Report Card

At the start of the year I wrote a couple of predictions for 2010 in digital advertising (it was either that or try and pen a New Year’s hit record and my wordsmith-ing just isn’t up to that). I could, of course, forget about them, pretend I’d never dealt those cards and move on with this year’s predictions but you know I’ve never been one to resist pointing out my personal failings. So, did anything actually come true or should you be relying on fortune telling talents of somebody on the end of Blackpool pier in a wooden caravan for your 2011 bets?

At the start of the year I wrote a couple of predictions for 2010 in digital advertising (it was either that or try and pen a New Year’s hit record and my wordsmith-ing just isn’t up to that). I could, of course, forget about them, pretend I’d never dealt those cards and move on with this year’s predictions but ‘you know’ I’ve never been one to resist pointing out my personal failings. So, did anything actually come true or should you be relying on fortune telling talents of somebody on the end of Blackpool pier in a wooden caravan for your 2011 bets?

I think you’ll be saved the seaside trip with the first one. I don’t think I was wrong about the cookie storm, although it was more catering sized than a storm in a teacup and, unexpectedly, it was the US and not Europe that appeared to be looking closely at issues related to online tracking. The Wall Street Journal really started dunking that cookie in July with a series of articles entitled ‘The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets‘ which ran with a sub-header that spoke of ‘spying on consumers’ which is great journalist-speak but does nothing to reflect the nuances of the debate. I’ll award myself a B+ for that one.

Staring into my crystal ball I said that money will come back into digital advertising (check) and the switch to digital will continue (check).  The Rubicon Project declared ‘Digital Ad Spend Grows 47% in First Half of Year‘ in August while only this month eMarketer declared, ‘The Web Passes Newspapers in Ad Spending For First Time‘. I will only award myself a B+ for those predictions too as, really, it was a little too obvious and even faulty crystals would have come close.

I wrote several times in the year about Paywalls and I am going to say the jury is still out on them. They did rise, but that had been announced, and I think it’s too early to talk about their impact on newspapers and on advertising. Although in August, WPP’s Martin Sorrell said, ‘online paywalls are an essential part of the armoury for newspaper and magazine publishers in the digital age’ (as reported by Brand Republic).

I am going to give myself an A for references to mobile coupons in my 2010 predictions. This is one place where the tea leaves more-or-less worked well.  Admittedly, the mobile part is vague but the rise of GrouponLiving Social et al. means that couponing made a big come-back in a deal-obsessed year. We all like another 30% off, don’t we?

I am fairly certain that ‘monetizing social media’ will become a buzz (if it’s not already) but I don’t think Twitter really did come good with an advertising model (promoted Tweets anyone?). However, Facebook seems to be doing fine, thank you. Back in March, Inside Facebook predicted 2010 revenues at $1.1 billion, All Facebook suggested $1.2 billion in March and, just as Mark Zuckerberg was announced as Time’s Person of the Year, Facebook was reported as being on track to collect $2 billion in revenues in 2010, according to Bloomberg (and reported in MediaPost). Another B+ there because, I think it was another more-or-less obvious prediction.

And so to the one I really don’t know how to read. What can I say happened to mobile advertising this year? The definition of mobile changed at the start of the year when Apple officially announced the iPad. Is it a mobile device or not? What does it mean for advertising? We tried, and subsequently failed, to answer these questions in 2010.

Clearly, I was right about location based advertising becoming more prominent but only if, through use of smoke and some mirrors, I claim I was talking about the media buzz. I did see some good Foursquare location advertising on a trip to the US earlier in the year but I’m yet to see anything really take-off. Perhaps Facebook is the one to watch on this front (but, predictions are for another post). As for mobile, well Google closed their acquisition of AdMob, Apple acquired Quattro and subsequently launched iAd but have we really seen the innovation on that front yet?   One publication, telecomtv.com, announced ‘Mobile advertising at last coming of age. In the UK at least‘ at the start of December so let’s go with that as an A- shall we?

I ended last year’s predictions with some comments about data. The aforementioned Wall Street Journal series certainly brought that to the fore. Just a few days ago AFP reported Mozilla chief executive Gary Kovacs as saying,

“You can’t tell me the delivery of a piece of content is going to be that much better if you know everything about my life; it’s all about moderation.”

and with that we’ll probably end 2010 in no better place in our understanding of data use than we ended 2009. At least the debate has started on the use of declared, inferred and tracked data and behaviours and I think that debate is a good thing. I, for one, believe a properly informed debate will be a good thing for the digital ad business.

Now to make a pot of tea and see what the leaves might suggest for next year. I think, overall, I am awarding myself a B+ for my 2010 predictions. Probably, we should be thankful we came through the year unscathed which, when you think about it, isn’t a bad place to end up.

There’s an interesting year ahead for 2011 as we might finally start to see on-demand television hit the big (bigger) time in the UK, there’s a data conversation still to be had and I have to ask if the march of social can be halted (and would you want that?).  All-in, those could make for some interesting digital advertising times ahead and I’m hoping on the tram to Blackpool to see if Gypsy Jane-Anne is in and willing to look at my palm.

In the meantime, New Year will be celebrated Twitter style @curns.

Last Week in Digital Advertising #8

I am hoping that 2011 is the year television ads get more relevant and interactive In a time when the amount of time U.S. households spent watching TV and using the Internet is equal at 13 hours per week surely we are at the convergence point we all talked about so much in recent years.

Ho Ho Ho. I come with festive cheer and another Last Week in Digital Advertising. What’s that? You’d forgotten that I do this occasionally? Well, you and me both, but Santa & I got a little tipsy yesterday (you did know he comes round every Boxing Day for a sherry, didn’t you?) and he hinted I ought to remind myself how to type. So. here goes.

We started last week in digital advertising with the news that AOL had been buying again, this time it’s Pictela, who turn out ‘high definition ads’ and, apparently, strengthens AOL’s ad picth. Ads have to get more engaging and interactive so this could be a good move for AOL but I am not convinced by some of the examples yet and, really, they need to leap out of the standard sizes (expanding doesn’t cut it in my humble!).

A Digital Advertising Tipping Point (or Two)

Now the phrase “tipping point” has been over-used a little bit this week. eMarketer gained a reasonable amount of coverage for their ‘US online advertising overtakes print‘ research. All advertising in the US is up 3% while online spending up over 10%. Good news for the digital advertising industry but, the future of advertising (like almost all media) is cross-platform and I am not sure it’s that sensible to compare. When brands are available in many places and media owners will be selling cross-media, it just doesn’t really matter. Still, I pulled a cracker in celebration.

And talking of cross-platform I am hoping that 2011 is the year television ads get more relevant and interactive. In an age when the amount of time U.S. households spent watching TV and using the Internet is equal at 13 hours per week (according to a recent survey from Forrester Research) surely we are at the convergence point we all talked about so much in recent years.  In the UK, I am banking on the YouView platform to launch with the hope that we can start to see some innovations in advertising on that large screen.  In the US The Wall Street Journal reported that DirecTV will be rolling out ‘addressable ads’ in the autumn of next year. A spokesperson for Starcom Media Vest (SMG) called it ‘A Tipping Point’. Oh, that phrase again.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for DirectTV said,

This partnership with SMG will create a whole new revenue stream for DIRECTV and ensure that our viewers are being served up with ads that are relevant to their lifestyles.

The elephant (or, at this time of year, is it reindeer?) in the articles is that ‘more relevant’ advertising means better targeted using consumer information of some sort (declared or inferred, I don’t care) and the hope has to be that all the firms working in this space have worked out their privacy policies, have learnt how to communicate them and provide easy access to options for viewers.

Cloak Your Online Activities

And, as with almost every week, privacy was (still) in the industry news (I feel I could write about that each week alone). This week, Mozilla’s chief executive Gary Kovacs was also at a tipping point, ‘I fundamentally believe that the balance is tipped too far’ he said, in relation to online user tracking as he announced that Firefox will help you cloak your online activities. Honestly, don’t you think that headline sounds almost as sinister as the trackers are being portrayed to be?

I can’t knock Firefox for attempting to provide tools for users to manage their online preferences but I do hope that they also make a play to explain the fact that most tracking is anonymous; doesn’t know who or where you are; isn’t going to result in somebody knocking on your door and is ‘trying’ to help advertisers serve relevant ads to you. I am not sure it’s likely, the sentence,

“You can’t tell me the delivery of a piece of content is going to be that much better if you know everything about my life; it’s all about moderation.” [source]

suggested that nuances of the argument aren’t going to be made. It’s the ‘everything about my life’ phrase that, I think, is an exaggeration too far. Shame really.

And it is those little details that are often omitted in the discussion; little details that could impact a lot of publishers (in the most general sense of that word). Reuters have a great piece noting that today’s ‘free’ Internet is powered by ‘data collection and advertising’. Bloomberg Businessweek told us that if the US ‘Do Not Track’ ideas are adopted then ads would get dumber (but they won’t disappear) and $8 billion could be removed from publisher’s coffers. That’s $8 billion not to spend on original and creative content. AdExcahnger has an interesting look at the US policy (‘Coming to a Website Near You: More Irrelevant Advertisements‘) and points out that the industry has spent two years refining policies and creating opt-outs and the like. There is much work to do but I hope that in 2011 we can actually have a sensible discussion that isn’t based around expose articles and sinister headlines. Am I living in a Christmas fairytale land to think that might happen? I’ll ask the elves.

Pay Attention

Of course the industry needs to get its act together. Another Wall Street Journal story reported how smartphones are regularly transmitting data to third-parties for advertising and some of this seems to be without the proper notifications to users. I think some of the most sensible advice on this topic was this sentence: ‘The most important thing a user can do is pay attention to the information each app is requesting’ and we should all learn to make such information clearer to people using our products.

The mobile apps guys had better get their privacy information in order if they are to benefit from the growing mobile market for advertising. Berg Insight reported that ‘mobile advertising expenditure will correspond to 15.7% of the total digital advertising market or 3.4% of the total global ad spend for all media’ in 2015. It’s a growing mince-pie indeed.

If mobile has a growing future for advertising, it appears in-game doesn’t. At least EA Games noted this week that ‘in-game advertising in decline, microtransactions the way forward’. That will be a space to watch. I have always maintained that advertising can’t pay for everything in this world and, sometimes, people (users, our customers) are prepared to pay up-front for things. Perhaps this is an example of a market where advertising won’t be seen as so important moving forward. Is it a tipping point too?

Of course, games, TV and mobile are all be valid places for display advertising. But, the rest of the browser-based web shouldn’t be forgotten. ClickZ ran a headline this week saying, ‘The Future Belongs to Google’ and looks how well placed they are in the display advertising space. That’ll be one to watch, huh?

Now, I’m off to enjoy the rest of the bank holiday. I don’t imagine there’ll be much news this week but on Friday I am going to try and look back at my digital advertising predictions for 2010 and see how I got on. Although they were pretty safe, they might not have been too far off the mark!

Curns’ Ad Links for 24 December 2010

Curns’ Ad Links for 23 December 2010

Curns’ Ad Links for 22 December 2010

Curns’ Ad Links for 20 December 2010

Curns’ Ad Links for 9 December 2010

Curns’ Ad Links for 8 November 2010

Curns’ Ad Links for 7 October 2010

Last Week in Digital Advertising #7

And so to New York where Google predicted “mobile is going be the number one screen through which users engage with advertisers’ digital brands” That’s just one of the seven predictions that Google’s Neal Mohan and Barry Salzman are widely reported to have said at IAB’s MIXX.

