Is the impression—the longtime currency of online advertising—on its way out?
It could be. Three major advertising/media trade organizations, IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau), the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) and the 4A’s (American Association of Advertising Agencies), have announced a new initiative aimed at simplifying online ad measurement and metrics. The groups have hired management consulting firm Bain & Company and the strategic advisory firm MediaLink to help with the effort. And everything is on the table, including possibly ditching the impression as a currency.
The new initiative, Making Measurement Make Sense—announced at the IAB’s Annual Meeting in La Quinta, Calif.—won’t necessarily have a lot of teeth. But the three groups are hoping their efforts carry enough influence to enact serious change in the online ad industry, which continues to struggle to pull in its fair share of brand advertising, according to many prominent executives.
What the effort will entail is still unclear. During a press briefing, leaders from each of the three groups spoke in vague but grandiose terms.
According to Sherrill Mane, the IAB’s svp of industry services, the goal of the initiative is “to change everything we do when we transact digital media." Why? “To make it more brand hospitable.”
The group acknowledged that digital media is still not hospitable enough to brands. Digital buyers are faced with half a dozen sources when planning campaigns, including Nielsen, comScore, Quantcast and Compete. Different sites and ad networks sell using varied definitions of ad impressions. Video is even more muddled and disorganized.
“The supply chain is messy and ineffective,” said Mane.
Yet these industry groups won’t have a lot of authority, other than issuing guidelines or a whitepaper that they hope will guide brands, vendors and ad buyers. But Mane and her counterparts said that this issue has major momentum, particularly the support of the industry’s leaders.
“This is about getting agencies, publishers [on board] with what is best for the industry,” said Bob Liodice, president and CEO of the ANA, who predicted the group would produce some sort of results in six to eight months. “This is a standard setting exercise.”
Added 4A's evp Mike Donahue: ”This is not about being reflective. This is about being actionable.”
As we’ve written on our blogs before, new technologies are profoundly improving display advertising. In the last few years, there’s been a technological Big Bang, creating new ways to buy display ads across the web: exchanges involving real time bidding, demand side platforms, improved ad networks and more.
These technologies are enabling marketers to seize the digital moment and run far more effective campaigns, but just as the universe changed dramatically following the Big Bang, the digital buying marketplace has changed forever, requiring some new “laws.”
The three laws of display advertising physics
1. The Theory of Relativity: What’s better, a demand side platform, or an ad network? It depends
Our clients often ask us if they should use our DSP (Invite Media), or our network (the Google Display Network), especially as the distinction between the two platforms blurs. We often answer with an analogy from the world of stock investing (it’s not perfect, but it’s a first step). The first question is whether to buy and sell yourself, or engage someone else to manage your portfolio:
- The online broker model: For buyers looking to manage the details of their ad buying and use their own technology and data, a DSP like Invite Media is often the best option. This is similar to an online broker that lets you log in and closely manage your investments (and, as with Invite Media, get access to special trading features, market intelligence and expert advice).
Both platforms enable access to huge pools of ad space, deliver the same types of ad formats and facilitate similar ways of targeting ads. Again, it’s like buying stocks—whether you choose an online broker or stockbroker, you can select from thousands of types of stocks, markets and investment products.
- The stockbroker model: Some marketers have a desired campaign result (such as a target reach for a new car campaign, or a number of conversions for a sporting tickets campaign). They want to outsource the details and have a customized, transparent media solution designed for their campaign. The Google Display Network most often fits this bill—it’s like having a stock broker manage your portfolio to meet your investment goals.
2. Fusion Theory: Why contextual and audience buying release more energy when combined
Some have suggested that audience buying (delivering ads based on users’ interests) and contextual advertising (targeting ads to content) is an either/or proposition. However, we believe it’s the combination of the two that is most powerful.
- With effective contextual advertising, you can get the maximum reach while delivering your message in highly relevant locations—like news articles related to your products—in the precise moment a person indicates interest. Contextual advertising is vital to building brand awareness and reaching new prospects at relevant moments.
Marketers combining these types of buying can reach a broad range of people, then hone their messages to particularly good prospects to maximize the impact of their campaigns. We’ve seen that this approach drives better campaign performance; third party studies back it up.
- Audience buying—such as remarketing—enables marketers to reach people who have already shown an interest in a particular topic or brand. This is especially effective for re-engaging consumers.
3. The Law of Perpetual Motion: Why marketers should embrace a rapidly moving industry
Display advertising is in a state of constant motion, caused by the acceleration of online media consumption and the explosion in new technologies.
