Archive for the ‘Ad Serving’ Category

Hey direct marketers – guess what – you have an attribution problem. You may not realize it yet, but if you are running campaigns in multiple digital marketing channels like search, display, affiliate marketing, and comparison shopping engines, you are double  counting some conversions (sometimes triple counting), over crediting certain channels and under crediting others. Your model needs a fixin.

Attribution reporting tools have been on the market for several years now, but are potentially the most underutilized tools by agencies and advertisers today. In part this is due to the complex nature of the planning involved in making the data actionable – in other words planning to go from attribution reporting to media mix modeling based on the analysis. On the other hand, digital media planners and agencies have been working to the bone and have very little time to innovate and discover new and better ways to work and service their clients.

So when Hollis Thomases from ClickZ reached out to me for input on this important topic, I was more than happy to help. It’s a topic I am quite passionate about. I think she put together a great article that highlights the issue.

Under-utilizing great marketing technology is nothing new. As an industry we have a history of under-utilizing the capabilities of the marketing technologies that are at our fingertips. I’ll never forget when Doubleclick wanted to shut down their Boomerang product, the very first retargeting technology on the market. Our agency was one of a small handful using it, and although circa 2000 it was tough to scale retargeting programs, we managed to run some of the first successful programs for large portfolio companies like Cendant. Fast forward to today. Retargeting has not only become one of the most popular forms of behavioral / data-based targeting, but an entire retargeting industry has sprouted up in the last couple of years.

Granted, there are hundreds of marketing technologies and capabilities pitched to agencies on a regular basis. It’s hard to find the time to vet them all. But we do work in DIGITAL media and and it is important to  be on the lookout for tools and systems that can help provide bottom line impact for clients and agencies. Embrace marketing technologies in particular that help create efficiency in workflow,  accuracy in analytics, and provide better experiences to consumers.

I’d love to hear about any new marketing technology tools that you find useful.


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42-15529728File Under “It’s About Freakin’ Time”! Thank you IAB for taking a step towards automating one of the mundane tasks that should not exist in our industry any longer!Hopefully it is not a witch hunt to try and pin discrepancies on the 3rd party ad servers, which has been the case for many years.

Inefficiencies from manual trafficking, reconciliation and discrepancy res0lution has been plaguing agencies and publishers since the introduction of the 3rd part ad serving system in the mid-to-late 90’s. There has never been a credible way to identify the causes of most ad serving discrepancies. Agencies blame publishers, and publishers blame the 3rd party ad serving systems that the agencies employ. This dance has evolved – discrepancies narrowed, but the saga does indeed continue.

As a long time agency guy, I stand by agencies’ (and clients’) need to reconcile media costs based on the  numbers that are tracked and analyzed. To this day there exists an industry “accepted” discrepancy between publisher and agency ad server stats (contractually up to 10%, although it has come dropped over the years), which causes undue manual labor in dealing with the  investigation and reconciliation process, not to mention a general tension at times between buyer and seller. A technological solution was inevitable, but had to come from the sell side. Since publisher numbers have always a bit higher, due to the server calls occurring a fraction of a second earlier than that of the 3rd party ad server (and other issues), the onus has been on the IAB (ultimately a publisher-interest focused organization) to work with the ad servers to develop and fund an industry level reconciliation system. The agencies (aka the ones holding the bags of client budgets) demand that publishers honor the 3rd party ad server numbers, and there is little motivation to fund the development of an automated system to help publishers reconcile. Agencies look at centralized, apples-to-apples, campaign-level stats and that’s all that matters – in fact, that’s all that should matter. The 3rd party ad server is the backbone to a significant amount of  insight generation and campaign optimization. Publishers should (and hopefuly do) recognize that this tool has actually helped to increase the size of the ecosystem over the years.

