoffs, the acquisitions and the negative media attention aimed at programmatic. And the reasons won’t come as a shock:

  • Commoditization

  • Arbitrage/fewer inefficiencies in the market to exploit.

  • The wrong approach to mobile

  • Old display exchanges missing the boat on video

  • Lack of unique data

  • Innovating in the auction, not the format – actually solve a problem, not an inefficiency.

Companies to watch in 2017 will be those that can keep steady growth and get a grip on their spend

Threats

Whilst we have made incredible inroads to detecting fraud, viewability and creating transparency on the buy side, there are still unknown factors across emerging formats that need to be addressed.

Old display exchanges providing liquidity

  • The old display exchanges coming into video advertising but without the experience, or understanding its nuances and how to guard against fraud. Video is shared and embedded around the web. With limited experience in how to deal with this, these old display SSP/Exchanges are already responsible for far more fraud than dedicated video platforms like SpotX.

Mobile web

  • It’s still a real wild west out there, the verification vendors haven’t yet developed adequate solutions. There are plenty of hacks to make ads autoplay on mobile browsers, and plenty of obnoxious unskippable ads.

Who will survive?

Surviving the ad tech apocalypse will come down to being unique, contributing value and having the conviction to offer proof. If you’ve got a strong business that’s presenting something unique and you’re able to differentiate yourself in a commoditised market – you’re in with a real chance.

How?

  • Tick the basics: highly quality, highly viewable, fraud-free.

  • Have defensible tech and direct partnerships.

  • Cut through the noise with clear, buzzword-free messaging.

Transparency is a must. Advertisers are sick of being lied to, they’re sick of fraud and sick of inefficiencies. Publishers need viable ad formats that ad value for their audience and as for the viewers – they just want better experiences.

We’re seeing a move to buying based on audience targeting and engagement metrics. We’re also starting to see mobile video ascend the ad revenue rankings. But to survive in ad tech in 2017, you’ll need to:

  • facilitate measurement
  • develop and or enable appropriate and creative ad formats
  • target audiences

If you can’t add value and help enable a sustainable ecosystem, your spot in the food chain will become obsolete.


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Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment
Coull CEOs martech and adtech predictions 2017

Coull CEOs martech and adtech predictions 2017

Aden made his predictions about the ad tech industry at the end of 2015 and unsurprisingly to us, proved the spirit of Yoda really does thrive within him.

Aden Forshaw co-founded Coull back in 2008 but this year has been his big leap, being appointed CEO and taking the reins. He has been integral in bringing some exciting developments to fruition. For example, the launch of the OverStream Suite and eradicating invalid traffic from the marketplace, starting with the Coull Platform.

In this post, Aden, CEO and Yoda of Coull gives his predictions for what the programmatic ad industry is going to look like in 2017.

Top predictions

1.The ad tech bloodbath

The tools now exist to highlight any middlemen representing poor inventory or adding no value. As a result of the adoption of these tools, there will be a bloodbath of inadequate ad tech middlemen. Ad networks will continue going out of business in 2017 as the demand side goes around them with programmatic direct. This is good news for quality publishers, who will see their CPMs rise, and for ad tech players creating real value to cut through the noise.

2. Sweating the asset

Brands are paying top dollar for the right spot, within the right inventory, and are also paying the mass of vendors to validate the quality of the spot they’re buying. 2017 will see brands demand more ROI from their investment and more from their agencies. As for the ad units itself, real-time creative backed by deep-learning AI will take us back to a time when advertising was fun and engaging.

3. Artificial Intelligence

Look forward to buzzword bingo at every conference with a lot of people not understanding what AI means. We’re referring to the deep-learning variant, the same that Google has been using so successfully with Quickdraw. This will create new ways of interacting with an audience and find niche audiences that once relied on manual targeting.

ad tech predictions - Artificial Intelligence

4. Measuring the garden – accountability for all the big players

Measurement standards will finally be applied inside walled gardens. YouTube is already moving that way, as is Facebook with its continued ‘mea-culpas’ – buyers are demanding more. This will be the draw of more TV money online, but it’ll mainly go to Facebook rather than the open web.

5. Civilising Mobile Video

2016 was the year that all the verification vendors to help clean up desktop video, 2017 will be mobile. Sophisticated vendors like White Ops are already raising large amounts to dedicate themselves to the task but it’s time to apply them to mobile. It’s still a wild west of VAST inventory, but app makers are finally coalescing around a small number of Ad SDKs, meaning mobile VPAID will soon be the norm.

ad tech predictions - mobile video

6. Another acronym joins the team – hello H-2-H – goodbye B-2-C

2016 saw the direct to consumer revolution take hold, led by players like Dollar Shave Club. Big brands have taken note, and are following suit. This will see them try new creative approaches to reaching an audience, with heavy experimentation on Chatbots and personalised video campaigns. It’s about human to human communications, brand stories, and ideas.

7. Widening cracks in the looking glass

Viewability has become a widespread proxy for ad quality during 2016. But the cracks have already been clear to see, with ample evidence of its fallibility and potential for gaming. Industry experts and savvy advertisers are already calling for an exercise in caution when putting viewability on a pedestal. Underlying fraud and the drudging pursuit of unattainable standardisation in viewability measurement will become more of a theme as 2017 progresses. Expect publishers and advertisers to put their support behind ad formats that are more viewable by design and engage audiences in more tangible ways.

