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.

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Marissa Speaks! CEO Mayer Lays Out Where Yahoo Needs To Go

Marissa Mayer

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer (Photo: Wikipedia)

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

It’s a quarter that probably doesn’t matter much, but Yahoo eked out a small rise in profits on slightly higher sales in its third quarter.

It’s the first full quarter since CEO Marissa Mayer joined the company, and while investors are more concerned about the future, so far they like what they see in the last quarter. Shares are rising about 3% in after-hours trading following a decline of less than 1% today, to $15.77 a share.

Yahoo’s third-quarter revenues rose 2% to $1.09 billion, earning a 35-cent profit per share. Operating income came in at $150 million. Wall Street analysts were expecting net revenues of $1.08 billion, operating income of $180 million, and GAAP earnings per share of 26 cents. Including a onetime gain from the sale of shares of China’s Alibaba, Yahoo’s EPS was $2.64.

Those figures are minus the costs of acquiring traffic from website partners. Gross revenues fell 1% to $1.202 billion, a touch below analysts’ $1.206 billion estimate.

In particular, display ad revenue, Yahoo’s mainstay business, came in flat from a year ago at $452 million, but search ad revenues via its multi-year deal with Microsoft were better than expected, up 11% to $414 million.

And we’re underway on the analyst call with Mayer:

Mayer says she’s thrilled to be hear, naturally. She says she has been having a lot of fun. Why did I come to Yahoo? This job is tailor-made for me. Search, mobile, ads, home page, etc.–all things I built my career on.

She’ll talk about priorities and vision–great! First she addresses the people problem–that is, all the ones who have been leaving in droves for years. She says she has instituted new goals, metrics, etc. for people. True cultural change can’t be bought. The vast majority of what we’ve done hasn’t cost much, she says. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Yahoo Pitches New Ad Network To Battle Google’s AdSense

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Search ad giant Google grossed about $10 billion last year from AdSense, the program that syndicates text and display ads to thousands of websites from the New York Times to the tiniest niche publishers. So it’s no wonder that more than two years after shutting down its own AdSense competitor, a struggling Yahoo is taking another crack at it.

Today, it’s announcing a partnership with Media.net, an under-the-radar provider of contextual advertising like AdSense’s that runs ads on websites matched to the site audience’s interests. The program, called Yahoo! Bing Network Contextual Ads, will allow websites to run text ads (like those pictured on the top right) from the Yahoo! Bing Network, the recently renamed search alliance between Yahoo and Microsoft.

The awkwardly named program has the potential to be a badly needed boost in revenues for Yahoo, which have been stagnant for a long time. Despite Yahoo’s weakened state, it still has a valuable brand, worldwide audience of a half a billion, and search ad deal with Microsoft. Those factors will lend the venture instant credibility in an online ad industry that’s an increasingly crowded, competitive morass of ad networks (perhaps including a likely new one from Facebook), ad exchanges, an alphabet soup of ad tech providers, and, of course, Google’s AdSense.

Talks have been underway between Yahoo and Media.net since 2010, even before the Yahoo Publishing Network was shut down, according to Divyank Turakhia, founder and CEO of Media.net. And Turakhia’s other related ad companies had worked with Yahoo for a couple of years before that. So don’t get the idea that this is a big new idea from Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s relatively new CEO. …

Read the rest of the post at The New Persuaders.

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.

Beyond Search: Google Tunes Up Display Ad Machine

Image representing DoubleClick as depicted in ...

Image via CrunchBase

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Just a few months ago, Google sketched out a plan to bring together a wide array of its display ad buying technologies into a more coherent, easier-to-use offering. On Wednesday, it’s announcing that it has put some meat on the bones of what it now calls the DoubleClick Digital Marketing platform.