The IAB’s Impression Exchange Solution will “allow publishers to receive automated 3rd party delivery reports on a daily basis that enable easy integration with publisher systems for comparison with their line items.” This will essentially make it easy (and eventually automate) comparison of log files for each ad served in order to discover mismatched impressions and determine where in the server to server communication and ad deliver process the measurement broke down.

Of course I understand publishers’ perspectives that they are getting shorted or have to over-deliver to ensure that the agencies’ 3rd party ad servers are tracking fullfilled campaign levels. So which numbers are accurate? Well, in a perfect world there would be little to no discrepancy, and hopefully we will move towards that world.

As for which numbers are right, it depends on your definition of right. If you’re an agency or client the definition is simple. If it is not tracked by the centralized ad server, it never happened…or… whatever is not counted doesn’t count.

“I track therefore I am”.

dartmobileIn a move that will surely help to further propel mobile display advertising, OMD, Omnicom’s media buying agency, has officially become the first [influential] agency to mandate that mobile publishers accept 3rd party ad serving tags and bill off of the 3rd party numbers.

Can I get an “amen!”

Mobile 3rd party ad serving is still in its infancy. But it’s moves like this, albeit potentially a bit premature for mandates from what I am hearing about discrepancies between 3rd party and publisher ad servers, that will help force the market to move forward.

Controlling the serving and tracking of campaigns has been part of agencies’ DNA for years now. 3rd party ad serving becoming the standard for mobile is inevitable. Doubleclick and others have been experimenting with mobile ad serving for several years now, but the mobile display ecosystem never seemed quite ripe enough for major roll outs (I guess).

Let’s recap why agencies (and advertisers) use 3rd party ad servers:

– To have immediate access to and glean insight from robust metrics not provided by, nor prioritized by publishers

– To measure all placements on an apples to apples basis and to provide an audit

– To gain more control over creative changes

Since next year has been the year for mobile marketing for at least the last three years, we are at the cusp of finally seeing this prophecy come to fruition. Of course SMS and app marketing are revelling in all their post tipping point glory. If OMD’s move is indicative of where the other major agencies are heading, display, and video are right behind them.

video_iconI could not agree more that the industry needs a new video standard. Amen to that. I interact with enough senior agency folks to know that we all want a new standard. So I’m not quite sure how the new effort from Publicis’ VivaKi launched without the collective support and participation of any of the other holding companies. To that I say “Really? You couldn’t rally the support from any of the other agencies?”. That in and of itself could possibly put a damper on things. VivaKi managed to incorporate participation from some of the industry’s top online video publishers (AOL, Broadband Enterprises, CBS, Discovery, Hulu, Microsoft, and Yahoo, and a handful of VivaKi clients who will be testing new permutations of video units throughout the year with the intention of rolling out what VivaKi hopes to dub as a new standard by year end (thus allowing enough time for publishers to package it with the 2010 up-fronts). Of course, VivaKi clients will then have first  dibs on the new units.

Although in my humble opinion, the partial collaboration doesn’t wreak of a process that standards will emerge from, it should shake things up a bit, and I’m glad to see someone doing it (albeit I would have rather seen a collective of active agencies pool their collective thoughts together on this versus just VivaKi).

I’ve been preaching this for at least 3 years now. The online video model should focus on harnessing some of the unique attributes of digital media. Currently it replicates the TV model. I’m hoping to see the new formats include all of the following:

From the consumer’s perspective:

– Interactivity & Interoperability: Video as an experience not solely a message

– Relevancy: Improve the segmentation of content and the ability for consumers to find specific video via improved search functionality and recommendation engines

From the industry’s perspective:

– Interactivity: marketers need the ability to engage the consumer and provide the necessary depth of experience consumers have become accustomed to online

– Addressability & Improved Targeting: current targeting parameters for video are pretty weak, this is a major area that needs imrovement – delivering different content and ads on the fly to specific consumer segments

– Evolution Of Ad Serving  For Video: if agencies had the ability to serve video themselves, they would have more control over on-the-fly changes and the benefit of  immediacy of data for analysis

