Category Archives: News & Updates

The Media Trust & ExchangeWire Release Global Malware Study

Today ExchangeWire released the first global study of the perceptions of malware and malvertising in the digital advertising ecosystem. The research and accompanying report were created in partnership with The Media Trust, the world’s leading media verification, malware protection, and advertising quality assurance platform.

The results will be revealed and discussed later today at an event in London later today.

From the Forward:

The digital advertising ecosystem is in a state of crisis, with many questioning its security. Each week bears witness to another media story regarding malware-laden ads infecting devices to cause harm to consumers. The presence of malware in the digital environment is no longer a topic relegated to advertising professionals – it’s become a mainstream and global issue.

Each year the number of ad-delivered malware infections increases, with The Media Trust detecting a year-over-year doubling in growth for the past several years. Clearly, malware is not new, which presents an interesting question: What do digital advertising professionals think about malware?

This study provides insight into the opinions of agencies, ad tech providers and publishers across several of the world’s largest publishing markets. In general, most are aware of the malvertising risks in their environments and almost everyone agrees it’s on the rise. However, there are some surprising results, and several opinions do not correlate with industry data:

• 50%+ believe malware is less of a problem on mobile

• US and UK publishers feel malware is a bigger issue for ecommerce than publisher/media websites

• Industry professionals believe 72% of malware exists on non-premium sites

• 20% of publishers believe their websites’ are safe from the constant threat of malware

You can download the full report here: Malware Report.

The coming controlled burn in online media

 

 

For a while it’s been clear than something has needed to change. The sheer amount of garbage inventory in online media has been both increasing and having an increasing amount of light shone upon it. It comes in many forms: outright fraudulent ads, poor creative ads selling for pennies, too many ads on a publisher site with no attention paid to placement or relevance, viewability – or lack thereof, and, in short, just way too much inventory in the market. In 2013, the last year for which I could find numbers, over 5 trillion ads were served worldwide, excluding Google Ad Words. That’s a lot of inventory.

For the industry to reach its next level of maturity and growth, there needs to be a reckoning. The analogy I’ve been using lately is that of a controlled burn and the cycle of fires that permit forests to grow. In order to move on there needs to be large, global effort to cut down on the sheer volume of ads, burn out the deadwood if you will,  and allow new ad formats to flourish, buyers to regain trust in ads, and show consumers that not all online ads are as terrible as the ones driving them in droves to install ad blockers.

Part of this work has recently been done by AppNexus who report some positive news regarding yield on ads once a house has been cleaned. The company claims that claimed that by eliminating bad traffic running through its platform has led to an increase in the price advertisers are willing to pay — a fact that has been in question until now. Earlier this year, a separate initiative from the ad tech platform seeing view through rates rocket by 77 per cent.

AppNexus has claimed this resulted in the average clickthrough rates (CTR) jumping 46 per cent compared to 12 months earlier, with publishers selling inventory via the platform also seeing a 255 per cent jump in average CPMs, according to the report.

So dynamic was the supply-and-demand effect that the average CPM rate hit an all-time high of $1.76 on 29 September (the average for the quarter was $0.64), with average CTR hitting 0.062 per cent, compared to 0.043 per cent 12 months earlier.

In addition, the implementation of AppNexus IQ has also seen the average viewability rate increase 77 per cent compared to 12 months earlier, although the average viewability rates on the platform remained below 50 per cent during the period.

Source: Traffic quality crackdown kicks off record price rise

Online Advertising Fraudsters Turn to ‘Ad-Injection’ Scams

I’m not sure if it’s the Baader-Meinhof Syndrome taking effect now that I’m working with The Media Trust but it sure seems like we’re seeing an increasing number of general media stories about malware and other attacks spread through ad-based vectors. This weekend we had Pagefair, an ad-blocker remover, unwittingly serve as a distributor of malware to over 500 sites and now this story in WSJ.
I fear it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets a lot better and we’ll see some pretty big names dragged through the dirt because of it.

The online ad industry has yet another scam to contend with, and this time it’s publishers bearing the brunt instead of marketers.
The industry is already fighting an ongoing battle against “bots,” computer programs that disguise themselves as real users to defraud advertisers. But now fraud detection companies say there’s a growing threat from “ad injection,” whereby Web users’ browsers are commandeered and ads are stuffed into sites without publishers’ permission.

Source: Online Advertising Fraudsters Turn to ‘Ad-Injection’ Scams

iOS Ad Blockers Begin Dropping In Popularity

Is the blocker bubble bursting?

An article in MarketingLand from Sep. 29, a site you’d think would err in the opposite direction in any analysis, today reported that, “for the first time since iOS 9 launched, no ad blocker is number one on the paid apps chart for iPhone.” and that, “two weeks since ad blockers skyrocketed to the top of the iPhone paid app chart, only one remains in the top five, while a former number one has slipped to below 20th place.”

