Coull Quickie – October 2015

In October’s Coull Quickie Elise reveals some industry stats, talks header bidding, cross-screen monetisation and that elephant in the room – ad blocking.

Watch it all here.

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The limitations of current Viewable Ad Technologies

The limitations of current Viewable Ad Technologies

Viewable video advertising is a huge topic in the digital ad industry. This is because of the struggle to come up with a consistent way to deliver and measure 100% ad viewability.

There’s a discrepancy within the industry as to what the term ‘viewable’ actually means. There’s yet to be an agreed metric that tells both supply and demand if an ad unit is in view. And if it was in view, for how long?

There are multiple tech partners measuring viewability within the ecosystem, but no one method is the same. Whilst advertisers value the length of time and full resolution of an ad, publishers are less likely to value that metric in the same way. The IAB has their own standards but, to cut a long story short, there’s no consensus here. An industry-wide viewability measurement system is the loch ness monster of ad tech. If it does exist, it’s lurking below the surface, waiting to be discovered but so far, evading us all.

The marketplace has the ability to sell viewable impressions, but there’s a lack of efficiency on the sell-side that limits publisher yield. Advertisers are unlikely to pay for an impression that’s not deemed viewable by their own measurement standards. At the moment it’s a one-sided solution and we need a consistent algorithm if the benefits are to be equally spread. We can’t lump all of this terminology together and expect a ‘one size fits all’ metric. But we can get smarter about how we measure.

The requirements for viewable standards

The IAB and MRC have established minimum viable requirements for viewable advertising.

According to the IAB and MRC online viewable ad impressions guidelines:

As a baseline, it’s simple to appreciate the in-view measure aims to be an objective, qualitative, measure that simply answers the following questions:

  • Was the ad served?

  • Did it appear in-view?

  • Was there an opportunity for the user of the device to see it?

While these are the very basic guidelines for digital advertising, the metrics differ between ad formats:

  • For in-page display advertising, there must be 50%+ pixels in view for more than 1 second.

  • For video advertising, there must be 50%+ pixels in view for 2+ seconds.

The problem with current measurement

These seemingly basic standards are difficult to measure because browsers load content differently. In addition to this, many ad tech vendors are working to their own measurement of these standards. This means each vendor’s results will be different, affect expected CPMs and create mistrust.

Some vendors will assume certain domains are viewable and others aren’t depending on the historical data of those domains. But domain content changes regularly and ads vary widely, so this method can be very inaccurate. So while industry players are trying to address these issues, we’re not accelerating to true ‘viewability’ very quickly and we could be disadvantaging a lot of publishers.

Coull pre-bid viewability technology

To give our demand partners the very best opportunity to engage with their customers we developed Coull’s pre-bid viewability technology. Of course, the first step along that road to viewability that everyone seems to be moonwalking towards, is very simply for the ad to be seen in compliance for the minimum standards.

What we’ve developed is the ability to detect where the ad unit is on the page before it’s served, in other words, pre-bid viewability. This enables advertisers to decide what inventory to purchase based on whether their ad would likely be in view. We have the ability to run viewability tech that combines historical viewability and pre-bid viewability data. This tech is tested across different browsers to try and mitigate the lack of consistency, as well and give the best potential for efficiency and ROI success across campaigns.

For media companies, the ability to sell inventory that shows a high level of viewability delivery and opportunity to see means an increase in the value of that inventory in the market.

The biggest advantage of using this viewability technology is that it minimizes wasted ad spend, giving demand partners real-time data to help them make the best buying decision.

Coull provides viewability analysis using both page geometry and browser optimization and the tech is available through the Coull Video Ad Exchange which is in beta phase right now; due for full release before the end of the year.

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The Perpetual Flaws of Digital Advertising

Ads clutter the internet. I work for an advertising technology company and I’m not afraid to say this to you, potential clients, existing clients, industry colleagues. It’s the truth and it’s important to recognize the big problem in our industry right now. Ads!

One of the biggest threats to the digital advertising industry surrounds misconceptions about advertising and poor campaign execution. The perceived arbitrary nature surrounding ad serving arises because of poorly delivered campaigns, poorly designed creative and the manner in which we exchange remnant inventory. Format too is a huge factor in influencing attitudes toward online advertising. The idea that banner ads are intrusive comes about from a neglect in banner creative, perpetrating invasive campaigns, and filling pages with irrelevant ads. However, poor performance often comes down to the enabling of completely unseen ad impressions. The same goes for other ad formats that are being traded irresponsibly, either without viewability or fraud standards, or simply served to the point of saturation. It’s these very things that give consumers a valid reason to choose to use ad blockers.

