13 Questions For 2013 In The World Of Online Advertising

questionsCross-posted at my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

For the past few years, I’ve offered predictions here and on The New Persuaders for what’s likely to come in the next year. I viewed them more as an agenda for what to watch for in the next 12 months than as firm predictions.

But it was too easy sometimes to state the obvious so they’d end up right by year-end. So this year, I’m going to shake it up and throw out a few questions instead. I think I know the answers to some of them, but if many won’t be answered definitively by year-end, they remain top of mind for me and probably for many others in online media and advertising.

So in this, the first full week of the new year, here are some questions to which I hope to start finding answers (and if you’ve got ‘em, sound off in the comments below!):

* Will image advertising finally take off online? I have to believe that as people spend more and more time online instead of reading print publications and watching TV, brand marketers will want and need to reach them there with ads that are aimed at creating consideration for later purchases, not just eliciting an immediate sale like Google’s search ads and too many banner ads. We’re already starting to see signs of such advertising with the early success of Facebook’s Sponsored StoriesTwitter’s Promoted Tweets, and YouTube’s TrueView ads–not to mention the explosion of tablets, which provide a lean-back experience more compatible with image advertising. This won’t be a sudden change, since brand marketers and agencies don’t move quickly, but you can’t tell me there aren’t going to be increasingly compelling ways for brands to influence people online.

* Will native ads reach broad scale? Well, perhaps they will on platforms such as Facebook and–well, Facebook–that already reach hundreds of millions of people. Sponsored Stories clearly have gotten some traction, even on mobile devices. But marketers and agencies won’t create multiple versions of campaigns to serve every new ad format that publishers claim work better than banner ads. Which brings up a related question:

* Will any standards emerge around the social gestures that most of these native ads embody? That’s really the only thing that will ensure that marketers can reach scale across many sites. That wouldn’t be in the interest of big companies such as Facebook and Google, which benefit from proprietary ad formats that can reach their huge audiences. But standards, whether it’s banners of a particular size or ad networks, create a more liquid market that helps hundreds of publishers survive as they provide marketers scalable opportunities to reach big audiences. So are there atomic units of social gestures that could carry brand messages across multiple native ad formats without destroying the appeal of native formats? Maybe there’s a technological fix for this, but it’s clear that a lot more needs to be done.

* Will the long-predicted shakeout in ad tech companies finally happen? It didn’t really occur last year despite a few middling-big acquisitions by Oracle, Salesforce.com, and Google. This year, perhaps new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer will corral a few to try to recharge the company’s ad business. Google, Adobe, and IBM have built out “stacks” of ad tech, but no doubt they can each fill out their offerings. Then there’s Facebook, whose ad exchange is likely to need fleshing out. But even if they each write checks for a few three-letter acronym startups apiece, don’t call it a shakeout. Given the rapid evolution of advertising technologies, and the reality that using data to refine advertising is still in its infancy, it’s a good bet that more companies will still be created than disappear. That should keep the Lumascape as crowded as ever.

* Can advertisers and publishers make ads more personal without scaring people? That’s the $64 billion question, and it likely won’t get answered in full this year. It’s easy for headline-hungry politicians to make a big deal out of Facebook’s latest privacy gaffe or the Wall Street Journal’s or the New York Times’ latest scare story about an ad that followed somebody all over the Web. That’s especially so since Facebook really does push the privacy envelope too far at times, and too many advertisers idiotically chase one more sales conversion at the cost of scaring off hundreds of others or inviting onerous legislation. But making ads more useful to each individual person is not only crucial to online commerce, it’s potentially better for most consumers as well–seriously, I don’t need to see another ad for a fitness center or a new credit card, but that ad for Camper van Beethoven’s new CD had me in a split-second. The answer lies in these two words, everyone: transparency and choice.