– Portability & Syndicatability:Video content providers and publishers with a need for more video content would benefit from a standardized method for dynamically serving these new video experiences, sans the restrictions of one video player versus another

New Metrics? Not So Fast…
You’ll notice that I did not mention common or new metrics. We have a slough of metrics already, such as levels and duration of engagement, increases in branding effectiveness and DR metrics that can and should be applied based on the client’s goals. If anything, we need more data on the correlation between advertising metrics and market impact (this is true for other aspects of online media as well). For example – what is the interrelationship between engagement percentage, duration of engagement, reach and impact on influence, brand preference and purchase intent (and over time, market share)? Ultimately every marketing investment is being compared to every other option available, so we must look at the overall ability of channels, formats and options to influence the target, not just the subset of engagement (or worse yet, response)… and this must be analyzed in the context of a media mix.

The Model & The Media Mix
The media industry has come come a long way and yet we never have been able to definitely develop media mix models that are universally accepted – why? Because there is no such universality. But furthermore there is little industry-level research on the correlation between various advertising metrics and the true influence within a market. The GRP/TRP has been used as a surrogate for the inter-relationship between reach & frequency and market impact, but this metric is predicated on the replication of historical performance and has not evolved to include the unique attributes of digital media so therefore it is not a standard used online. Hence so many career marketers and traditional media folks pulling the hair out of their heads trying to figure out how to integrate the canary in the coal mine.

The Moral Of This Online Video Story
We must focus on mapping the features and requirements of online video standards to the unique attributes of the medium itself, while evolving the consumer experience. Specifically, we must provide engaging and relevant experiences with the ubiquity of text, the interoperability of functionality beyond video, the discoverability and contextual relevancy of search, and the portability of RSS, we then have a platform that has aligned with the trends of online consumer behavior. Increased consumption will follow, and advertisers will follow the light.

What do you think about the next generation of online video standards?

For years the digital media industry has been plagued by the ironic amount of paper pushing and inefficiency that should not exist in a “digital” industry. From the RFP process, to planning, to billing reconciliation, we have had an exhorbinant amount of high labor/low value work being handled by highly paid staff who we would all love to see spending their time on more strategic and valuable tasks.

The IAB has finally stepped in and just announced their proposed solution – the “E-Business Interactive Standards“, in beta (additionally the IAB released other guidelines today including guidelines for  serving into AJAX).

Admittedly creating a universal standard is a tough nut to crack, and surprisingly nobody has stepped up to the plate with universal tools to  solve this fundamental time suck of connecting buyers and sellers of digital media  electronically, I am not sure if the IAB issuing a set of guidelines and XML code is the solution, but it’s a damn good start. The tools that do exist to connect buyers and sellers are fragmented proprietary integrations into existing tools like ad servers and do not provide a universal method that makes buyers or sellers feel any efficiency. I know firsthand that agencies aren’t big fans and I’ve heard many publishers grumbling over the fact that the tools actually take longer than the manual option.

A standard must emerge. There is too much inefficiency in the paper pushing process – too much time is wasted, too many mistakes slip through the cracks.  This will be an area that I will focus on  covering throughout 2009. Stay tuned.

As Advertising Week wraps up, two things are clearer than ever. First – the data exchange business is more embraced than ever before and is alive and kicking. Second, the data exchange business has a target on its back…and the FTC is aiming right at it.

Cookies are good, data is good, relevancy is good. Lack of disclosure is bad! In fact, last week at OMMA, Eileen Harrington, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection for the FTC said the FTC and legislators are not satisfied with the level of information provided by the industry. In fact her actual words ere “They haven’t been forthcoming much at all in any meaningful way.” I have to ask, is that true, or do the FTC and legislators just not understand? Apparently giving consumers access to an easy global opt-out mechanism via the Network Advertising Initiative is not enough for them.