Always remember your customer and prioritise their experience

image via

beer ad.png         Samsung ad.png

It’s the obstructive, invasive, visually and audibly loud, data sucking ads that have stippled the industry with a ghastly reputation. Rising from the ashes of that reputation can seem a futile undertaking, but premium publishers and ad tech companies are doing what they can to clear the debris, and improve the ecosystem.

Programmatic entered the game and rather quickly became the norm for buying digital inventory. But not without some serious flaws caused by such automatic functions as matching brand to keyword rather than context (as can be seen in the above examples), poor reporting models, lackluster standards for providing transparent ad request information, and many other inefficiencies.

The advertising model, while oftentimes not ideal, is crucial for businesses, and is helpful for audiences. In fact, professionally designed creative and well strategized advertising can be awesome. But when low quality, non IAB compliant formats are traded programmatically and sold to publishers who don’t much care how they appear, or sent to invalid/fraudulent publisher sites – the whole thing falls apart. Industry bodies have taken a back seat for too long. They need to do more to regulate both the quality and viewability of ad formats.

Why not just block the ads?

Ad blocking has been around for years but has only now become an issue of contention due to the nature of how it’s being used. Blocking ads only halts the flow of revenue for media providers and smaller creatives who can’t afford to implement paywalls, it doesn’t solve the problem. It should come as no surprise that audiences are choosing to install ad blockers, though while this ‘apparently’ gives audiences more choice, it gives publishers none. And in terms of economic sustainability, this makes no sense.

Ad blockers play havoc with the democracy of digital content. Instead of destroying the digital media economy, we should demand more of advertisers by only allowing quality ad formats, of an acceptable and compliant nature to be traded in our marketplace. Publishers too, should be required to provide more transparency as to the inventory they are selling. Following the release of iOS 9 which enabled ad blockers to be downloaded and installed on Apple iPhone, a leading ad block application Peace, had a change of heart, disabling its service after just 36 hours and refunding customers. Why? Because ad blockers are unfair on digital media publishers trying to survive.

If the ‘solution’ of ad blocking were applied to the film or music industry, there would be no doubt of content piracy. You cannot simply take someone else’s work without paying for it. Simple. Companies like Israel’s mobile ad blocking startup Shine, believe they’re doing nothing wrong – but they are facilitating the distribution of other people’s content without obliging the recipient to pay. That’s what The Oxford Dictionary would term as stealing. Their definition is of course:

Take (another person’s property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it.

Yes, it’s stealing!

Just because the content is not technically being reproduced (though there is an argument that downloading is a form of reproducing – see Ad blocking panel discussion from ATS London via Exchange Wiredoes not mean it’s not being stolen. It’s still being made available, to a huge number of consumers – free of charge, without the permission of the publisher. Get a grip!

The industry needs to take responsibility

Audiences have spoken out by the million about their objection to the quality of ads, by downloading ad blockers. In the US 41% of 18-29 year olds use an ad blocker (Secret Media). There is plenty of room to further improve existing ad formats, and new formats are patented every day, giving publishers and audiences more choice. It’s not up to us, the industry and everyone involved in it to make this happen for our audiences and our clients.

So how exactly do we improve digital advertising so that it can be a viable format of monetising inventory is growing media companies. Check out 5 ways to improve digital advertising now.

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The misconceptions and realities of pre-roll advertising

When it comes to online video advertising, pre-roll has copped its fair share of flack over the past decade or more. And that’s not to say it didn’t have some of those sticks and stones. But as one of nascent video advertising formats, pre-roll served its purpose, and continues to be one of the most heavily traded ad formats in digital. So why do audiences hate it so much? Do they simply tolerate pre-roll, or is there more value than meets the eye?