* Will mobile advertising work? Well, some of it already does, to hear Google and Facebook tell it. And while those already devalued digital dimes so far turn to pennies when it comes to ads on smartphones and tablets, this still feels more like growing pains than a crisis in online advertising. Sure, the screens are small and people don’t like to be interrupted in their mobile cocoons. So a different kind of advertising is probably needed–clearly, banners don’t cut it on a four-inch screen. But the value to advertisers of knowing your location and maybe the apps you’re using, coupled with knowledge of what your friends like–all with permission, of course–is huge. That permission may be really tough to earn. But if advertisers can offer tangible value, perhaps in the form of useful services related to what you’re doing or looking for or shopping for–and isn’t that the ultimate native ad?–people may loosen their hold on that information.

* Can Larry Page keep Google relevant in the social media age? So far, the no-longer-new CEO has at least kept Google’s mainstream ad business humming. Page has outlasted a year or so of missteps, missed opportunities, antitrust investigations, and bum vocal chords, and arguably emerged with a company that’s leaner, more focused, and more potent than ever. Not only does the recent antitrust victory appear to leave it free to compete unimpeded, but Android is doing better than ever even vs. a very strong Apple ecosystem and Google is about to emerge as a powerhouse in the other half of online advertising: display ads, whether on the desktop or on mobile devices. Page’s big challenge looms as big as ever, though: Can Google play in the social Web vs. Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and more? I don’t know, but this may be the year Page has to provide a more definitive answer.

* Will TV and Web video ads finally come together on Connected TVs, tablets, or other devices? Sure, at some point. Video is video no matter where it runs, and while personal computer users bristle at pre-roll video ads, I’m betting viewers are more amenable to various kinds of ads when they view video on Internet-connected TVs or tablets. And even on PCs, YouTube’s TrueView ads, which you can skip after a few seconds, have proven successful to the tune of several billion dollars last year. Traditional TV advertising will continue to thrive thanks to unassailable economics of the cable-content cabal. But given extensive work by Nielsen, comScore, and others to provide metrics that can extend across TV and the Web, the latter may finally get some serious coin from brand marketers–if not this year, pretty soon thereafter. Especially if Apple works its magic on the television.

* Will Facebook really tick us off with a new feature or privacy “improvement”? Is Mark Zuckerberg CEO of Facebook? Nonetheless, Facebook’s well-worn playbook of pushing beyond social comfort levels, then pulling back just a bit, means we’ll probably see privacy norms get stretched once again.

* Will Apple ever make a real splash in advertising? Don’t bet your iPad on it. I think even the post-Steve Jobs Apple still views ads the way a lot of Silicon Valley still does (mostly in error): ineffective, inelegant, and crass. Apple itself can make great ads, but selling them is an entirely different matter.

* Will Amazon make a real splash in advertising? Oh yeah. All the pieces are in place, from a huge shopping-focused audience to a nearly bulletproof technology infrastructure. Again, it won’t set the world on fire this year, but we’re likely to see the smoke.

* Will Marissa Mayer turn around Yahoo? Not this year. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to see signs of a real turn for the first time in about five CEOs. But the real turnaround will take years–if Yahoo’s board has the patience. That’s still an iffy bet worth about as much as a share of Yahoo stock.

* Will I ever figure out the appeal of Reddit and BuzzFeed? Gosh, I hope so. I get that these guys attract massive traffic, but neither site does much for me. Reddit, in particular, seems so random that I guess it must be the channel-surfing of today’s generation, only with somewhat more worthwhile nuggets. But for pete’s sake, there’s so much noise for the signal you get, and even the most popular noise can be many hours, days, or even months old. Go ahead, call me a geezer who doesn’t get it. You wouldn’t be the first, and maybe you’re right. So I will continue to click over to them until I see the light, my brain explodes, or the next phenom looks more worth wasting my remaining years on.

I have a lot more questions, but I’ve got to stop before too much of 2013 is gone.

About these ads

Here Are The Top 20 Ads You Actually Chose To Watch On YouTube This Year

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

 

A big reason YouTube has been on a roll lately, due to hit $3.6 billion in gross sales this year, is its TrueView ads that advertisers pay for only if people view them at least 30 seconds. At least 65% of ads inside videos use this format now.

