The One Missing Ingredient In Facebook’s All-Out Drive For TV Ad Dollars

From my Forbes blog:

Beyond plans to spend like crazy on everything from search to virtual reality, Facebook gave investors little to complain about in its fourth-quarter results reported Jan. 28. Ad revenues jumped a stunning 53%, and they would have been five points higher but for currency fluctuations. Mobile ads rose to 69% of those revenues, up from 53% a year ago, a sure sign of the company’s progress in making advertising on phones and tablets compelling. Annual revenues blew past $10 billion for the first time.

But investors pay for future profits, so it’s important to step back a bit and assess how well Facebook is positioned vs. an always-growing pack of rivals–Snapchat, Pinterest, Google and YouTube, Twitter, and yes, even Yahoo. In particular, it’s not yet clear that Facebook has cracked the opportunity for brand advertising, the kind of image ads that dominate television, where most advertising dollars are still spent.

What’s the problem? One ad agency executive I talked to has an idea, and it involves not only advertising but the reality of Facebook’s core service, its news feed. The issue, says Craig Elimeliah, senior vice president and director of creative technology at RAPP, is that Facebook has saturated its most lucrative audience, the U.S. and to some extent Europe. There’s the rest of the world, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the Internet.org effort to get them online is one of Facebook’s 10-year projects, not three to five years.

To keep growing–not just audience but time spent on the site, which leads to revenues–Facebook must give people more reasons to use it than they have, Elimeliah says. While Facebook has frequently changed up the look and the algorithms of the news feed, we’re still doing basically the same things on it that we have for years: watching a bunch of cat videos, fake news stories from the Onion, and photos from friends. Nothing wrong with all that, but it’s pretty passive, especially for a social network in the hyperconnected age of Snapchat.

“They really haven’t evolved the engagement on the platform much,” says Elimeliah. “There’s a lot of noise and clutter.” He thinks the rise of Snapchat shows how young people want closer, more immediate interactions with friends, and advertising that works in that context. Indeed, Elimeliah says he’s “blown away” by Snapchat Discover, its just-announced content and advertising service (check out the video below). The “low-friction” experience is already getting kudos from media types. “It blows Facebook out of the water from an engagement standpoint,” he says, because it fits so well into the intimate and yes, ephemeral Snapchat service.

Facebook needs to make sure it provides the right context for those ads–a place where ads not only seem natural but play in a context that isn’t quite as noisy and distracting as the current news feed. Video ads also seem unlikely to be effective unless they are made to be consumed on the go and provide actionable information–so they can’t be simply downsized TV spots. “I don’t know if the Facebook platform can make that kind of change,” Elimeliah says. …

Read the full story.

The One-Second Rule: New Viewability Metric Exposes How Low Online Advertising Standards Still Are

From my Forbes blog:

Who could argue with the notion that advertisers shouldn’t be charged for an ad unless someone actually views it?

That’s the logic behind today’s announcement of the blessing by an ad industry group of a new standard for viewable ad impressions. The Media Rating Council, which had been studying how to ensure consistent measurement of viewable impressions, today lifted a moratorium it had placed on the metric way back in November 2012 while it examined how to ensure the many ratings firms out there could come up with similar metrics using their various methods of calculating viewability.

The move does make sense, especially for the brand advertisers that have been keeping most of their budgets in television to date. It’s now widely known that at least a third and maybe more than half of online ads are never seen for a variety of reasons, from the ad appearing off the visible part of a screen to outright fraud, such as embedding an ad behind a pixel so it can’t be viewed but gets counted as an “impression.”

That couldn’t last, though it sure lasted many years longer than it should have. The new standard suggests that online ads can be credibly included on the same ad buyer spreadsheet as TV ads. “Practically speaking, it means that—as of today—for brand advertising, agencies can and will expect guarantees on viewable display impressions, with video to come soon after,” Sherrill Mane, senior VP of research, analytics and measurement at the online ad industry trade group IAB, said in a blog post. “This means that one of the major obstacles to being included in brand allocations has finally been removed.”

What’s still absurd about the situation is the appallingly low standard for viewability. …

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Google’s Next Big Battle: A Conversation With Ad Chief Susan Wojcicki

From my Forbes blog:

Straightforward and unflashy, Susan Wojcicki doesn’t come off like the most powerful woman in advertising that Forbes and others have labeled her. When we meet outside her office at the Googleplex in Mountain View, she’s dressed in jeans and a simple maroon top and speaks with an almost self-deprecating lilt.

But as the search giant’s senior vice president of advertising and commerce, she is indeed the exec leading the development of some of the most disruptive ad technologies of the past half-century. I interviewed Wojcicki (pronounced wo-JIT-ski) for my article in the current issue of Forbes on how Google is gunning for brand advertising, the image advertising still dominated by television and the dwindling pages of slick magazines.

