Digital Innovators Summit – Innovate or Die

Digital Innovators Summit – Innovate or Die

Innovate or Die

That was the message from the recent Digital Innovators Summit #DISummit in Berlin, attended by Business Development Manager Rebecca. Forge ahead or be left behind is the name of the game, but here’s some context behind that message and Rebecca’s thoughts on how the ideas raised can be applied at publisher level.

The key areas of innovation and execution that publishers and ad tech companies need to focus on in 2015-16 will be:

  • Programmatic
  • Mobile
  • Video
  • Data
  • Native


One thing made very clear at the summit was that programmatic does not lower the value of inventory. Regardless of how content is traded, if you’re able to give advertisers what they want, CPMs will remain high. Programmatic enables buyers to reach their audience, at the right time and place. Publishers can expect higher CPMs for validated inventory (at Coull we class validated inventory as video that is viewable, human, and brand safe) and as the industry pushes for this, quality will be rewarded over quantity.

Providing advertisers with a brand safe environment with transparency on domains means confidence will only continue to grow in the programmatic space. Being able to deliver this at scale is the key to more advertiser budgets being spent programmatically. AMEX is leading the way here and has moved 100% of their digital ad spend to programmatic.

Two mediums that are really at the forefront of the programmatic revolution are mobile and video.


Publishers need to start seeing mobile as a medium in and of itself not just an extension of online.

The Innovation in Media Magazine, World Report[1], predicts that a US $64 Billion of ad spend will be spent on mobile in 2015, that’s 60% of global ad spend and, that’s this year! On average people check their smartphones 221 times a day, so advertisers have the potential to reach their users 221 times in a day, in an engaged and personalised environment. Publishers that aren’t equipped for mobile will quickly find themselves unable to compete, it’s no longer about switching to mobile; it’s about doing mobile content better.

The key factors when building a mobile site according to the report; you need good content, it needs to be quick, constant, concise and responsive.


79% of all web traffic is video. We know that the majority of this is YouTube, but I think what it indicates is that people want to consume information in this way more than ever before. Publishers cannot rely on strong editorial if that is not the medium in which people want to consume content. Publishers must adopt a video first approach to content.

It’s not just about keeping your audience engaged, it’s also about providing premium spaces for advertisers to invest. The problem is not with demand, it’s getting the supply and persuading publishers that this is where they need to invest in terms of content.

Some economic areas are experiencing down turn and though they desperately want to invest in video, they lack the required resources. They know where they want to be but they can’t get there in time and are therefore restricted. It shows that regardless of intentions, strategy and infrastructure need to be in place for successful campaigns to be possible.

Advertisers see over 800% more conversions with video ads than any other online ad. This means that average CPMs should continue to increase across premium inventory. However, a video strategy is also needed to ensure, relevant, quality content for audiences.

Value from Video

Part of any video strategy should consider how they might re-purpose that video, making yield per video an important metric for publishers. Hearst’s Gary Ellis demonstrated how they are using video across multiple properties and markets, eliminating duplication of work in creating video and giving more time to niche editorial for that property/market.

The message to subscription-based publishers was not to paywall video content. Video is a ubiquitous form of media and is all too easily accessed for free by users, so paywalling it won’t increase subscriptions. What it might do however is to lose you your audience.

DATA should inform – it’s no good if you’re not asking the right questions

Part of the problem media companies are having with big data is that it isn’t being used correctly to inform decisions and strategies. From the outset companies are not always asking the right questions, and can sometimes be measuring the wrong thing. Metrics can be flawed and ad fraud is also muddying the water when it comes to validation.

We need to ask the right questions, measure the right data to answer those questions and, most importantly, take action.

Lutz Finger, Author of Getting the best out of Big Data elucidated the problem of asking the right questions with an Alta Vista and Google example. Alta Vista is an example of a company that was asking the wrong question. In the mid-90s, Alta Vista was able to search more of the World Wide Web than any of their competitors, indeed more than was even thought to exist at the time, due to a fast, multi-threaded crawler.

However, this wasn’t the function that people needed in a search engine. What people wanted wasn’t more search engine results, what they wanted were more relevant results. This is where Google gained ground, it didn’t matter that back then they didn’t have the same resource or capabilities as Alta Vista, they had the right question in the beginning.

Once we have framed the question, we need to measure the right metrics.

Once the question is framed, it needs to be measured with the right metrics. So, if we want to know whether an ad is effective or not, we need to define what metrics are suitable to analyse that performance.