- Advances in computer science are driving changes in advertising. To illustrate: creativity has always been at the heart of good display advertising. But look at what’s become widely used by marketers in just the last few years—rich media technology, new mobile and video formats and dynamic creative technology that can take a creative ad concept and automatically bring it to life over millions of websites.
- The industry is literally moving faster as media buyers start to increase their use of real-time bidding (RTB) technology, which allows them to evaluate and bid on ad space on an impression-by-impression basis. We recently undertook an industry study with Digiday, surveying more than 300 digital media buyers, agencies and intermediaries about their thoughts on RTB in the year ahead. Some revealing findings:We’re seeing this rapid growth and change first-hand. Since we acquired Invite Media in June 2010, the number of advertisers on the platform has doubled; agency spend has grown by almost 300%. And spending on display ads on the Google Display Network is growing more than 100% annually in a large number of countries. Publishers are benefiting from these changes as well (for example, a recent study found that publishers who participated in the DoubleClick Ad Exchange see an average 188% revenue lift when the exchange wins the auction).
- 88% of buyers plan to buy via RTB in 2011, up from 75% last year.
- 47% of media buyers say that the benefits or RTB will increase their overall digital advertising budget this year (16% said it would not, 37% were unsure).
- Spending on RTB is quickly moving out of the "test budget" range: 79% of buyers estimate that more than 10% of their digital display budgets will go to RTB in 2011. 33% estimate that 50% or more of their digital display budget will go to RTB. And 7% estimate 90-100% of their digital display budget will go to RTB.
- 29% of media intermediaries (such as DSPs, ad networks, and exchanges) anticipate their volume of real-time bidding will increase by 100% or more versus last year. 19% believe it will go up by at least 200%.
- More formats are moving to RTB: 34% of buyers say they are extremely or very likely to purchase rich media ads via RTB this year, 32% are extremely or very likely to purchase dynamic creative ads via RTB, 20% are extremely or very likely to purchase mobile display ads via RTB, 18% are extremely or very likely to purchase in-stream video via RTB and 14% are extremely or very likely to purchase mobile rich media via RTB.
- Nearly half (48%) of publishers surveyed say they plan to increase the amount of inventory they will make available via RTB. 28% are still deciding. Only 24% said they were not planning to increase RTB inventory.
In this new era, the most effective campaigns will be driven by marketers who rethink how they connect with people in this rapidly moving industry. Whether it means partnering with technology providers to buy better, or exploring the infinite possibilities of today’s creative units, embracing new media and technology provides a key way for marketers to differentiate and grow their businesses in a new universe.
Unlike the Big Bang, the expansion in our industry is not chaotic or random. We’re moving towards a single platform that seamlessly incorporates the best technologies for planning, buying, serving, creating and measuring display ads; one that will enable marketers to effectively reach and engage people across desktops, tablets, videos, mobile devices and TVs.
Posted by Neal Mohan, Vice President of Product Management
Your Digital Fingerprint
Companies are developing digital fingerprint technology to identify how we use our computers, mobile devices and TV set-top boxes.
Online ad firm Vibrant was able to build a healthy ad business by delivering contextually relevant text ads when users mouse over specific words within news articles and other content on the Web. Now, the company wants to bring the same contextual relevance to display ads.
Vibrant has rolled out VIA Dynamic, a display ad product that takes into account the subject matter of a particular Web page when deciding which creative placement to serve at a given moment. According to Vibrant, VIA Dynamic can instantly assess a Web page’s content using a combination of semantic analysis, word frequency, demographic information and other factors—and it can then serve whatever creative placement is deemed most appropriate.
MLS is a 100-year old institution that expertly aggregates and houses most, if not all, of real estate’s most critical data. Today, our data is currently being leveraged, sourced, scraped, licensed and syndicated by a grand assortment of players, partners and members. It’s being utilized in ways never imagined just a decade ago. Or, for that matter, six months ago.
The result: a plethora of competitive, strategic, financial and security-based issues have surfaced that challenge every MLS, as well every single one of our members/customers.
I think about this all the time. During my recent visit with my son KB – a college junior – he told me about how Google recently came to his campus offering everyone free email, voice mail, Docs (to replace MS Office) and data storage – an impressive list of free services for all.
I asked him why this publically traded company would give away its products for free. Despite his soaring IQ and studies in information systems technology, he couldn’t come up with an answer.
Searching Google on my laptop I presented KB with the following Google customer email (September, 2009) that read: “We wanted to let you know about some important changes … in a few weeks, documents, spreadsheets and presentations that have been explicitly published outside your organization and are linked to or from a public website will be crawled and indexed, which means they can appear in search results you see on Google.com and other search engines.” Note: once data is available on Google searches, their business model calls for selling advertising around that search result.