As much as those of us in the industry know that many of the methods in which data is collected and utilized is not only harmless, but beneficial in creating relevant experiences for consumers, those outside of the industry do not seem to understand this and have perceptions of big brother following them. Of course there is plenty of private and sensitive data collected as well, and guidelines and even laws probably will be required to ensure that nobody pushes past the line of acceptability.

FTC intervention is inevitable, as calls for self regulation by the FTC do not seem to have yielded any industry collective body or effort to define and enforce self regulation. The IAB last week ceded that they do not feel that they are the body to do so. But someone has to, and soon.

In the wake of NebuAd getting shot down for working with an undisclosed number of ISP’s to collect vault-loads of consumer data, this is a real issue and expect regulation to happen one way or another.

Companies like BlueKai are hedging these steps by giving consumers access to the assumed preferences collected in their profiles through behavioral observation, which are anonymously cross referenced by ad servers via cookies. Consumers will have the ability to simply adjust their interests and preferences to help cater more relevant web experiences, or of course they can opt-out altogether.

Ad exchanges have yet to fulfill on the promise of buyer-seller connection at scale, due to the commoditized inventory running through the exchanges. The addition of or evolution into data exchanges   will certainly change that by creating more value in commodity ad inventory.  We’re seeing constant progression in the data exchange marketplace, although I’ve noticed how delicately the behavioral targeting players dance around the term “data exchange”, in light of the many microscopes aiming in their direction. Each of the big four (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL) have some type of exchange, and therefore the investments will be pursued until successful. Yahoo’s Apt rolled out this week as well, and promises to combine behavioral data with Right Media’s exchange platform to offer publishers and advertisers the ability to better address specific audience segments. I look forward to this next era of the data exchange, and hopefully a self-regulated one.

I moderated a panel at the OMMA Global conference today titled “Competing With Search”, which I thought from day 1 was an interesting title, but somewhat of a misnomer for any conversation relating to digital media. I knew then that this would make for an interesting panel and hoped for some different perspectives and opinions (after all, what fun is a panel when everyone just agrees on everything).

The official description was:

Search advertising continues to attract 40% of today’s online ad budgets, and some projections have search growth continuing to outpace display spending over the next decade. Plus, the direct response model seems to have affected the success metrics applied to all campaigns. How do publishers-armed with a portfolio of display, email, video and sponsorships compete with almighty search for budgets that increasingly demand ROI? How are publishers making the case with clients to maintain or grow their non-search budgets. Is video proving to be a hedge against budgets moving to search? Can a content provider create unique packages that complement or replace parts of a search spending strategy? How can sales teams create compelling display and direct response programs that complement and enhance existing search spends? And how can the sites themselves use search engines to increase the value of their own inventory to clients?

I’ll pull out a few interesting sound bites from the panel…

  • The panel agreed that it’s not about “competing with search” for web publishers, but rather maximizing the value of an audience and packaging advertising in a way that maximizes monetization
  • The last-ad attribution model is broken and unfairly credits search for the entire influence chain rather than the activation of it. Multiple attribution protocol needs to emerge as the standard and is emerging far too slowly. Agencies and marketers need more education about these things.
  • The impression doesn’t mean anything – the value of the impression matters. Applied data helps increase the value of the impression.
  • Video can create emotionally compelling consumer experiences, but successfully adding video to a website requires good content, which requires a real investment.
  • MySpace is apparently so big that Jason Oberfest calls a site with 10 – 20 million unique users “mid-sized” (for the record 10 – 20 million uniques is still quite big, it’s just not MySpace big)
  • Scale matters when it comes to addressability, segmentation and the maximization of profitability for publishers

Ok, no revelations made, but the air was cleared for many in the room. I directed the audience to check out Atlas’ Engagement Mapping demo, and also mentioned Doubleclick’s Multiple Attribution Protocol, neither of which are perfect sciences, both of which are far better than the last ad standard and help to more accurate apply credit to advertising influence.