Take a deep breath and breathe.

How do you begin this issue of “Last Week In Digital Advertising”? It’s actually pretty hard as we’ve been on the wrong end of the fire-hose of industry announcements, news and comment through almost every channel imaginable thanks to New York’s Advertising Week. It’s an event where everybody seems to announce something.  It would have been perfectly possible to spend the entire week reading comment about the event and not doing much else.  This week I learnt that Twitter generates 12 terabytes of data. AdWeek, I imagine, produces many times that. Still, it was probably worse if you were actually there, right?

There was a follow-up on my mention last week of BIA/Kelsey’s research claiming that one in four local ad dollars would be spent with digital – across all digital channels – in the not too distant future. mocoNews.net reported that by 2014, U.S. mobile local ad revenues will have grown to $2.02 billion in 2014 from $213 million in 2009 (sourced from that same report). So is ‘local mobile’ where the money is?  The AOP reported 60% of publishers agree that more local and ‘niche’ digital content is crucial (AOP Content & Trends Census 2010) to their success, so I guess we should stand by for launches of such content soon.

Fortunately, makers of Blackberry apps, even the local ones, can now monetise their apps nice and easily through the newly announced BlackBerry Application Platform which aims to aggregate ads from mobile networks to maximise the revenue. Looks like a very nice yield management tool for mobile app makers, don’t you think? We all know mobile is going to be big. eMarketer put that into perspective last week, reporting a ComScore report (albeit from June)  suggesting smartphone ownership across the big western European countries had grown 41% between 2009 and 2010, to 60.8 million subscribers.

About 15 million of those users were in the UK, where smartphone ownership leaped 70% between 2009 and 2010, the Internet Advertising Bureau UK (IAB UK) reported. Further, the IAB calculated that mobile access accounted for about a quarter of time spent online by UK web users in mid-2010. (Full Steam Ahead for UK Mobile Marketing)

Publishers are reacting to this, with that AOP census also reporting, “Year on year, 65% of publishers expect to increase their mobile content, whilst content delivered via apps will increase for 91% of publishers”. All of which might be helping drive Apple’s share of the mobile ad market, which Bloomberg Businessweek reported, will end the year at 21%of the market,

If much of that mobile advertising market is to be location-based then it’s reassuring for us in the business to read that the “Ad industry acts now to safeguard location marketing” as New Media Age ran with this week. It’s really the same story I’ve been noting week-in week-out here: tell users what you are doing and given them ways to opt-out. That doesn’t have to stop you explaining the advantages of sharing data. I know, you know this.

And so to New York where Google predicted “mobile is going be the number one screen through which users engage with advertisers’ digital brands” That’s just one of the seven predictions that Google’s Neal Mohan and Barry Salzman are widely reported to have said at IAB’s MIXX. You can, of course, get it from the horse’s mouth on the Google Blog.  Publishers will be happy to hear their prediction that the digital advertising business will grow to be a $50 billion industry in five years. Are those US-only numbers? Context people! It’s everything in a global business like we’re in.

Another of G’s predictions included the suggestion that 50% of campaigns will eventually include video. Video will be bought on a cost-per-view basis that Google’s been suggesting means that “the user will choose whether to watch the ad or not, and the advertiser will only pay if the user watches”. I get the bit about the advertiser only paying if the user watches the ad but I wonder if the ‘choose to view an ad’ is sustainable. I wonder what the broadcasters think? To be fair, it could be “choose to view one of a selection of advertisements” so it makes a little more sense. If you saw their presentation at Advertising Week, drop me a note for clarity.