Bear in mind this refers to published docs and not those labeled as private – a setting within Google Docs that of which not all users are aware.
I also presented him with the specific EULA (End-User Licensing Agreement) language that states how a user grants a “perpetual, irrevocable, royalty free license to the content for certain purposes (republication, publication, adaptation, distribution), extending to the provision of syndicated services and to use such content in provision of those services.”
I recounted for KB how back in March of 2010, we learned in the national news that: “A confidential, seven-page Google Inc. “vision statement” shows the information-age giant is in a deep round of soul-searching over a basic question: How far should it go in profiting from its crown jewels—the vast trove of data it possesses about people’s activities?”
This chart above shows that nearly 85% of respondents are concerned about the practice of tracked online behavior by advertisers.
Then, a Wall Street Journal article titled “What They Know” was posted which discusses how companies are developing ‘digital fingerprint’ technology to track our use of individual computers, mobile devices and TV set-top boxes so they can sell the data to advertisers. It appears that each device broadcasts a unique identification number that computer servers recognize and, thus, can be stored in a database and later analyzed for monetization. This 3-minute video is a must-see!
By the way, they call this practice “Human Barcoding.” KB began to squirm. As we all should.
Data. Security. And real estate
So what do “innovative” data mining and monetization methods now in use by Google and others, mean to real estate – specifically the data aggregated by an MLS and then shared around the globe?
We all must first grasp what happens to listing data when it’s collected and syndicated into “the cloud”, as well as the human transaction interactions that follow from start to finish (and beyond, actually).
Second, we need to understand how business intelligence and analytics are being applied to the data generated by real estate transactions today. If there is a monetization to the data without the knowledge and permission of the rightful owner, then, potentially, agreements need to be negotiated (or renegotiated) and modified to get in step with today’s (and tomorrow’s) inevitable ways of doing business. I’m not in any way opposed to data mining per se, the issue at hand here is fair compensation for the data on which it is based.
Here’s why the latest developments regarding Google (and others) are vitally important:
- The world of leveraging digital information is changing very rapidly. As businesses push harder and deeper in their quest to monetize data, information, bits/bytes and mouse clicks, we must establish clear and informed consent on who exactly owns the data, who should control it and how it should be monetized. Protecting OUR “crown jewels”, if you will.
- What do you know about “Human Barcoding”? It’s time for industry leaders to research this new phenomenon and begin to establish the basis for an industry position as it pertains to residential real estate.
- How do we, as an industry, determine the real value of data beyond the property-centric context? As true business intelligence and data mining progress in our industry, we need “comps” to build upon to derive a valuation model.
- What exactly is the MLS’s role? Are we the “stewards” of the data (on behalf of our customers) that emanates from the property record and the subsequent transaction and electronic interactions between all the parties connected to it? How should the MLS industry confront the challenge?
We all certainly remember when the national consumer portals planted their flag(s) on this industry and, by association, MLS territory. Their rationale then was that they would help drive “eyeballs” and traffic to the inventory. Indeed they have. But, looking back, it all came with a pretty steep price tag.
For example, referral fees were subsequently replaced with advertising revenues that more often than not started chipping away at the edges of the broker’s affiliated business models (mortgage, insurance, etc). Now, as a result, the margins of the business are perilously thin from a broker’s perspective.
The roots of the MLS began as a business to facilitate a fair distribution of commissions and compensation amongst brokers. It’s safe to say, dear Toto, that we are no longer in Kansas anymore. Given the digital landscape, where value can be derived in so many unique ways, the fact that others whose motives for increasing the value of the asset are potentially suspect, it’s critical that we convene right now to assert an intellectual lead on what is happening here, or at least make the conscious decision to step aside.
I’m sure there are many other questions and reasons why this is “mission critical” to us. But what I’ve offered, with the help of several really smart folks in the industry, provides a good starting point. We welcome all industry commentators on this topic. Thanks in advance for sharing ….
John L. Heithaus Chief Marketing Officer, MRIS (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ps – a “tip of the hat” to Greg Roberston of Vendor Alley for starting us on this path after his excellent post “Inside Trulia’s Boiler Room”*. I also benefited mightily from the comments of David Charron of MRIS, Marilyn Wilson of the WAV Group and Marc Davison of 1000watt Consulting, and I extend my appreciation to them for sharing their perspectives.
* After this story ran, the You Tube video interview with a Trulia staffer was made “private” and is now inaccessible. Vendor Alley’s analysis of the video provides an excellent overview of the situation.
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