This is a little inside-ad-tech-baseball, so bear with me. But essentially, Google is gradually refining the pieces of what it hopes will be something of an operating system for online advertising, not just the search ads it dominates but the picture- and video-based ads that support most websites:

* It’s close to integrating key pieces of ad buying and creation systems that it built or acquired in recent years. For one, the ad buying system DoubleClick Bid Manager–the “demand-side platform” formerly known as Invite Media that Google acquired two years ago–will move out of beta test mode and become available to all customers next month. Google says improvements in the underlying technology infrastructure have reduced the time it takes to connect with various ad exchanges, allowing beta customers to access 16% more ad inventory on the thousands of websites that use DoubleClick. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Reid Hoffman: Social Networking Isn’t Over Yet–And Neither Is Facebook

Reid Hoffman

Photo: Wikipedia

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Reid Hoffman is one of the most prolific angel investors in tech startups from Facebook and Zynga to Airbnb and Zipcar. It’s a talent he transferred to more traditional venture capital in 2009 when he joined Greylock Partners. He’s also a cofounder and executive chairman of LinkedIn.

In a “fireside chat” at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco today with TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington, who has since joined the VC world as well with his own CrunchFund, Hoffman proffered comments on everything from Facebook’s struggles to Twitter’s battles with developers. Here, paraphrased at times, is what he had to say:

Q: You are exceptionally wealthy. What changes?

A: There is a bunch of weird things. I had had a long-term plan to be affiliated with universities, like teaching. Overnight all those changed to donor relationships. Also, I would never have imagined I would fly in a private plane by myself, and now I have. It has its advantages.

Q: You wrote a book [The Startup of You]. How’s it doing?

A: It’s sold 120,000. In the consumer Internet space, we’re used to much higher numbers. I don’t think we’ve created a movement yet.

Q: You were one of the very first investors in Facebook.

A: $37,500 at a $5 million valuation. [That means he made 3,000 times his investment, or $111 million.)

Q: So you did very well. What do you think of Facebook’s stock now?

A: I’m a big believer in Facebook’s long-term position. The real question is how it plays out over the next year or so. People’s hand-wringing about not making money on mobile is an innovation problem that is not that hard to solve.

Q: Did Facebook screw up its IPO or was it inevitable it played out that way?

A: In some ways, it was inevitable. You had unprecedented demand, and you couldn’t know NASDAQ servers would go down. We at LinkedIn were criticized for leaving too much money on the table. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Next-Generation Venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz On How To Build A Company Today

PandoMonthly - June 2012 - Sarah Lacy intervie...

Photo: thekenyeung

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Few venture capital firms have been more aggressive in recent years than Andreessen Horowitz, which has invested in dozens of the hottest companies from Facebook to Groupon to Pinterest. It has become one of the largest VC firms in just the three years since it was formed by onetime Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen and his longtime partner Ben Horowitz, former CEO of Andreessen’s company’s LoudCloud, later sold as Opsware to Hewlett-Packard for $1.6 billion.

Today at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, one of the year’s largest conferences for tech entrepreneurs (streaming live here), Horowitz was interviewed by legendary Silicon Valley VC and adviser Bill Campbell, known in these parts at “Coach.” Here, paraphrased at times, is what Horowitz had to say about how best to build a company today:

Q: What do you mean by “Software eats the world” as your basic investment thesis?

A: Weak form: Software is eating the technology industry. The stronger form of the hypothesis is that software will eat every industry eventually. Retail, movies, radio and music. We see software eating every industry from agriculture to finance.

Historically, the technology industry has been sized at a certain size. Only so much new technology could be absorbed. But as software eats other industries, technology will actually expand.

Q: Apple defies some part of that with software and hardware integration. How do they do that?

A: Increasingly, such as with Amazon, it’s software, hardware, and content.

Q: Why did you go over to the dark side–venture capital?

A: I’m considered a much better CEO now that I was when I was a CEO. Venture capital had become too abstract when it came to building a business–it was about business models. When you’re building a business, it’s about the struggle and the horror. I thought it would be good to have a firm that knew how to actually build a company. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

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