What’s going on here? The article, without explicitly saying so, seems to point the finger at a user base spoiled for choice and confused by endless options. Some apps allow whitelisting through Eyeo’s list of so-called ‘well behaved’ apps. Others don’t allow any whitelisting at all. While others still have very granular configuration options.

PageFair, one of several adblocker-blockers, backed up this research by reporting a 2% drop in blocker penetration in the US last month — the first drop of that size since May 2014.

It’s unclear if this is just dust settling after all the recently news around ad blocking or part of some larger trend.

I’d love to hear from others as to what they’re seeing and experiencing.

Source: iOS Ad Blockers Begin Dropping In Popularity

Malvertising campaign found on Google Adwords

As I’ve started to dive into the dark world of malvertising and malware, it’s incredible to see how both widespread and endemic the issue is and, at the same time, how little the main stream press covers it and how unaware large publishers are about the problem.

Even Googles popular advertising service isnt secure from cybercrooks

Source: Malvertising campaign found on Google Adwords

Use Native Advertising to Collapse the Purchase Funnel

The marketing funnel—a user’s journey from first becoming aware of your brand to actually making a purchase—is usually thought of in separate stages, each of them focused on different things. Early stages have to do with brand awareness and familiarity, of making your business known to users who may never have heard of you before, while later stages deal with with conversion, turning a user into a (hopefully repeat) customer.

Traditional advertising campaigns have tended to reflect this separation, with advertising units addressing only one or two parts of the marketing funnel, which is broken into “brand” campaigns to build awareness or “direct response” and “performance” campaigns focused on pure conversion.

This has changed with the advent of native advertising. The precise definition of native is somewhat nebulous, but in general it refers to advertising content served in the context of the user’s experience, such as branded content. For example, a news site might share an article “from our sponsors” that, aside from this qualification, looks just like any other article on the site, perhaps even with subject matter that relates to the non-sponsored articles.

A well executed and planned branded content campaign can deliver multiple times the ROI of a standard display campaign.
A well executed and planned branded content campaign can deliver multiple times the ROI of a standard display campaign.

An ROI Growth Engine

The benefit of such branded content is that it helps to collapse the marketing funnel into a near singularity, such that separate campaigns aren’t needed, just one that serves the entire user journey. Branded content can be as media-rich as any of the other content it sits beside—native ads can utilise text, video, interactivity, and other tricks of online advertising to serve every stage of the funnel all in one “ad” placement.

For example, brand awareness can be as simple as “sponsored by” text featuring your brand name; this could then be followed up by a video that “tells a story”, featuring product demonstrations and consumer opinions; and finally, it could use copy to inform the potential customer about a particular product or service and drive them to conversion through a call to action (purchase, register, or download). This roughly follows the order of the traditional marketing funnel, but it’s more important that the ad mixes brand awareness with content designed to influence direct purchasing decisions.

More cost-effective than running multiple campaigns, as well as making the journey simpler for the user, effective native advertising drives ROI and can often yield results that are next to impossible to achieve with standard ads.

Alphabet Soup – Google’s re-org creates editorial feeding frenzy

 I’m hard-pressed to remember more confusing coverage of a business story than what’s going on in the tech and mainstream press regarding  Google and Alphabet. Clearly editorials are going for clickbait rather than informative pieces. Here’s a breakdown from the company’s blog piece.

  1. Alphabet is a new holding company under which several companies will operate. Stock will trade under Alphabet.
  2. Larry Page will become the CEO of Alphabet. Sergey Brinn will be president of Alphabet.
  3. Alphabet will operate the future-looking initiatives such as home (Nest), Health (Life Sciences; Calico) and others including the X lab.
  4. Google will continue to be Google and do the advertising and search stuff as a wholly owned subsidiary of Alphabet.
  5. Google will be run a former head of product named Sundar Pichai.
One example of needlessly misleading headlines today.
One example of needlessly misleading headlines today. No. Not really.

And that’s about it. It’s not “a google rebrand” (Forbes). The google name isn’t going away. Google hasn’t renamed itself (Wired). It hasn’t “blown itself up and started over” (Business Insider).

EDIT: The Guardian has published a super-clear representation of the Google / Alphabet situation.

Guardian Alphabet Chart

52% of UK Internet Users Prefer to Access via Mobile

Ofcom LogoExponential growth can bring unexpected results. How did the long-predicted “Year of Mobile” pass us by?

Year on year growth of UK internet users who go online via smartphones. Souce: Ofcom, “The Communications Report 2015”

An Ofcom report today shows that for the first time the majority of internet usage is coming from mobile devices. For some time it’s been a running joke in the media industry that it’s perpetually going to be “The Year of Mobile”. It seems like the year of mobile is now decidedly behind us. After all, Ofcom has declared that the UK is now a “Smartphone Society?”
How did we go from constantly predicting the Year of Mobile to staring at it in the rearview mirror? The answer lies in exponential growth.