After picking up “detox” lemonades at a juice bar, we walked past a T. Rex skeleton sculpture festooned with plastic pink flamingos to a set of tables to talk about how the company aims to wrest away brand advertising budgets, which still constitute the majority of ad spending worldwide thanks to the persistent popularity of television among advertisers. Over the slap of spikes and serves from a nearby volleyball court and the occasional caw of a crow resting in the nearby trees, she explained her vision of Google’s next big step beyond search and plain-vanilla display ads. This is an edited version of our conversation.

Google senior VP Susan Wojcicki

Google senior VP Susan Wojcicki

Q: Lots of brand marketers and agencies say they can get truly large audiences more easily on TV than on YouTube or elsewhere online. Why haven’t online ads been able to provide similar branding opportunities as TV and other traditional media?

A: Most advertising is a portfolio of different types of advertising. TV definitely is effective for lots of advertisers. If we want to talk about the long-term future, the question is: Where is TV going? Will all TVs be Internet-enabled? And if they are Internet-enabled, what does your TV look like then? Is your TV then basically a screen attached to your computer in your living room? There could be all different types of things your TV looks like in the future.

Q: You still hear the argument that TV is a lean-back medium and people in that kind of environment are always going to be more receptive to brand messaging. Are people ever going to be as receptive online?

A: Even in TV advertising, they try to target specific types of users. That’s why they’ll say, “We want users who watch sports,” because that means a certain type of demographic. Users are opting into seeing specific shows on TV, and I think it’s similar with digital. They are choosing specific shows to see.

I’m not really sure that lean-back vs. interactive necessarily means that the user is more or less receptive. It’s counterintuitive that something where you’re engaging, you’re less receptive. If users are engaging with something, they’re choosing to see something. That’s the whole concept of what we’re doing with TrueView [YouTube ads that viewers can skip and that advertisers pay for only if they’re viewed], where users are choosing to see something, so they’re engaging with it. …

Read the rest of the interview.

Display Ads As Compelling As TV Spots: A Conversation With Google VP Neal Mohan

From my Forbes blog:

In the lobby of Google’s Building 900 at its Mountain View headquarters, there’s a display of Google-colored squares and rectangles that looks like a bland abstract-art piece. It turns out these are the shape and relative size of standard display-ad units that run on nearly every commercial website.

The “display” display exposes the paradox of Google’s attempt to extend its dominion over online ads to the realm of image advertising done chiefly on television and in glossy magazines. To get the wide reach of television, the company needs to shoehorn image ads into those standardized, easy-to-buy units, but it also needs to provide technology that allows marketers to do more compelling pitches inside those boxes. Resolving that paradox is the job of Neal Mohan, Google’s vice president of display ads.

After joining the company with the $3.2 billion acquisition of display technology firm DoubleClick in 2007, Mohan has helped build or buy what’s likely the industry’s broadest set of technologies needed to create, place, and measure the impact of display ads. In an extensive interview for a story in the current issue of Forbes, we talked about how he and hundreds of engineers in Mountain View and New York City are trying to apply that technology to wrest billions of brand advertising dollars from TV. This is an edited version of our conversation.

Google VP Neal Mohan

Google VP Neal Mohan

Q: Could you lay out the key challenges today in getting more brand advertising to move online?

A: The primary use case for advertisers online is generally performance-oriented. That applies not just to search advertising but frankly to display, and even video ads have been performance-oriented. That’s done the industry well. There’s been a lot of growth around impressions and clicks and conversions.

But the next big opportunity for the industry if we are going to grow it not just X percent a year but 10X over the next few years is to crack this brand advertising nut. It’s not about display banners or text ads or rich media or video or mobile. It’s really about all of the above, and what the objectives of the brand advertiser are. It’s more upper-funnel campaigns where brands are looking to establish their brand or a new product that they’re looking to bring to market.

Q: Why the focus on brand advertising now?

A: There are a couple of things coming together that make this the right time for this opportunity to be addressed. The first is just the fundamental consumer trend. Fifty-seven percent of media consumption is online now, greater than any other channel combined, including television. …

Read the complete interview.

Look Out, Television: Google Goes For The Biggest Advertising Prize Of All

Google's BrandLab at YouTube headquarters

Google’s BrandLab at YouTube headquarters

From my Forbes magazine feature story:

IT’S MID-SEPTEMBER, and Volkswagen of America has a problem: It won’t have any new models coming out until the spring. Keeping VW front and center in consumers’ minds has drawn a group of marketing folks from the automaker and two of its ad agencies to Google’s BrandLab at its YouTube headquarters south of San Francisco. Dedicated to “evangelizing the art and science of brand-building,” the richly appointed meeting space is basically a man cave for ad creatives, complete with overstuffed couches, booze and the mother of all big screens, an assemblage of 32 flat-panel displays massed into 300 square feet of video overload.

In one corner of the BrandLab, Google’s Jeff Rozic goes to work running VW’s folks through a rapid-fire succession of video ad campaigns the BrandLab feels have worked. His earnest delivery is well-honed, courtesy of 100-plus similar “private workshops” held for potential advertisers from Coca-Cola to Toyota over the past year. VW has some catching up to do, a point Rozic makes intentionally or not by highlighting 13 travel vignettes produced by a rival, Nissan Mexico. His larger point: Don’t clutter a story with too blatant a call to action. “We shouldn’t apologize for trying to sell cars,” one VW exec protests. “Sure,” Rozic shoots back, “but you have to be careful to distinguish when you’re telling a story and when you’re selling.”