So what did people choose to watch this year? YouTube this morning revealed the top 20 most popular ads of 2012. The YouTube Ads Leaderboard was chosen based on what the Google video unit thinks are the most potent signals of viewer choice – the ad’s number of views, how much of it people chose to watch, and the percentage of non-ad views, with all of the ads here eliciting at least as many “organic” views as paid.

What’s most striking about the ads, which range from repurposed TV ads to spots created just for YouTube, is the popularity of the longer-form commercials. Many of the top ads are five minutes long or more.

The message: Create an ad that’s good enough, and the supposed short attention span of online viewers vanishes.

Here’s the complete list, with links for easy viewing:

1. Nike “My Time Is Now
13. Old Spice “Old Spice | Blown Mind
14. Old Spice “Old Spice | Bounce
19. Old Spice “Old Spice | Bed
20. Old Spice “Old Spice | Vending Machine

The Mythical iTV: Steve Jobs’ Marketing Magic Is Still Alive And Well At Apple

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Image representing Steve Jobs as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

Another day, another rumor that an Apple television may be coming.

Another recycled rumor, in fact. The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that China’s Foxconn, a major Apple supplier, is helping Apple test some prototypes for a large-screen television set. That follows similar (OK, identical) rumors a couple of days ago, last August, last May, and last December saying that Apple was enlisting Chinese suppliers to create an Apple TV set.

No surprise here, given that Apple CEO Tim Cook managed to stoke the fires of speculation last week by saying the company has “intense interest” in television. Of course, Cook himself said the very same thing last May, too.

So don’t hold your breath for an Apple TV that goes beyond the current Apple TV hockey puck. Even longtime Apple television forecaster Gene Munster at Piper Jaffray now says it won’t come before next November. And even then, it’s debatable how important a product it will be, since it’s widely assumed that Apple can’t add much to the current TV experience without deals to get access to live TV shows, or at least win the right to revamp the TV user interface to encompass the full range of pay-TV and Internet content available today. And those deals are nowhere in sight just yet.

But the new flurries of interest in the mythical machine point up something that should reassure Apple investors, at least: Apple cofounder Steve Jobs’ famous marketing magic is still at work at the company more than a year after his death.

Some investors have been worried about whether Cook, by all accounts an ace operations guy but not a showman like Jobs (as no one else really is, honestly), can keep Apple’s brand as blindingly shiny as it has been for so many years now. It’s time to give Cook credit for faithfully following Jobs’ playbook: Let fans wax on about how desirable a new Apple product will be, building demand to a fever pitch so that whatever comes out is guaranteed to get unparalleled attention. Indeed, a recent survey says they’re already willing to pay considerably more for an Apple TV–whatever it turns out to be.

No, Cook doesn’t yet deserve to be considered a master marketer like Jobs. But he’s off to a pretty good start.

Sorry, But Tim Cook Didn’t Just Announce An Apple TV Set

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Apple CEO Tim Cook doesn’t do many interviews, so it’s understandable why not one but two “exclusive” interviews this week excited plenty of interest among fans curious to know where one of the world’s most valuable companies is going next. In particular, a lot of people picked up on Cook’s comment to NBC’s Brian Willams in an interview airing tonight that television is now an “area of intense interest.”

Sound familiar? It should. Back in May at the AllThingsD D10 conference, he said television is “an intense area of interest to us.” In other words, nearly seven months later, he’s saying precisely the same thing, and no more.

That’s not the only reason to avoid getting hot and bothered about a possible Apple television. An Apple TV set presents a thorny problem for Apple, one that still has no obvious answers.

Some TV people in the know whom I’ve talked to recently say that Apple is indeed working on a television. However, it’s clear that Apple could easily have produced a television by now if Cook and his team felt that they could offer one that would provide a different, compelling enough experience to command a typical Apple premium price. Apple already makes the Apple TV streaming device, it sells monitors, adding a TV tuner would be easy, its iTunes Store and software would be a much better interface for finding TV shows, and it has developed a number of technologies in the past year or so that make it easy to shuttle video from iPads, iPhones, and Macs to a TV screen.

The fact that they still haven’t come out with a TV set is a clear sign that they haven’t cracked it, despite the late Steve Jobs’ crowing before he died that he had done just that. Indeed, many other people in the TV and tech industries can’t see why Apple would sell anything close to a television set, because it fits so poorly with Apple’s business model, its cost structure, the increasingly mobile trajectory of its product line, and even the layout of its retail stores.

In any case, an Apple TV set isn’t coming soon. Gene Munster, the Piper Jaffray analyst who has been predicting an Apple television since 2009, now says it won’t come out before November 2013–that’s right, almost a year from now.

The main problem is this: Unlike the other industries Apple has disrupted, in particular music and wireless communications, the TV business isn’t broken. TV studios and pay-TV operators are doing just fine, thank you. They have no intention of letting Apple into their henhouse, even if Apple is willing to pay the many billions of dollars it would take to get access to live TV content.

Lately, the betting seems to be on Apple making a settop box that would meld live TV for existing pay-TV subscribers with iTunes content under a more intuitive user interface, but it seems that the TV powers that be are wary even of that small step. So it’s tough to see how Apple can offer much unique in a TV set.

The only thing we know for sure is that whatever Apple comes out with in the TV realm, it won’t be what many people are expecting–because many people are expecting and hoping that TV will revolutionize the medium. Viewer demand and Apple innovation notwithstanding, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Would You Buy An Apple Television?

AppleTV interface includes video, music, photo...

Apple TV interface includes video, music, photographs, and other Internet content (Photo: Wikipedia)

I’ve been intrigued lately by the idea of Apple making a TV. Not that Apple TV streaming-media hockey puck that Apple still calls a “hobby,” but a real television set. It’s something that every Apple fan, investor, and analyst seems to be expecting, or at least hoping for, because, well, who else is better positioned to fix the mess that is television programming today than Apple?

But what do people really want in a next-generation television? I’m hoping I can get some guidance from you–meaning real people who might buy the thing. So I’ve got a few short questions for anybody’s who’s interested:

* Would you buy an Apple television?

* If so, why? What would you like to see it do that current HDTVs don’t have?

* More specifically, is there anything that annoys you about the way television viewing works today? The current cable TV packages, program guides, remote controls, lack of current shows available online, anything else?

Feel free to comment here, of course, but I’d be especially interested in a brief conversation by phone or email with anyone who has an idea of what they’d like to see in an Apple television. So if you don’t mind spending a few minutes on the phone this week, email me at robert.hof@gmail.com with contact info and I’ll get in touch. Thanks!

Can’t Get Enough of Gangnam Style? Check Out AdTech Style

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Geeks love to insert themselves into the zeitgeist as much as anyone, and tech-inflected parodies of popular songs have become a staple of Silicon Valley folks who–let’s face it–struggle to live normal lives while working around the clock.

No surprise that they’re particularly popular in the arcane world of advertising technology firms, which have the additional problem that nobody knows what the heck they do. So today, we have a parody video of–what else?–Gangnam Style.

This time, ad tech leader BlueKai did up a pretty good marketing ploy parody based on South Korean singer PSY’s runaway YouTube hit. Most of it still appears to be in Korean, so I can’t vouch for whether the PSY stand-in is mouthing the words that appear in English subtitles. But the signature opening line clearly subs in “Oppan ad tech style,” and from there you have to depend on the subtitles to get the very inside jokes.

Amid shots of people dancing in server farms and bland Silicon Valley offices, plus cameos by ad tech figures such as Luma Partners’ Terry Kawaja, the video pokes fun at the industry’s infamous acronym epidemic. “Activate… with the DMP! … Optimize, verify, and inform those buys! … HEEEEEY, Sexy data!”

Like I said, it’s inside stuff, so half of you might be amused and the other half won’t know what on Earth they’re talking about. But it’s ad tech, so what else is new? And who thinks Gangnam Style‘s popularity was based on humdrum things like words?