Some of the other predictions we expect…

EU Data

The EU General Data Protection Regulation won’t hit until 2018, but by the end of 2017, we’ll see it shake out for implementation. It’s a seismic shift in how data is handled not just for advertising, but all PII and metadata about users.

Expect more hacks

In technology terms, some ad tech platforms have been around for aeons. There are legacy security models, and antiquated tech stacks, especially those built by third parties and not maintained. With ad tech providing an easy way to touch so many people, expect a few big hacks in 2017.

Google’s open source video player

It’s long been doing the rounds of the rumour mill but this year could very well see the launch of Google’s open source video player. Once launched, the player will inevitably compete with VideoJS, and take market share from established players like JWPlayer, and potentially Brightcove. Of course, it will plug into Google’s ad tech stack, straight out of the box.

Commoditisation means old display ad tech will take a beating

Header bidding has commoditised what was once locked-in relationships. Expect to see the old guard struggle, especially those that haven’t successfully added video and mobile to their offering. The shelves stacked with out-of-date ad units will collect dust as new creative, engaging and data-driven formats fly off, attracting the attention of agencies and trading desks.

We’re hoping to see big changes in 2017, with the momentum toward cleaning up programmatic swinging in the right direction already, its transition across platforms will be a game changer. The adoption of AI and more targetable ad tech will become normal as quality, trusted inventory with highly engaging ad formats takes centre stage, finally allowing digital publishers to earn their keep.

The final word…

2016 delivered transparency, in 2017 we’ll see action emerge from insight.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment
Tis the season for programmatic advertising

Tis the season for programmatic advertising

Programmatic advertising has had a turbulent year. Advertising budgets started to swing away from traditional channels. But budgets didn’t fully swing to digital because of a lack of trust in programmatic.

Programmatic advertising in 2016

Many issues rose to the top of the programmatic advertising cons pile in 2015. The good news is, these problems can be addressed and even put to rest in 2016. This is largely thanks to the work being done behind the scenes by ad tech companies.

We must, however, learn from the problems we’ve faced this year if we’re to avoid the havoc and scrutiny we experienced in 2015.

Stop adapting and start innovating

In this fresh industry, many companies have attempted to cash in while cutting corners. You just need to take a look at the digital ‘lumascapes’ to see how crowded the industry is. It’s tricky for anyone to navigate the maze of choice, let alone settle on the right partner.

Lumascape of video programmatic advertising

Media is consumed very differently today. People communicate, entertain and learn from many new sources. Expecting a seamless experience for everyone, with no one trying to take advantage, is pretty ludicrous. In this crowded world, there’s a real need for specialists who can identify and build responses to programmatic advertising pitfalls. These specialists will improve performance and revenues in 2016, so don’t count them out.

Premium standards

In April 2015, the IAB reported 68% of marketers anticipated increasing their digital video ad spend over the next year.

Marketers will want to know what they’re buying and see ROI from their digital ad spend. And so, the same questions always arise:

  • Is it viewable?

  • Can brand safety be guaranteed?

  • Is it human?

Measuring quality

We can break down these areas into segments for a better overview of the quality of inventory. This comes down to how much we know about the inventory and where it comes from. This is often limited by how much the publisher is willing to give away about their own data. The data segments we look for:

  • Player size

  • True URL (the inventory’s original source)

  • Device

  • Geography

  • Relevance

It’s no secret programmatic advertising has endured a year of inefficiency. However, according to eMarketer, ad spend in programmatic video is set to jump 84.5% in 2016’. Proprietary tech, such as that built to drive Coull’s video ad exchange, is stepping up to implement solutions. We’ve built a new breed of ad exchange, and so we have specific standards for programmatic advertising and quality inventory expectations.

Quality inventory on demand

Video on demand (VOD) is now a huge part of our lives and so, subscription services like Netflix, NowTV and BBC iPlayer are competing for your dollars every month. Therefore, there are huge opportunities for highly competitive places, like America, to make revenue from advertiser based video on demand (AVOD).

As more VOD services become available, we predict that video will become increasingly popular on mobile devices. More mobile video content could mean huge opportunities for mobile advertising.

Mobile video optimisationMobile video programmatic advertising

It’s clear that mobile video is still not being fully-optimized. But hopefully, this will encourage better ad creatives and more user control. This will not be another ‘year of mobile’. It will be a year of programmatic advertising tech and the growth of mobile advertising.

This year will see mobile video grabbing advertising budgets, but networks will have their work cut out before any real improvements.

For mobile advertising to succeed, video publishers and platforms need to allocate budget to make video compliant and standardised. Also, mobile advertising needs agencies with creative gusto, willing to drive better ad formats and better stories. Perhaps more importantly, we need to make a better user experience, otherwise, ad blockers will win.

For any of this to happen, industry bodies need to step up and ensure video inventory is held to higher standards. This means ensuring VPAID compliancy and video players are up to spec.

It’s time publishers work with their video and tech partners to ensure standards and metrics can be met. This is really the only way we’re going to start seeing consistent reporting and better user experiences.

Love planted a garden. But then they put the walls up

Walled gardens surfaced in 2015 but not without publishers becoming much more self-aware. In order to go around these walls, publishers began using header bidding and took back control from Google DFP. As Google and Facebook work to keep content and data inside their own bubble, it’s up to publishers and advertisers to review the value exchange. It’s also up to ad exchanges and technology platforms to provide better options for media companies.

Ad blocking, viewability, fraud and data security was at the centre in 2015. But better ad experiences, mobile video and better measurement standards will hopefully be the industry saviours in 2016.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment