Bursting The Bubble of Doom

Digital advertising in 2017? You’d be forgiven for thinking that any light at the end of the tunnel is an unstoppable train that’s coming to mow us all down.

Today, right on the front page of this site, in the blurb I wrote about myself, it says, “I’ve spent over 15 years helping European publishers apply rapidly changing ad technology to help manage online advertising but, as it’s the day job, it’s not all I (occasionally) write about.”

I just looked and it seems that I have not written – at least, not written here – about digital advertising since 27th August 2014. I used to write a lot more: there’s a whole category that houses past ramblings but, in spite of (or, perhaps, because of ) the constant changes in the industry I haven’t hit a keyboard on the topic in a while.

I do have a FlipBoard Magazine on the topic, which I recently noticed you can read in a browser as well as through their apps (hint, you should subscribe). I use this to post articles on digital advertising that I find most interesting and it serves as a good reference book for me. After a quick scan over some of the industry headlines from the past year and I can see why I haven’t really written anything:

  • Everyone Disgusted With Ad Industry (adcontrarian)
  • Where did the money go? Guardian buys its own ad inventory (The Guardian)
  • What media companies don’t want you to know about ad blockers (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • Banner ads are dead because your phone killed them (Recode)
  • Internet Video Views Is A 100 Percent Bullshit Metric (Gawker)

You’d be forgiven for thinking that any light at the end of the tunnel is an unstoppable train that’s coming to mow us all down. When you add this bubble of doom to the wider political landscape (“London tech and media companies may bolt in the wake of Brexit“) then you’d be forgiven for scanning LinkedIn for a whole new industry to work in.

But, on my last working day of the year, I wanted to end the year with the thought that it’s not all as the headlines portray. There are good things to come.

Unlike previous years where I gazed in into the crystal ball for you (like here and here), I am leaving it to others to interpret the tea leaves for 2017. In summary, as Coull predicts, “2016 delivered transparency, in 2017 we’ll see action emerge from insight.”

  • AI will drive the majority of programmatic innovation (ExchangeWire)
  • Marketers will return to their heartland of strategic creativity (ExchangeWire)
  • Bringing sexy creative back (Adotas)
  • Header bidding will become more accessible (Ve Interactive)

What else might change in 2017? Well, this week an AdExchanger article noted, “One thing few people seem to want to discuss publicly is that the current suite of vendors benefit from the discrepancies that plague the market.” Are we at a tipping point where standardisation means more than just everybody showing the same 728×90 banner? Let’s hope so – it’s about time.

Then, of course, there’s new ad-tech. I think there’s a lot of innovation still to come in the space yet, look at Amazon:

We have been open, transparent and in constant communication with advertisers for 10 years, if you include the managed service. We’ve been iterating and bringing more value to those advertisers. Our focus hasn’t been on making noise but on listening to advertisers and doing what’s best for them. [Source: Adexchanger]

After all this, I’m still to be convinced that next year, “Programmatic TV will come of age“. I guess only the New Year will tell. I’m looking forward to finding out.

Merry Christmas.

2011 Digital Advertising Horoscope

Transparency will be the watch word in 2011 and we’ll all be bombarded with links to opt-out screens. I trust that we’ll get better at explaining how and what, if any, data is used. I also suspect we’ll see an emergence of more data validation services.

Let’s see what our Horoscope tells us for New Year’s Day. And I don’t mean that I foresee a murder and you shouldn’t be living in Midsomer at 9pm tonight. No, this is my attempt to better my score from last year and see what’s coming up in the year ahead for digital advertising. Really, there’s not much else to do until the fireworks have stopped rattling in my ears.

Aquarius: Your Campaigns Will Be Better Targeted

I’m still placing bets on increased data usage in advertising targeting. Although highly targeted advertising placements have been around since the first digital ad technologies appeared, such sophisticated targeting was not adopted universally. It will become increasingly important and advertisers will look to target across the data spectrum to incorporate behavioural and declared data alongside localisation and social metrics. Of course, somebody will release a(nother) study to say there’s an over reliance on audience data at the expense of creativity and engagement but you don’t need to read Mystic Meg to know there’ll be an increasing flow of data in 2011. This tidal wave of data is increasingly complex to manage and nobody seems to have developed a widely adopted trading platform for audience data yet. Who will fall foul of the data regulators in 2011? Somebody will. From a publisher’s perspective this will become an area in need of attention: selling media with data, selling standalone data, buying data and guarding against data theft. Somebody needs to keep an eye on all this to and, I imagine, it’ll need more than a board and wetsuit to ride the breaking data waves. Publishers need tools to mange their data and, properly, understand the value of that data.

Pisces: You Will Wear The Cloak Of Transparency

None of this, of course, will happen without full disclosure on data use. Transparency will be the watch word in 2011 and we’ll all be bombarded with links to opt-out screens. I trust that we’ll get better at explaining how and what, if any, data is used. I also suspect we’ll see an emergence of more data validation services. Advertisers, their agencies and publishers can increasingly partner with a wide range of data suppliers across the spectrum but who, if anybody, is validating it? Just as we’ve seen the rise of Better Advertising to combat the disclosure issue, I’m sure an increasing number of parties will offer to validate your data soon. Enough people aren’t asking if the data they are using is actually accurate and, therefore, valuable.

Gemini: The Moon Is In A Customising Orbit

Last year I didn’t need to be Russell Grant to suggest that digital advertising markets will start to grow again. That growth provided confidence to publishers and media owners who will now start to look for an increasing number of ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors. In a growing market, and for large pools of display advertising inventory, standardisation is a good thing but this will be the year more-and-more publishers add something bespoke to their media kits. Unique ad-units, integrated creative and an increasing number of sponsorship opportunities will appear to combat a continued rise of bidding and trading across more standard ad placements. And that approach will cross channels with iAd leading the way with more customised, non standard deliveries to iOS users. There has been a lot of talk about Apple’s iAd platform being either game changing or not but I don’t believe we’ve even scratched the surface. Increased interaction (yes, engagement) facilitated by this platform will pave the way for a change in the way brand-building ads are developed (will we even see them or call them ads anymore? They’ll be far removed from anything we have today). This will apply cross-platform as publishers will start to offer deeper experiences on mobile and on bigger screens. In the UK, Absolute Radio have already started to show what’s possible.

Cancer: A Job In The Financial Sector Awaits

Publishers will continue to embrace trading for part of their media. We’ll see exiles from banks and energy companies, who understand the deepest complexities of traded marketplaces, take roles at both ends of the trading floor. I wonder if Lori Reid can tell us if that will lead to a bonus culture to rival the big financial institutions? Customised ad placements and a growing marketplace will put pressure on the industry to deliver another type of data: the business insight. For publishers this will be about understanding advertising performance on their properties and tying that to financial and sales data. The buy-side of the industry will continue to pursue ad performance metrics but, I imagine, will also, increasingly, analyse the return on those other ads where awareness and interaction are the measurement metrics. We’ll see ourselves learning to better mine our financial data to understand what is, and what is not, working well. And from this insight publishers will start to channel investment into both content that is proven to be working from their, and their advertising partners, perspectives and into technology, an area where they have – recently – been out gunned by network and buy-side companies.

Virgo: Your Digital Ads Will Be Everywhere

Social media will continue its rise and, maybe, Twitter will have another advertising proposition by this time next year. Coupons will remain popular, no doubt leading to big name digital businesses going on a buying spree (without the 20% off offers) pretty soon and money will be spent on crowbaring coupon offerings into the mobile world. There’ll be new places to put all these ads too. I’m sure we’re about to have a raft of technology announcements with ever more tablets, smartphones and even apps on your laptops and desktops, but the one to watch will be YouView, the internet connected digital TV platform, which will enable “if somebody gets round to it” an interactive, engaging, social television experience with a data-driven display advertising marketplace on your telly-box.

Gee, even Jonathan Cainer couldn’t have foreseen that many buzzwords in a single sentence. Of course, as with all horoscopes, these are the easier predictions. It’s the unknown that I’m most excited about. As with last year, follow @curns on Twitter to see if this is all stuff-and nonsense or if it will happen. That, or just see if I can crowbar Claire Petulengro’s name into a tweet (she’s the astrologer in The Sunday People, you know).

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.

Crystal Ball Or Tea Leaves?

I do think one key element ties location-based, real-time and social media advertising together and that is data. Advertising, especially digital advertising, has always had a great deal of data with which to work.

And so, with the bells of Big Ben still ringing in my ears (via the television, do you think I am mad enough to have ventured into central London?) I’m back to follow up on yesterday’s predictions for digital advertising in 2010. Yesterday, I suggested money will come back in a fragmented way to digital media. Thus, there’s not enough money to pay for anything and as a result paywalls rise and, I suggested, that paywalls might actually lead to a rise in CPM rates for some publishers. Is it a crystal ball or in the tea leaves? I don’t know but here’s another vision ‘or two’ for the coming year.

And I don’t see why we should change the habit of a decade and so I may as well announce that 2010 will be the year that mobile advertising will become mainstream. You know, like it did last year. And the year before. I guess you could argue that 2009 was the year mobile Apps pointed us in a direction. My humble opinion is that mobile advertising will transform its brand into ‘location based advertising’ and the world will think it’s all new. Rather like a Marathon became Snickers. All new and yet reassuringly the same.

I think you can see this mobile re-brand trend already. But location based advertising should be big sometime. The company that gets mass adoption alongside location based mobile coupons (to come good on the “I’m passing the coffee shop give me 50p of a latte” idea) will be very successful. I’ve mentioned mobile coupons a few times in 2009 and I think the value of them is yet to be properly exploited.

Look, here’s a passing bandwagon. Let’s jump on. I think real-time is an interesting trend but digital advertising has always managed to exploit the more immediate nature of its existence (in comparison to offline media) so, apart from the introduction of some new trading methods and “perhaps” some new formats, real-time won’t impact advertising. Of course, if Twitter comes up with an advertising business model I may regret that statement but I don’t think it will be the real-time nature of Twitter that will form the basis of the ad model; it will be the Twitter communication platform itself.

However, Twitter & Facebook will transform digital advertising in 2010 even more than they did in 2009. New formats and new ways of engagement will be mean the both the banner/display and the text/search models will have something new to compete against. And if I knew what that “new” thing was, I would be busy reaping my rewards from that and not writing this.

Location-based advertising alongside social media engagement (Local Social, if you will) is really an emerging feature of the media landscape. I predict growth and innovation in that space this year. I’m not convinced we’re at the point Local Social will be mainstream but I am prepared for my friends from Local Social Lab to convince me otherwise (hopefully, over a tasty brew).

I do think one key element ties location-based, real-time and social media advertising together and that is data. Advertising, especially digital advertising, has always had a great deal of data with which to work. Audience measurement, action/reaction-based metrics, opinion and behavioural data often come into play. But I think we will see the rise of user-powered data in advertising by which I mean I, as a user of digital content, will actively share information with advertisers in a more open transaction in order to receive a service. I predict we will all take more control over what data we allow to be exploited and we will be more aware of who is benefiting. We will insist on greater transparency over data sharing but also will be more aware of what data sharing is allowing us to do. The trade off between sharing and getting something in return will become clear in the next twelve months.

There are challenges with using data. The online advertising industry has surrounded itself with data (click rates, acquisition rates, impressions, views, behavioural segmentation, hits, users, sessions etc. etc.) which did not align to “old” media. As a result, the industry spends more time explaining what it is talking about than anything else. That issue need to be addressed. Then I wonder if it’s possible to have too much data? As an industry we sold ourselves on that data as “the ultimate measurable medium” but perhaps we lost our creativity, our gut instinct and a lot of money while drowning in data. And then, of course, there’s security. If I am to share data I have to trust you with it and I am not convinced anybody trusts anybody else with their personal information which, I think, is the second digital dilemma I’ve presented to you in two days.

I am going to write my story of 2009 in personal data terms in the next few days but how the system to trade data will manifest itself will, to me, be one of the interesting stories of this year.

I’ve not written about the dramatic change to television viewing because of on-demand digital viewing (you’d have to be asleep to miss that change) and I haven’t talked about how the radio industry is imploding because it can’t agree on what a sensible route to digital actually is, but regardless, I think there is another interesting year ahead.

But until I tell you how many minutes I spent in a cinema in 2009 – or something similarly riveting with data – may I wish you a very happy and prosperous new year. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter in the year as I track if any of these predictions have any validity at all.

It’s Time To Gaze Into The Future

Money will start to come back into advertising and that’ll make a lot of people feel better. However, the switch to digital advertising will continue, traditional media will remain at sea wondering what to do and how it’s all going to be paid for.

The world is awash with Christmas songs. But very few ever get around to singing about the New Year. Abba did it. And then there was that song from that Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, I’m sure it has something about it being a new year in the lyrics. I was wondering why there are so few new year songs and it occurred to me that between Christmas and the New Year everybody is busy predicting things and hasn’t the time to pen a song about how we’re all going to keep our resolutions until Tuesday.

And it is in that spirit that I am not writing a New Year’s tune but instead looking ahead to 2010 in Digital Advertising. I could, of course, have picked any topic but I thought one that I worked in might give me some credibility and, more importantly, means I can return to work on Monday morning with a plan for the year.

Let’s start with the predictable. There will be a storm in a teacup over use of cookies in Europe. And, of course, by the time everybody has agreed the technology will have moved on. Still, the industry will talk about it a lot and there’ll be pictures of biscuits (the chocolate chip variety) as the industry news sites run out of new ways to spin an old tale. Possibly a good excuse to hit the gym in January.

Almost as predictable is the second statement. Money will start to come back into advertising and that’ll make a lot of people feel better. However, the switch to digital advertising will continue, traditional media will remain at sea wondering what to do and how it’s all going to be paid for. And so-called paywalls will rise. I don’t think I need a crystal ball for this. I can smugly say that I previously said we had to stop thinking that advertising can pay for every thing; but smug is not a good way to enter into a new year so I’ll move on. A fragmented media market may be good for choice but diffused ad spending means nobody has any money to create anything. So, we as the consumer of content are going to have to start paying upfront for things.

It’s the last sentence that brings me to a digital age dilemma. If we’re going to have to start paying for content will we remain happy to consume advertising alongside it? Historically, we did in newspapers and in the cinema, for example. But we didn’t with books and don’t have our movie’s interrupted with advertising on the premium movie channels. I suspect newspapers in particular will hear a lot from users who won’t pay and download a banner style advertisement at the same time. There will be a fascinating follow-on impact for the advertising industry but I can’t read that from the cards.

As a quick aside I think there could be an interesting side story to the rise of required payments. For too long advertising rates, CPMs if you will, have been dropping and you have to believe it will come to a point where they can’t get any lower. I suspect the rise of paywalls for publishers which, if even vaguely successfully, will also force a rise in CPM rates (if the dilemma of the previous paragraph can be solved). The act of a customer paying for content proves the value of that content and suggests an engaged audience (and an audience with money). That must be an attractive place for advertisers to be.

And I think that’s enough crystal-ball gazing for today. Leave a comment if you think I’m right or wrong. Perhaps I will pen a ‘Happy New Year’ ditty while celebrating this evening or, more likely, I’ll have a glass of something sparkling and try to be in a state to finish my predictions tomorrow. One thing I can say with certainty, if I do write more tomorrow it will feature the word Twitter.

So look out for my Happy New Year tweet around midnight. So long 2009!