Here are some misconceptions about the format, and some realities:

Misconception:  Audiences hate pre-roll and will skip every time

Reality: Pre-roll is an ad format not unlike a regular television ad slot and this means audiences are already familiar with the conventions. They know what a pre-roll looks like, how to control their experience and what the transition to content will be like. Audiences complete pre-roll ads 79% of the time when viewing on desktop, 45% of the time on mobile phone and 55% of the time on tablet devices (according to TubeMogul) based on impressions served in the US*. Just as with boring, irrelevant or distasteful television ads, audiences can be put off. But as with entertaining, useful and relevant or emotive ads, audiences can be drawn in. So really, completion rates can come down to the creative as much as the ad format.

M: Audiences don’t recall pre-roll messages

R: Pre-roll advertising is particularly successful for identifying intent to purchase and creating brand awareness. With mobile now playing a huge role in the way we consume media and the way we shop, we need to look more holistically at how formats perform. For example, standard pre-roll creates around 24% brand uplift but when combined with mobile that figure improves to 28%. This combination also affects completion rates, which stand at just 19% with standard pre-roll but climb to 31% when combined with mobile. (TubeMogul Insights:Mobile)

There are different kinds of pre-roll ad formats available but we know that rich media formats allowing audience interaction, are much more engaging. Pre-roll is not a one size fits all digital advertising solution. If you want it to work for your brand, you must apply it to the appropriate campaign and address creative, data, relevancy and player size. Considering day parts and device type is also important when analysing how users engage. If you want a direct sell ad format, pre-roll probably isn’t the right channel, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its place.

M: Pre-roll can be jarring for audiences

R: Pre-roll is a video ad format that doesn’t disrupt the conventions of video. The ad is viewed within the video player either before / during / or after a piece of content. But pre-roll requires more than simply re-purposing of a TV ad.  There needs to be a consideration of length of video, and due to player sizes, the creative as well as the resolution of the final product needs to be high quality. Pre-roll can be jarring, but it has the potential to be seamless and evocative as well.

M: Pre-roll is boring

R: There is room for creativity and engagement but it is up to the brand to invest money in ensuring the quality of ad meets the audience’s expectation. There is a mixture of sound, images and high definition video that enhances the quality of the viewing experience. Brands also need to consider the platform in which the audience might be viewing the ad. This could be part of a social media feed, or it could be within part of a publisher’s website. This all affects how the viewer responds and if they accept the ad as a natural part of the medium, or if they find it intrusive. When a viewer is actively watching your pre-roll, your are not competing for their attention, you have it and it’s up to you to make that 5-30 seconds an experience they’ll remember, and with favour rather than regret.

M: Pre-roll ads are random

R: Brands and advertisers are buying against the data of the piece of content so there is the ability to highly target audiences of that content and create a contextual advertising experience.

Pre-roll can be traded directly or through the RTB programmatic exchange. Pre-roll video inventory is very valuable, especially when sold with pre-bid validation data and targetable data surrounding content categorisation, geography etc. But as with the aforementioned creative, if the sale and distribution methods aren’t considered with audience, platform and device in mind, the ads can be random, campaigns diluted and performance disastrous.

M: Pre-roll will never work on mobile

R: While pre-roll completion rates on desktop are much higher than that on mobile, campaigns with a mixture of standard pre-roll and mobile pre-roll dramatically increases campaign completion rates*. Viewability is also naturally very good on mobile, as the format is designed to be full screen and therefore both completion rates and viewability on iPhone, Android and tablet are positive and constantly improving. Having said that – when it comes to skippable pre-roll, tablet devices have the highest completion rate over phone and desktop with desktop performing worst of the three.

M: Pre-roll is long – I want to get to the content already!

R: It’s true, some pre-roll is woefully long and often boring, however there is plenty of high quality pre-roll, especially on mobile that is anywhere from 7-10 sec, 11-14 sec and 15 sec upwards. The shorter the pre-roll the higher the completion rates, and that’s true across all devices. So while there is long pre-roll, there is also short, and short can be just as powerful. Longer formats have the chance to convert if they engage and tell a story using combinations of ethos/pathos/logos. The long and short of it is still, quality, engaging, relevant content wins, in publishing, and in advertising.

While TV broadcasters can boast 30-second ad spots, the digital world competes with a different set of standards, the rules that govern the living room box, do not govern the digital one. In the world of pre-roll, advertisers have less than 5 seconds to not only grab the attention of their audience, but to ensure the right kind of attention is harnessed to generate a response. The best response being that the audience does absolutely nothing for 15 sec. (This is what the IAB considers the optimum length of a pre-roll ad).

