My friend Alex was surprised to learn that a buddy’s Yom Kippur Break Fast this year is apparently “sponsored by Pork.” At least that’s what it says on the banner ad Evite placed on the RSVP page. As my mother-in-law always says, you have to keep an eye on those reformed Jews.
Yesterday Facebook announced on its blog a new deal with Shutterstock that will give its advertisers access to millions of stock photos for use in Facebook ads. If that means I’ll never see Larry Ellison’s mug on my wall again, that would be fantastic.
The real issue Facebook wants to solve is advertiser performance. As Lauren Hockenson puts it in her GigaOM post:
We all dislike ads on (the right hand side of) our Facebook pages. Some of that dislike comes from them being just plain ugly and poorly retargeted. It is hardly a surprise that the click-through rates on these low-cost ads are abysmal. A study by AdRoll last year showed that traditional ad-retargeting nabs 40% more clicks than a Facebook ad.
If the Shutterstock deal leads to more visually inviting ads and Facebook users look at them and click on them more frequently, advertisers (and Facebook shareholders) will be thrilled.
Such a smart idea that you could almost call it obvious. Back in March, Facebook redesigned its News Feed to present larger photos, because, according to Facebook executives, 50% of News Feed posts are photos (March 2013), up from 20% a year earlier (November 2011). An acknowledgement, in other words, that photos are the universal language of Facebook. Maybe I’m asking too much to expect Facebook to give a photo-facelift to their ad products simultaneously with a similar upgrade other user features on the site. Maybe they need to stagger changes of this magnitude, and improving the ad products only a half a year after upgrading the News Feed is pretty good.
But I can’t help reading something larger into this. Part of the reason online ads stink — annoying consumers and disappointing advertisers — is that digital media companies treat advertising as an after-thought. The prevailing wisdom is: Launch the product, iterated until it’s awesome, and then build a giant audience. If all of that goes as planned, you can tack on some ads later. How do ads stand a chance of working (for consumers or for brands) if, on they day they launch, we already hate them simply because they’ve stolen pixels that yesterday were used to delight us with content or service that made the product awesome?
In conversation with Digiday, Monocle editor in chief Tyler Brule expressed his distaste for the term native advertising. It’s a “bizarre, North American piece of marketingism,” he said. Meanwhile, Monocle does some kick-ass native advertising. (The above screenshot is a display ad that links out to Bottega Veneta, running on the homepage between a scroll of hero photos for editorial features; it’s not clear whether or not Monocle’s creative team was involved in the ad’s creation.)
If the company’s infrastructure blurs the church-and-state divide between editorial and sales, it’s by design. Editors accompany ad directors on sales calls. “I’m of the opinion that all good journalists are good salespeople too,” Brule said. While the ad team discusses pricing and tries to close the business, editors give Monocle’s potential clients insight into the publication’s editorial calendar and explain the reasoning behind certain editorial decisions.
Once the client buys in, Monocle’s team then works with them on the concept, produces illustrations, and executes the final ads with their input. The result is an advertisement that meshes with the magazine’s look and feel and aspires to be appealing to readers. All the ads are labeled vaguely — with the brand’s name, followed by “X Monocle” — but leave it to the readers to figure out what that means.
I think the “X Monocle” attribution is perhaps overly subtle, but otherwise I’m a supporter. Monocle is a culture magazine, not an investigative reporting shop, so I’m not worried about powerful interests buying its silence. And while I’m not sure all good journalists are good salespeople (plenty are!), I am certain that all good journalists know the difference between a reported story and an advertiser’s photo shoot. Ads that are less sucky and a solution that’s convincing more advertisers to support premium publishing projects?! What’s not to like?
The CW is working with in-image ad network Gum Gum to place ads for the TV network’s upcoming series, “Reign,” at the bottom of mom-and-royal-baby photos of Kate Middleton. Very well targeted, yes. Some would argue, too well targeted.
From The CW’s VP-media strategies Caty Burgess.:
“We knew the royal baby was just around the corner. As we’re giving birth to our own royal baby in ‘Reign,’ we wanted to figure out ways that we can align our messaging about the [premiere] of our new show with what we were sure and I think even underestimated what kind of media circus the royal birth would be.”
From Tim Peterson at Ad Age:
Appropriating baby photos for advertising purposes — essentially turning the potential future King of England into a Nascar driver — is risky to say the least…. Won’t The CW receive the same flak as other brands that tried to pile on the royal birth? Couldn’t commercializing the child incite even more aggressive vitriol?
I just wonder who will have more fun with all of this, the media pundits or the lawyers?!
(Disclosure: I used to work at Luminate, where I’m still an advisor, a competitor to Gum Gum.)
The driving motivation, according to Lewis DVorkin in his latest Inside Forbes post, for the explosive growth in native advertising:
The $10 billion digital display advertising business is clearly in for disruption. Banners and rectangles, more than a trillion are served up quarterly, are increasingly wallpaper to consumers (clickthrough rates hover at a negligible 0.05%). They can also be sold and bought through computers much more efficiently than through human sales staffs. Those two facts combine to put relentless downward pressure on CPMs, the price marketers are willing to pay for 1,000 ad impressions. Falling ad rates have hit journalism where it hurts. The American Society of News Editors says that nearly 20,000 newsroom professionals have lost their jobs since 2000 (part of that is recession related).
Last year McDonalds Canada launched Our Food, Your Questions (more here), a site that invites questions from consumers, and answers even the tough ones like “Why does your food look different in the advertising than what’s in the store?” Turns out the ingredients are the same in both places, one just benefits from the Dove Evolution treatment.
When a former staff writer for Adweek (Charlie Warzel) shares your latest commercial with his Twitter followers and tells them, “I don’t even know if this is an ad, but it’s just wonderful,” it’s time to buy chocolates for your creative team.
A map of America with each state represented by its most famous brand. I don’t know who counted the votes here, and I’m surprised by a few picks: Caterpillar over McDonalds in Illinois, Wendy’s over Tide in Ohio, and Verizon in the #1 spot for New York. Meanwhile I’m wondering how the folks at Tropicana are feeling about Florida.
In an interview this week with PaidContent, NY Times’ VP of advertising Todd Haskell gave a tour the media company’s Idea Lab, the special-ops team tasked with inventing better digital advertising. They are creating awesome executions (here). But they still aren’t selling enough of these high impact, high CPM units to offset declining digital ad revenues at the Times because, according to Haskell:
the company has been unable to pre-sell all its inventory, and attributes the overall ad challenges to two factors — “an explosion of inventory from social channels” (read Facebook) and the rise of automated or “programmatic” buying which lets advertisers purchase digital ads on real time exchanges.
In other words, Facebook and Google’s AdX are ruining the party. No doubt. But I have to wonder if part of the injury is self-inflicted.
When I read that the Idea Lab “is perched on the 16th floor of the Times’ building and commands an impressive view of the Hudson river,” I asked myself, What floor are the ad sales people on?
When you sequester a product think-tank like the Idea Lab from the core flow of the day-to-day business, it’s tough to make it work. I’m guessing the rank-and-file ad sellers, with their less impressive view of the Hudson River, are spending most of their time selling banners and boxes and longing for the old days when robots didn’t also sell banners and boxes for less. When advertising innovation is an afterthought, something that gets tacked on later to the editorial assets, you usually end up with an unremarkable ad banner plunked inside an otherwise awesome content experience.
Take Snow Fall, the groundbreaking, multimedia journalistic wonder the Times published last December. If you haven’t seen at least 25 gushing (and well-deserved) references to its magnificence, plug yourself back into the Internet. Meanwhile, take a look at the 728×90 banner they slapped inside a bellyband of wasted grey pixels. Yesterday I got Virgin America, today it’s Panda Express.
eMarketer predicts that spending on desktop ad banners will peak in 2014 at $39.35 billion, and then will slide south in subsequent years as digital ad dollars move to mobile. By 2017 ad spending on non-mobile banner ads will be down around 2012 levels.
A major reason for the shift toward mobile is simple: With more than half of US mobile users now on smartphones, and time spent with mobile devices increasing each year, many digital publishers are looking to shift ad revenues to mobile. Smartphones and tablet devices also account for a growing portion of US retail ecommerce sales, further contributing to advertisers’ desire to shift dollars away from desktop.
But I have to wonder if there’s something else. Since the beginning, the banner-industrial complex* has been measuring its success by clicks, even though we’ve all seen the data telling us a single-digit percentage (8% back in 2009) of Internet users are responsible for that vast majority (85% in 2009) of all clicks on banners. Those heavy clickers, meanwhile, tend not to come from the demos that most advertisers intend to reach.
And it gets worse. The latest numbers from Comscore show that 46% of desktop banners are never seen by human eyes. On ad exchanges like Google’s AdX, according to Piper Jaffrey, that number might be as high as 80 to 90%.
Were it not for the industry’s own bad behavior, I expect that eMarketer chart would have a longer up-and-to-the-right curve to it. Let’s not blame it all Apple and Samsung for making such cool mobile gadgets.
(*I think Brian Morrissey came up with that phrase.)