Actually, this isn’t even the first Gangnam Style parody from Silicon Valley. A couple of months ago, there was a startup-oriented one starring a bunch of Valley entrepreneurial luminaries. Watch that one, and you don’t need to watch any more of Bravo’s lamentable Start-Ups: Silicon Valley reality show.

Mobile Ad Spending Doubles in 2012′s First Half

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Mobile ads drove a 14% rise in online advertising revenues, to $17 billion, in the first half of 2012, according to a report out this morning from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

According to the IAB’s latest half-year report (full pdf here), mobile ad revenue jumped 95%, to $1.2 billion, or or 7% of total online ad revenues. That’s up from 4% a year ago. The reason is fairly obvious, and something every company from Facebook to Google is struggling with: People are increasingly accessing online service through smartphones and tablets, thanks to the popularity of the iPhone, the iPad, and Android devices, and advertisers are following them there.

The 14% rise pales next to a 23% rise a year ago, though the IAB attributes last year’s jump to a recovery from the recession. Online ad spending continues to far outpace overall advertising spending, which rose less than 1%, according to both Nielsen and Kantar Media. Television remains the one relatively bright spot in traditional media, though its growth also remains far behind digital. Cable saw a 4% increase, to $10.9 billion, and broadcast rose 3.3%, to $11.1 billion.

Performance-based ads, those seeking to elicit an immediate purchase or other action, remain dominant, and even gained ground over more brand-oriented ads. Chief among these ads are search ads, which despite their 48% share of overall online ad revenues continued to gain as a category in the first half, rising 19% to reach $8.1 billion. That means search giant Google, which reports its third-quarter earnings a week from today, still reigns supreme in online ads.

Display ads rose only 4%, to $5.6 billion, reducing its share of overall online ads from 36% to 33%. Although the IAB didn’t mention it, no doubt part of the relatively slow growth is due to the rise of more efficient (that is, lower-priced) banner ads placed via real-time bidding through ad exchanges.

“Brand dollars are moving online, but at a slightly slower pace than the last two half-year reports,” Sherrill Mane, the IAB’s senior VP research analytics and measurement, said in a conference call this morning. That’s a problem, indeed perhaps evidence of a problem, for companies such as Facebook that are depending on brand marketers moving television and magazine ads online. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Google: Here’s How Well Mobile Ads Can Work

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

The big rap on mobile advertising from marketers is that all they get is a tiny piece of a tiny screen to tell their stories–nothing like TV spots, print ads, or even Web banner ads. That’s one reason spending on mobile ads remains so small that it’s worrying investors in every online company from Google to Facebook to the New York Times, all of whose audiences are using their services more and more via mobile phones and tablets.

The other reason the year of the mobile ad always seems to get pushed out to next year? Marketers aren’t sure how to measure their impact. Measure only clicks on the buy button, without tracking how mobile ads lead customers to physical stores as they surely do, and it doesn’t look like many mobile ads pencil out as well as Web ads. It’s no wonder that a new survey out this morning by the Chief Marketing Officer Council shows only 14% of CMOs are satisfied with their mobile efforts, and 43% definitely aren’t.

Google, for one, is pushing hard to change this situation, especially since both these concerns have emerged front and center among marketers in the six months since Google launched its Mobile Playbook intended to help brands do more effective mobile marketing. With a new update to its own mobile marketing vehicle announced this morning, Google is aiming to answer those concerns using a raft of real-world examples.

First, several examples of mobile campaigns illustrate that the main problem isn’t lack of screen space, but lack of imagination by marketers. “Mobile is a great canvas for brand-building,” says Jason Spero, Google’s head of global mobile sales and strategy. “It’s going to produce some of the greatest campaigns in digital. But it’s shocking how far behind the [consumer] consensus the broad base of companies are.”

But some are managing to use the distinctive features of mobile devices to vault ahead of that laggard pack. Google points to several award-winning mobile campaigns from this year’s Cannes Lions Festival that showcases creative advertising. They look nothing like standard banner ads and, for better or worse, nothing like the “native” ads that are nearly hidden inside the news feeds of Facebook and Twitter.