Fair point. Rozic is clearly selling–and it’s a product intended to change Google’s path. The king of the click is now lecturing one of the world’s most accomplished advertisers to forget those clicks and amp up the image ads. CEO Larry Page can go on as much as he wants about self-driving cars, wearable computers or any of the company’s other “moon shots.” But Google fundamentally remains the most disruptive advertising company of the past half-century. As its total advertising-revenue growth rate has halved in the past two years, from 29% to 15% (thanks in part to Facebook and Twitter), it’s now charging full-bore toward the biggest pot of advertising gold it doesn’t own: brand advertising, the image ads you see in glossy magazines and on television.

Most online ads–the banners that litter nearly every commercial website and, most notably, Google’s search ads–have failed to help marketers move the needle on classic advertising measures like brand awareness and intent to purchase. Instead, they mainly drive people to a product page to click the buy button. Direct marketing is lucrative: Search is still upwards of 60% of Google’s ad revenue, helping it earn an estimated 15.8% net margin in 2013–but image ads will come to dominate digital advertising in this decade.

Look at the numbers: Digital brand advertising is an $18 billion market this year, according to eMarketer. Its forecast implies that number will double by 2018, at which point it will have passed search and direct marketing, with plenty of room to grow. Television advertising, comprising almost entirely image ads, is currently a $200 billion global market. And it’s a vulnerable one, as the medium’s iron grip on the bulk of ad spending looks a little less firm as younger people scatter to YouTube and Netflix when they aren’t Snapchatting or Instagramming on iPhones or skipping ads entirely on their DVRs. Some 75% of respondents to an Interactive Advertising Bureau poll of 5,000 ad execs expect to see some spending move from TV to digital video in the next year.

This explains the man cave. YouTube remains one of the greatest acquisitions of the Internet era. Larry and Sergey paid $1.65 billion in 2006 for a business that today would conservatively be worth $20 billion as a stand-alone. So what’s another $400 million or so to build out a brand ad business? …

Read the rest of the story.

Why You Won’t Really Mind Facebook’s Coming Video Ads

From my Forbes blog:

Nobody outside a few advertising partners has even seen Facebook’s coming video ads, but already the sky is falling. Critics are labeling the social network a “super troll” (whatever that means) for its plan to “blast” the “intrusive” ads into news feeds and predicting that the ads will annoy users so much that they’ll be driven away.

That’s doubtful. Here’s why:

* There won’t be all that many of them. Despite complaints about the increasing ad load, you can still scroll through many screens before you encounter more than an ad or two. You can bet that Facebook will be very careful about letting advertisers run too many of these things. Anyway, relatively few advertisers will be allowed to run them or, at $2 million for a day, afford them.

* You’re already seeing video ads on Facebook anyway. Marketers have been creating video posts on their Facebook page and then running those posts as ads. So it’s not as if these new video ads are all that new. The new part is that they will play automatically. “We’d note that we’ve personally been seeing autoplay video in our newsfeed on desktop recently, and been pleasantly surprised that it actually improves the user experience, in our view,” Macquarie Securities analyst Benjamin Schachter said in a note to clients today. “The auto-play feature is relatively unobtrusive and calls our attention to the video without expanding over other content or playing audio. We can see how it could increase video views on Facebook meaningfully.” …

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Exclusive: Media Trading Startup MediaCrossing Aims To Shake Up Online Advertising

From my Forbes blog:

The hottest trend in online advertising today is the rapid automation of ad sales through exchanges like those run by Google, Yahoo, and Facebook. This so-called programmatic trading works something like equities trading on a stock exchange like the Nasdaq, and it’s growing like crazy.

But to Bill Lederer‘s mind, the job was never finished. Lederer, former CEO of early e-commerce company Art.com and executive at the WPP-owned media, marketing, and data services firm Kantar, has just announced a $6 million Series A round of funding for a new company, MediaCrossing, that he claims will do just that. In the process, it also could disrupt a lot of existing players in the online ad business, from Google and Facebook to a raft of ad tech companies.

In an exclusive interview on the new company, founded with former Wall Street technologist and entrepreneur and MediaCrossing Chief Technology Officer Ted Yang, Lederer says the Stamford, Conn.-based company is the first true digital media trading company. “We take the best of Wall Street and the best of Madison Avenue and put it together in a trading business,” says Lederer. “We haven’t seen that yet.” …

Since Lederer isn’t opening up the inside workings of the technology (though you can get a little more detail here), and few outsiders have delved into it to offer an independent assessment, it’s difficult to assess his claim to have created something entirely new that will shake up the online ad industry. Jeff Zabin, founder and research director for information technology research firm Gleanster, who was briefed on the company’s plans, says MediaCrossing is “fundamentally changing the game for digital media buying.” …

Read the whole story.