How can we improve pre-roll?

Even though live and on demand OTT have made their way successfully to digital, the medium of television and online is not the same. The platforms in which people watch content is very different to traditional broadcast and therefore traditional broadcast ad formats are not congruent with digital. There’s no need to sugarcoat poor performance brought about by poor planning. Pre-roll has the potential to be an engaging ad format, it has the potential for immense creativity from brands, but it has the potential to fail time and time again, if advertisers take the easy road of cutting down their TV first ads, dismissing the focus needed in digital creative and delivery.

One of the earliest memories of an effective pre-roll ad spot was adapted from a television commercial. But in this ad, Cadbury present the theatrical, the funny and the emotional and tie in up in neat purple bow.

The Phil Collins ‘Cadbury Gorilla Ad’ is in my opinion – the original and the best. I had to move this clip into a second window while researching for this post so I could watch it at the same time as I was writing about it – it’s that kind of ad. Not only do you not want to hit skip, you don’t want to miss it – you’ll replay just to see that suited up jungle swinger hitting the high hat.

This original video was viewed almost 500,000 times during its first week of release in August 2007 and to date, this video alone has been viewed over 8bn times.

Flight Centre Australia ask their audience, ‘what if this one time you didn’t press skip?’

Burger King recognise that guys don’t particularly care for watching an ad before the hilarious video content their mate has shared with them, and they are able to play on this to create a watchable pre-roll ad campaign.

These three ads are examples of how brands have used important elements to creative successful, memorable and impactful ads, including:

  • Emotion
  • Relevancy
  • Length
  • Audience targeting via data

As competition for online inventory heats up, brands need to step up and create audience first, creative ad campaigns that address the spaces in the market. For brands to convert online, they need to be prepared to offer a campaign that is delivered across platforms, utilizing different formats to achieve reach, viewability, completion, message recall and ultimately ROI.

*It should be noted that skippable pre-roll completions are considerably lower than standard pre-roll ads according to Tube Mogul’s terminology and report with desktop skippable pre-roll registering only 12% completion compared with the 79% standard pre-roll completion.
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Next mobile video advertising standard will be a game changer

Standards are not known for being a rousing area of industry discussion, but that does not mean they aren’t critical to a functioning ad tech ecosystem.

Each standard’s release adds more oil to video advertising’s engine, ensuring it is running smoothly and firing on all cylinders. The usual incremental adjustments that we have accepted as the norm will take a back seat when a new version of the IAB’s mobile advertising standard gets the go-ahead.

Instead of the baby steps usually seen in standards point releases, the next release of Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface Definitions (MRAID), a specification that clarifies interoperability between publishers’ mobile apps, ad servers and media platforms, will be more akin to a low-gravity lunar leap. Display advertising’s founding fathers in the nineties would never have dreamed up the type of data that today’s marketers are set to access through MRAID 3.0.

IAB future-proofs MRAID

Although there is no official word from the IAB that the 3.0 release of MRAID is imminent, references about what the ad industry can expect were made in 2.0’s public comment document. Buried in the PDF is copy describing future capabilities of the MRAID API. The IAB would like to see the advertising SDK queried for smartphone features such as an accelerometer, compass and GPS.

Besides the above trio of inputs, Apple’s latest mobile device, the iPhone 6, also boasts a barometer, three-axis gyro, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor and biometric fingerprint sensor. These are only the tip of the iceberg as Japanese semiconductor firm ROHM offers a UV sensor and there is talk of air quality sensors too.

Of course, there will be concerns about privacy. Consumers will need to be educated about the sort of information advertisers can use. There will be no personally identifiable information. All the data recorded by sensors will be used to deliver ads to the right person at the right time. In order to receive subscription-free content and services, a value exchange must occur, and new data sources will be a powerful tool to ensure consumers receive more relevant and engaging ads.

Sensors and the engagement evolution

(image via techradar)

Biometric sensors will present brands with a unique opportunity, thanks to the rise of premium wearables. Temperature and heart rate, for example, can be used to improve the whole advertising experience for consumers. Imagine if you could measure how much an ad increases a viewer’s heart rate!

Ad-blocking software is becoming more pervasive. Eventually, only more engaging and relevant experiences will have any hope of cutting through. The data gained from biometric sensors may be part of the solution.