That General Motors ad at the top, for instance, was a Game Time app that blatantly hijacked people’s attention from the game itself and, as the video says, “distracted them from watching our competitors’ ads.” Other mobile ads by Korean retailer eMart, Brazilian financial services firm Bradesco, Toyota, and others used smartphones’ cameras, touchscreens, GPS location data, and accelerometers to provide experiences not possible on the desktop, from back-seat driving games to QR codes that provide deals only at noon local time to attract lunchtime shoppers.

Second, Google’s calling out examples of how to measure the impact of mobile campaigns beyond the click, which may have even less meaning on mobile phones than on the Web. Adidas, for instance, with its agency partner iProspect, determined that including the real value of a click on a store locator button, which it had identified from store data, proved that mobile ads were paying off in in-store sales. “Mobile is driving behavior in the real world,” says Spero, and cases such as Adidas’ are starting to prove it.

Google To Steal Facebook’s Display Ad Lead in 2012–A Year Early

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

After seeing Facebook vault into the lead in U.S. display-ad revenues last year, Google will take the top spot this year, according to a new forecast from market researcher eMarketer.

The search giant’s display revenues in 2012 will jump almost 39%, to $2.31 billion, while Facebook’s will rise 24% to $1.73 billion and Yahoo’s revenues barely budge to hit $1.39 billion. Overall, display ad revenues will rise almost 22% this year, to about $15 billion, thanks to Google’s and Facebook’s growth, the continuing explosion in ad inventory thanks in part to mobile advertising, and more spending on video ads, especially on YouTube.

But that number is down a bit from eMarketer’s previous forecast because of lower display ad prices on ad networks and continuing wariness by big brands to up their display spend significantly. Google and Facebook combined will account for nearly 30% of display ad revenues this year, rising to 37% in 2014.

What’s more, according to eMarketer, Google will lengthen its lead in the next couple of years in these banner, video, and social ads that are the mainstay of most commercial websites, reaching $4.4 billion in 2014 to Facebook’s $3.2 billion and a moribund Yahoo’s $1.5 billion. Microsoft and AOL also will continue to see relatively flat revenues.

What’s going on here? For one, Google’s display-ad engine has begun to rev, thanks to its YouTube video site, its mobile ads, and its DoubleClick ad-buying and ad exchange business. At the same time, Facebook has seen its growth slow recently, raising questions in the minds of investors about the effectiveness of its social ads and its relative lack of mobile ads. Earlier this year, eMarketer had forecast that Google wouldn’t capture the display lead until next year. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Cease Fire! Google Debuts YouTube App For Apple’s iPhone–With Ads

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

So much for that thermonuclear war.

When Apple removed its YouTube app from its App Store last month, a lot of folks assumed it was one more battleground in an escalating war between it and Google. That seemed like the wrong narrative at the time, and today, it appears there wasn’t much to the supposed skirmish after all. Google has just introduced its own YouTube app for Apple’s iOS devices, specifically the iPhone and the iPod Touch. It’s available in the App Store this morning.

That means that the YouTube app, the previous version of which was created by Apple, no longer will be a default app on the devices, so people will have to manually install it. But given how popular YouTube is, millions of people no doubt will. And the upside is that the app is faster, has features such as an easier guide to channels, and allows you to share videos more easily on Facebook, Google+, and elsewhere.

Most of all, you can now watch tens of thousands more videos, in particular music videos like Taylor Swift’s above. That’s because the new app, unlike the old one, can run ads. The inability to run ads on the old one was a reason many content providers didn’t let them be viewed on the app.

More to the point for Google, this means it can now earn some serious coin from mobile visitors. That’s crucial as mobile devices become the default way people are reaching content on the Web. Google says a quarter of YouTube views, more than a billion a day, are from mobile devices.

There’s no iPad app yet, which seems like a serious shortcoming. Google says it will have one in “coming months,” but obviously sooner would be better, especially with the iPad Mini due out by next month.

Of course, Google and Apple have plenty else to fight about, from patents to mobile operating systems. So don’t expect to see Larry and Tim hugging onstage or anything. But they won’t be fighting over this particular issue anymore.

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