So much video advertising is going to have an impact on broadcast television, surely.  I was pointed to an article at Lucid Commerce last week that’s looking at this from the broadcast standpoint.  Does television loose when a consumer takes some kind of action online because that action gets attributed to an online campaign (of course, the assumption here is that there is online activity running). The piece starts of with the assertion, “In general, online advertising systems are unaware of the offline advertising that is going on around them” and I think this is, generally, true but is – hopefully – built into the resulting research analysis.  It is why I was quite interested to read a piece on MediaPost that began, “Electronic Arts (EA) plans to unveil Thursday a cross-platform reporting dashboard” but then disappointed to see it only covered online, console, mobile, email and social. I had thought they’d solved the true cross-platform conundrum. To be fair, many companies are trying to solve the cross-platform problem and I am sure somebody will get there, eventually.

Understanding how often somebody sees a message from a brand across all channels is important to enable us to really understand the impact of any marketing message, so any multi-platform reporting is to be welcomed. Direct Marketing News ran a piece titled, “Why finding the optimal ad frequency is difficult” that made it clear there was plenty of work to do on that front. I’ve been listening to Spoitfy while writing this piece and, really, there’s a high frequency to some ads there that – for some reason – seems much more annoying than high frequency rotations on broadcast radio. As an aside, I discovered last week that the IAB has a Digital Audio Committee that’s probably looking at this kind of thing as I type. I hope so.

Back Google’s crystal ball. I think many of the predictions were sensible and reflective of what we are all seeing in the industry. However, the concept that by 2015 75% of ads on the web will have some kind of social element is something that’s going to take some thinking about yet. I am not disagreeing but to achieve that will take a step-shift in the use of so-called social media within all advertising. That, in turn, is something quite difficult to envisage for 2015.

Talking social, I really think we’re too early to truly understand the role it plays in marketing & advertising. There are lots of possibilities but we need more data and not the kind of reporting that suggests the impact of social is small (“Twitter’s Impact On News Traffic Is Tiny”) without any true context. Yes, I commented on that story on the site, but it’s actually not unusual. Since I began writing “Last Week In Digital Advertising” I’m reading an increasing number of industry articles that don’t have any context in their reporting. Now, I understand sometimes this is the tease to get you to buy a research company’s report but I think the reportage needs a little more rigour.

At Ad:tech London there was some discussion from the publisher side about ‘data leakage’ (which is far too complex to explain in a trivial column like this so I could mis-characterise the whole things a data theft and let people moan back at me). Good to see, then, that in New York PubMatic announced a tool allowing websites “to determine not only how many tracking tools the site itself is installing, but also how many tracking tools are being installed by advertisers without the website’s knowledge”. I’ll be watching that one with interest.

With all this tracking, as we’ve been reading for weeks, there’s a constant stream of data being collected, analysed and stored somewhere. This caused Eric Porres at iMedia Connection to ask “Is audience data more valuable than advertising inventory?” Certainly, the data could be the most valuable asset for a lot of publishers, agencies and advertisers.

OK, to end, some digital advertising facts and figures we learnt this week.  Nice to hear that by 2014 nearly 42% of online ad dollars in the U.S. will be spent on branding, compared to just 35.7% today (“Branding Grows as Online Ad Objective” via Reuters) but it doesn’t seem like big growth to me. Also in the ‘good numbers category, I saw that, through Real Time Bidding systems you can see “click-through rates improving by up to 135%, conversion rates up 150% and cost per action up 145%” (“Real Time Bidding: The Sleeper Ad Technology Growth Story” via Marketing Vox) while retargeted display ads gave a 1,046% lift in searches on brand terms within four weeks after exposure (“Retargeting Used by Marketers for Cost-Effective Brand Lift” via eMarketer). In the UK, 38.4 million folks accessed the internet during August, according to the latest data from UKOM (“UKOM Data Report: August 2010” via MediaTel Newsline) which means there’s a lot of people out there so see this ad stuff!

And so we get to the end of another week. Lots of stories not covered here, lots of companies not mentioned. Still if you fancy trying to understand the business then there’s an updated version of the digital advertising technology landscape diagram. You can get it here. And then spend a week trying to work out how it really does all fit together before coming back to read next week’s review of  this week’s advertising news.