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.

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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.

Google Shuts Off TV Ads Business

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

After five years of trying to sell ads on television using the automated buying system that works so well for its signature search ads, Google has finally given up. In a blog post this afternoon from Shishir Mehrotra, VP of YouTube and video, the ad giant said it will shunt the group’s staff to other projects:

Video is increasingly going digital and users are now watching across numerous devices. So we’ve made the hard decision to close our TV Ads product over the next few months and move the team to other areas at Google. We’ll be doubling down on video solutions for our clients (like YouTube, AdWords for Video, and ad serving tools for web video publishers). We also see opportunities to help users access web content on their TV screens, through products like Google TV.

The shutdown is clearly a disappointment for Google, yet another sign that its math-driven advertising systems don’t readily translate to traditional advertising. Back in 2009, the company shut down radio and print ad efforts for lack of interest.

Mehrotra’s not being entirely disingenuous when he says that Google’s efforts are better spent on online video advertising. After all, more and more TVs get connected to the Internet and more and more people watch TV shows on their laptops, smartphones, and tablets. With its Google TV project and its fast-growing YouTube video service, Google remains in a prime position to vacuum up ad revenues as big advertisers start to follow their audience onto the Web.

Indeed, YouTube especially has shown considerable traction in attracting new ad spending–$3.6 billion this year, by the reckoning of Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney. As I wrote in a recent story, YouTube is where Google is placing its television-scale bets:

Now Mehrotra’s goal is to try to grab a big chunk of the $60 billion U.S. television business. But to do that, and fend off TV-content-oriented online rivals such as Hulu, YouTube has to become a bit more like conventional TV. To that end, it organized itself last year into TV-like channels, investing $100 million in cable-quality launches from Ashton Kutcher, Madonna, the Wall Street Journal, and dozens of others. More and more TV advertisers are being won over, says David Cohen, chief media officer at the media buying agency Universal McCann. “They’re getting marketers to think about YouTube as a viable outlet,” he says. 

Mehrotra, who last year became ­YouTube’s vice president of product, envisions millions of online channels disrupting TV, just as cable’s 400 channels disrupted the four broadcast networks. “We want to be the host of that next generation of channels,” he says.

In other words, Google’s strategy is to attack the TV ad business from where it’s strong instead of from where it’s not.

YouTube’s Skippable Ads Go Mobile–Will People Watch Them?

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

As uncertainty builds over whether advertising on mobile devices will work anything like their desktop Web counterparts, YouTube today tossed out its bet that they will. In a blog post, Google’s video service said it’s now launching its most successful ad format, skippable ads called TrueView that it has offered since late 2010, on mobile devices.

YouTube credits these ads with juicing its revenues, which Citi analyst Mark Mahaney reckons could reach $3.6 billion this year, or $2.4 billion after YouTube pays its video content partners. On desktop and laptop computers, some 65% of YouTube ads run inside videos are now skippable, but YouTube says only 10% of people always skip them.

They also command 40% higher viewership than ads people can’t skip, which makes advertisers more willing to pay a higher price, knowing they’re getting watched. As a result, says Shishir Mehrotra, YouTube’s vice president of product, YouTube video now produces more ad revenue per hour than cable TV.

These aren’t YouTube’s first mobile ads. It has offered “promoted video” ads as well as so-called “roadblock” video ads that appear an entire day on YouTube home and search pages since last November. But these ads clearly hold the potential to become the most popular format on mobile devices.

At first, the ads will be available only on devices using Google’s Android software. Why? Because Apple’s current YouTube app, the one it developed at the time it released the first iPhone in 2007, doesn’t allow ads to be run on it. Apple and Google recently said that app won’t be in the next version of Apple’s iOS mobile software, which will debut on the upcoming new iPhone, expected now around Sept. 21.

Instead, Google is working to get its new YouTube app, which will be able to run ads, approved for the new iOS. When it’s out, no doubt in coming months, we’ll get a much better idea of how YouTube’s skippable ads fare on mobile devices–and a better sense of whether mobile advertising overall will work.

How YouTube Turned Into a Real Business By Making Ads Optional

From my story in MIT Technology Review:

In 2008, when Shishir Mehrotra joined YouTube to take charge of advertising, the booming video-sharing service was getting hundreds of millions of views a day. ­YouTube, which had been acquired by Google in 2006, was also spending as much as $700 million on Internet bandwidth, content licensing, and other costs. With revenue of only $200 million, YouTube was widely viewed as Google’s folly.

Mehrotra, an MIT math and computer science alum who had never worked in advertising, thought he had a solution: skippable ads that advertisers would pay for only when people watched them. That would be a radical change from the conventional media model of paying for ad “impressions” regardless of whether the ads are actually viewed, and even from Google’s own pay-per-click model. He reckoned his plan would provide an incentive to create better advertising and increase the value for advertisers of those ads people chose to watch. But the risk was huge: people might not watch the ads at all.

Mehrotra’s gamble paid off. YouTube will gross $3.6 billion this year, estimates Citi analyst Mark Mahaney. The $2.4 billion that YouTube will keep after sharing ad revenue with video content partners is nearly six times the revenue the streaming video service Hulu raked in last year from ads and subscriptions. And that suggests Mehrotra has helped Google solve a problem many fast-growing Web companies continue to struggle with: how to make money off the huge audience that uses its service free.

In 2008, Mehrotra was working for Microsoft and hankered to have his own startup, but he agreed to talk to a Google executive he knew about working there instead. He decided against it—but that evening he kept thinking about how the exec was frustrated that most ad dollars go to TV, even though nobody watches TV ads. Yet at his Super Bowl party two weeks earlier, Mehrotra recalled, guests kept asking him to replay the ads. Was there a way, he wondered, to make TV ads as captivating as Super Bowl ads, every day?

The answer came to him in a flash. …

Read the complete story in MIT Technology Review.

Why Google May Be Secretly Happy That Apple’s Dropping Its YouTube App From Next iPhone

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

OK, so Apple will drop its YouTube app from iOS 6, the new version of its iPhone operating system due out this fall. Cue loud and histrionic coverage about Apple’s thermonuclear war, as the late Apple cofounder Steve Jobs put it, vs. Google and its Android mobile software.

Except it seems likely that script is off the mark. Here’s why: Most people may not realize it, but that YouTube app on their iPhones is actually designed by Apple, a holdover from the iPhone’s introduction in 2007, when all the apps were Apple’s and YouTube was a big draw. (So big that one of Apple’s original iPhone ads highlighted YouTube, as in the video above.) Problem is, since then, Apple has appeared to do relatively little to advance the app, which now looks old (almost as old as that TV used in the app’s icon, at least on my impossibly old iPhone).

Even more important from the point of view of Google and the pro content producers on YouTube, the Apple YouTube app doesn’t allow ads to be run against all those billions of videos views a month that YouTube draws on mobile devices. So search for “Lady Gaga” on your iPhone and what do you see? Well, Lady Gaga, but very little from official channels such as ladygagaofficial, which means very few official videos. Contrast that to a search on “Lady Gaga” on YouTube.com, and official videos are there, along with ads all over the place.

Why the huge difference? Because she can’t run ads on the iPhone YouTube app, and no ads means no money generated. Multiply that by thousands of artists, movies, and all kinds of content that advertisers want to run ads against–ads that will bring in up to $3.6 billion in revenues this year, by Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney’s recent estimate for YouTube. Now you realize why Google may not mind much that the creaky old adless Apple app is heading for the trash can icon.

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

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