Allowing video advertisers access to sensory feedback in mobile devices will provide an unprecedented level of information. Some companies are already ahead of the curve, pre-empting any formal standards release. Adtile, for instance, makes use of a smartphone’s various sensors to create an interactive motion experience with ads. It has examples where a user shakes their phone to create a milkshake or receives directions for the nearest coffee shop. While Adtile only offers rich display formats, it does showcase the power of these sensors.

In addition to contextual information such as content categories, brands will be able to deliver dynamic ad creative based on a rich array of data such as a consumer’s movement, altitude, or air pressure. The opportunities are further expanded when a wearable is added to the mix. Imagine an iPhone ad that culls data from an attached Apple Watch on heart rate and recent exercise to deliver video ads around the health category.

In the not too distant future, video advertisers will benefit from the contextual information provided by a burgeoning array of sensors that each new generation of smartphone brings. Different formats, whether that is pre-roll, in-banner, in-stream or in-app interstitial, will deliver so many advertising possibilities, once the communication between mobile sensors and advertising creative is standardised. With all this data, will the inevitable release of MRAID 3 be the first step towards video advertising sentience?

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The scarcity illusion and opportunity of premium video ad inventory

The demand for premium video ad inventory is higher than ever, and it’s only increasing. Brands know what “premium” means to them: ads are viewable, served on quality publisher sites that have meaningful and brand-safe content, not on fraudulent or counterfeit sites. The difficulty comes when buyers try and execute a campaign at scale, as it’s easy to disregard anything other than the inventory sources they have a long relationship with.

This leads to the illusion of scarcity, and herein lies the challenge and opportunity with premium video ad inventory.

Buyers believe there is a finite supply of premium video – via direct deals, programmatic, or otherwise, and if they stick to the media-buying manual of the last fifty years, they’re right. Buying against heritage media mastheads and global publisher names will restrict access to scale. However, by examining the DNA of what has traditionally been held up as ‘premium’ inventory, then applying those criteria as a filter to the enormous volume of new media platforms for video content, perhaps it might be possible to solve the well-publicized lack of inventory in the market.

The DNA of premium video inventory

‘Premium’ really is just a byword for quality. Advertisers want access to a certain quality of inventory, and quality is defined at its most basic level by the characteristics that have formed the ad tech zeitgeist of the last year or so – e.g. is inventory viewable, brand-safe, human and on the domain it claims to be?

Because advertisers know the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, etc., they can visit the site and see their pre-roll in action, and see they’re paying for a valid opportunity to reach their audience.  Advertisers trust that issues of viewability, fraud and brand safety will be minimized. These high-profile pubs also have great editorial, first-party data and attractive audience demographics, adding to the value of their ad inventory. It’s a compelling package.

Unfortunately, the demand for this quality video ad inventory has far outstripped the available supply. This has led to moves by some vendors such as Teads and Rubicon Project to create new expandable or ‘out-of-stream’ ad units that don’t rely on editorial video assets. These innovative solutions increase the total video ad inventory available on those high-profile pubs, but are subject to a ceiling when it comes to scale. After all, there are only so many video ads you can inject into a text article.

Technology replaces the masthead in the digital age

If creating new ad opportunities within the domains and platforms that are considered premium isn’t going to solve the inventory problem, we need an alternative solution.

The scale advertisers so desperately need to execute their campaigns is out there, but the video consumption that drives it is distributed. Let’s look at comScore’s top video sites, which are changing rapidly. Brands may actually find that an emerging video property such as Young Hollywood, NDN, Perform or AnyClip offers more than enough inventory, reach and targeting to meet the needs of brands.

The biggest hurdle to clear is that these new media properties haven’t built up the cachet of their traditional forebears with years of relationship building and business behind them. This understandably makes advertisers nervous about inventory quality. The trouble is that the media landscape moves too fast for one to one relationship building to keep up.

Technology can replace trust. The genetic markers of quality inventory aren’t found halfway down the wine list in an expensive restaurant, they’re tangible metrics that can be measured dynamically.  Extending the supply of ‘premium’, or quality, video inventory means using technology to validate inventory sources against viewability, ad fraud and brand safety metrics.

Media buyers want quality and scale but for too long have been forced to decide between the two. Bring technology to bear on the fragmented, distributed video inventory landscape and that needn’t remain the case.

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