Engagement rates as we all know are flawed, issues with bots and ad fraud mean clicks are unreliable and VTR and viewability all have inherent problems. All these different metrics need to be applied together and used to build a model that we can make inferences from.

Once the data that informs has been gathered, there needs to be action. Implementing a strategy based on the data seems obvious but advertisers and publishers are failing to do this. Crack this seemingly simple set of principles and you’re on the road to success.


So far in 2015 25% of publishers used native advertising on their sites. Advertisers report a 55% uplift in brand affinity and 70% of users say they prefer native advertising to banner ads.

Good native advertising can be just as good as editorial so long as there is no ambiguity over the fact that it’s sponsored content. No one likes being deceived, and not making a clear differentiation between sponsored content and editorial, is evasive, it’s uncomfortable. Native has been used in print for a very long time in the form of advertorials and Hearst has been particularly good at adopting this for brands such as Elle and Cosmopolitan. A partnership between Estee Lauder and Hearst, saw them launching Cosmopolitan Nigeria, a market that Estee Lauder were keen to enter. Through the use of native ads they have secured a great brand partnership but have kept their editorial integrity through clearly signposting that this content was sponsored.

Native, like mobile, video and programmatic is here to stay and there are huge branding budgets to be had if the publisher can get it right.

Go forth and make it work

The elements covered in the Digital Innovators Summit were not new, but that’s okay because it was focused on how to make these things work better, to be more effective and more compelling. There were some great discussion points and I think everyone came away thinking a lot deeper about what it is we’re trying to achieve when we innovate. It’s nice having new, shiny things -but it’s even nicer when they work.

[1] In association with Forrester Research

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment

What it’s like to intern at Coull

For the past year, Will Tombs has been interning with us here at Coull HQ – Bristol UK. During this time Will has had broad exposure to different areas of our business including getting hands on experience across the marketing, ad ops, dev and QA teams. His internship has been predominantly marketing focused and he took on management of our social media channels and responsibility for SEO management/campaign building. In this video, Will talks about his time at Coull and what he found great about our culture.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull video
We’re supporting Byte Night 2014

We’re supporting Byte Night 2014

On behalf of Coull I’m proud to announce that we are taking part in Byte Night 2014, a charity event dedicated to fundraising for Action for Children, with the specific aim of tackling the root causes of homelessness.

Byte Night was established 17 years ago by a number of technology companies, and culminates in a sponsored sleepout across eight locations across the UK. With Coull headquartered in Bristol, we’ve taken a seat on the board of the South West group and will be organizing a number of sponsored activities over the coming months to raise as much money as possible for this deserving charity. The South West sleep-out takes place outside the M-Shed on Friday 3 October.

We’re particularly passionate about Byte Night because all the funds raised in each region are distributed to frontline services in those areas, meaning we can make a difference to the people in our own community. If you’d like to find out more about Byte Night and how it supports Action for Children, why not take a look at the official website?

Here’s a taste of some of the fundraising activities we’ve got coming up:

Three Peaks Challenge: During September several of the Coull team will be digging out their maps, compasses and supportive footwear to tackle three mountains in 24 hours. Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon all need to be scaled and driven between in the allotted time.

Aden Forshaw Charity Shop Fortnight: July will see our esteemed CTO Aden Forshaw, well known for his sartorial elegance, leave his brogues, pastel shirts and tasteful chinos at home, instead dressing in a selection of charity shop clothing for the duration of this challenge. Aden hasn’t been seen in jeans and a t-shirt since mid-2005, and the level of intrigue to see what ‘casual Aden’ looks like has already generated generous pledges towards Byte Night.

Summer Bake-off: Last Christmas saw many of us take part in a seasonal bake-off, with a smorgasbord of tasty treats tantalising the tastebuds of the Coull team. During July we’re bringing tasty back, with the sale of all items going towards Byte Night. This event has previously created a fractious atmosphere at Coull HQ, with serious disagreements over rating methodologies. We’re hoping the philanthropic nature of this round will make it a better-natured affair.

Mario Kart Tournament: If there’s one thing guaranteed to get cash out of Coull employee pockets it’s the promise of being crowned Mario Kart Champion 2014. With over 6,000 races in the Nintendo Wii statbank this promises to be a high-quality tournament that will be taken very, very seriously.

If you would like to donate to Byte Night and support our fundraising activities you can do so via our fundraising page.

We’ll be sharing photo and video updates of all the activities as they happen on our Facebook page. So like us if you want to stay up to date.

Thanks for your support and let the games begin!

Posted by simonholliday in Coull news

Programmatic is Problematic

At a roundtable event hosted by Coull at the Parcel Yard, Kings Cross last week, a stellar panel of industry experts got to grips with the topic of programmatic advertising, with a particular focus on video. The general theme that ran throughout was shaped by Coull CEO Irfon Watkins’ opening line: “Programmatic is problematic.”

This thought was echoed by the rest of the panel, which also included: Adam Hopkinson, Commercial Director, Ziff Davis; Paul Hood, Director of Digital, Archant; Toby Dawson, Head of Publisher Partnerships, Google DoubleClick for Publishers; Steve Chester, Head of Data and Programmatic, IAB; Andy Oakes, Publisher, The Drum; Ben Humphry, Head of Demand EMEA, Coull; Ronan Shields, Reporter, ExchangeWire; Andy McCormick, Editorial Director, 12Ahead; Mindi Chahal, Reporter, Marketing Week.

The panel recognised the challenges that programmatic advertising, a technology still in its infancy, gives the different players in the ad tech economy. However, there was also optimism about how those challenges can be overcome, and the potential to start realizing the increased efficiencies and ROI the technology promises.


A few of the key takeaways

Adam Hopkinson on the challenges of integrating a programmatic solution:

“For us the value is in time saving. If we have things that are done genuinely programmatic – by that I mean automatic buying, that will save an awful lot of time. When we get there that’s great, but we’re nowhere near there at the minute. It’s not a value add for us. It’s a cost, if anything. We’ll get there eventually but we’re not there yet.“

Irfon Watkins on using content-level data to make advertising more effective:

“Programmatic/RTB without relevant, valuable data is like closing your eyes and throwing things at a dart board… but a bit faster. Data is the key. Our job as ad tech companies is to do a better job of exposing and indexing that. Unless we can separate out quality video content everyone is going to be buying blind and the price is going to go down. How long was the video watched for? What was it about? Did they engage? That’s the data that’s needed, in order to inform the ad buyer and to be able to drive the prices up for a publisher.“

Paul Hood on understanding the value of audiences:

“We’re working hard to understand the value of our audience. I don’t think programmatic, in isolation, can really work that context out. I think it’s going to be a case of programmatic platforms meeting with publishers and this human bit in the middle trying to figure out how you attribute proper value to those audiences.“

Steve Chester on the importance placed on programmatic by agencies:

“According to the IPA, 90% of all display is controlled by agencies and agencies have an inherent investment in programmatic. If you’re not investing in programmatic to respond to that, are you losing out on up to 90% of potential spend and therefore writing yourself out of plans? There is no doubt that native and branded content offers a massive opportunity, particularly to publishers that have a loyal audience and really understand content. Agencies don’t have that heritage. But if you’re selling display ads and you don’t have a programmatic solution, are you then cutting yourself out? It’s a possibility.”

The discussion clearly highlighted the fact that regardless of the part we play in the digital ad industry, there’s work to be done to make integrations simpler, to establish common guidelines and to work together to use data to expose the true value of publisher inventory and ensure the cream rises to the top so that premium eCPMs can be realized by digital publishers and campaigns are executed effectively for advertisers.

We followed up the roundtable with a beer and cider tasting session with the irrepressible Jane Peyton of the School of Booze. If either the great discussion or the free booze and cheese tickle your fancy and you’d like to be involved at our next Coull roundtable event, get in touch here!

Thank you to all who participated. We’re excited about the next one.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment

Have a Mary Berry Christmas

This month the Coull team have donned their aprons and whipped out their whisks for the Christmas Bake Off. After a heavenly few weeks of sugar and carb overdoses we have counted the scores and are able to present to you our winner!

Bake Off King

Mat’s Utterly Nutterly Caramel Sponge completely won us over and so he has been crowned the 2013 Bake Off King!

But just to prove that the rest of us can bake, here are our runner ups.

2nd Place

Not only did my Tiramisu land second place, it received top marks for ‘taste’ too. A combination of coffee, liqueur and chocolate was always going to win over the hearts of the Coull team.

3rd place

Lisa’s Chocolate Orange Cupcakes got the top mark for ‘looks’ – who doesn’t like a bit of Christmas sparkle?

4th place

A tried and tested family classic, Sam’s Berry Pavalova had our taste buds jumping for joy, despite the zany appearance.

5th place

Kev’s plum and almond tart – enough said.

There were 12 other bakes; many delicious, and some questionable, but all get top marks for effort. (Unless you used ready-rolled pastry…)

Posted by simonholliday in Coull news