Smartphones have become the most widely owned internet-enabled devices, alongside laptops. In Q1 2015 smartphones were present in two-thirds of households (66%), on a par with laptops at 65%. – Ofcom report

Exponential growth can be a tricky concept for us to get our heads around. That is, it’s simple enough to understand in theory, but it’s not always easy for us to visualise. A familiar example of this is the ‘place a penny on a chessboard and double it for each square’ problem. Before long you’ve got more money than has ever or will ever exist, even though all you did was start out with a measly penny.

How exponential growth works

Growth happens very quickly and shortens the ability to react to the change.
Growth happens very quickly and shortens the ability to react to the change.

A simple, day-to-day example of exponential growth is compound interest. You deposit some money in a bank account, and you get interest on that money per month or per annum at a percentage—say, 1% interest per month. But this additional 1% doesn’t apply only to the original amount you put in. It’s compounded, because every month it takes a total amount including the interest you’ve already accumulated, and adds 1% of that new total.

Warsaw StadiumOver time, in this example, you would see steady growth of your bank account balance. But the result of exponential growth can be a lot more drastic. Chris Martenson came up with a now-famous example of the “magic eye-dropper” to describe how it works. Imagine you have an eye dropper and you place a single drop of water in the middle of a large sport stadium. Every minute, the amount of water added from the magic dropper doubles.

If we assume a drop of water is 0.05mL this would mean in minute one 0.05mL was added to the pitch. About enough to bend the tip of a blade of grass. At the next minute 0.10mL are added to the pitch. In minute three 0.20mL. And so on. Assuming for the sake of the example that the stadium is watertight, how long does it take for the stadium to fill up?
Using Martenson’s example of the Yankee Stadium, he says it takes about 50 minutes. But for the first 45 minutes, the volume of water isn’t very noticeable, or it doesn’t seem like much of a threat—the field has maybe about five feet of water by the 45th minute.

It’s in the last five minutes that the stadium suddenly, rapidly, fills up, leaving you with very little time to escape.
The point of this example is not only to show how exponential growth works, but to demonstrate how it can take us unawares, and how we might not be able to react in a timely manner when it happens. By the time we’ve noticed the growth, the window of opportunity to react to it is very nearly gone.

“The Year of Mobile” Conundrum

With the onset of new technology and the impact this can have on commerce, the result can be similar. For years, we’ve been predicting that next year would be “the year of mobile”, the time when the shift to mobile for media would really happen in a critical way. And yet what if, in the blink of an eye, this event is already behind us?

According to the logic of exponential growth, this could happen almost instantly. That’s because, even though we’ve had our eyes on the growth of mobile, just as we might have been watching the magic water expand in those first 45 minutes in the stadium, we might not truly comprehend the rapid geometric growth that takes place in those last few moments. We keep expecting “the year of mobile” to happen when the critical moment might, in fact, have already happened.

This is why, when it comes to mobile, most of us already feel like we’re playing catch-up. But as marketers, we need to ready ourselves for the surprises of exponential growth and be able to prepare and react accordingly.

Of Note: GIFs find new lease on life in mobile messaging

DAILY REPORT: The GIF Start-Ups Fostering a Visual Language on Mobile

The humble GIF seems to be getting at least third lease on life, this time through mobile messaging.

What started life as a way of simplifying and reducing the file size of digital pictures on the pre-Web online network CompuServe has found yet another role in life. GIFs later found a home on chat boards and Tumblr sites as a way of sharing compressed motion image clips (an example is looping below this paragraph). Now they are being used to do the same over mobile messaging.

Source: For Mobile Messaging, GIFs Prove to Be Worth at Least a Thousand Words – The New York Times

In Brief: 4 takeaways from Boston Consulting Group’s recent programmatic survey

Boston Consulting GroupIn their recent report on the profitability of programmatic advertising sales, Boston Consulting Group identified four ways in which the publishers are outperforming all rivals. The most successful publishers:

  • Use cross-channel, data-driven strategies
  • Segment and match inventory with the right buyers
  • Assemble the right technology
  • Build strong go-to-market and analytic capabilities.

The report argues that many publishers fail to incorporate programmatic sales as a core element of their strategy, or to properly manage their programmatic teams. In the worst cases, programmatic specialists are spending less than a quarter of their time creating value. As the programmatic market continues to grow, these firms risk eroding their market share, thus revenue, thus long-term profitability.

According to BCG, programmatic advertising is a $9 billion market and growing rapidly. Programmatic buying automates the process of identifying where you want to advertise (based on consumer traffic, browsing preferences and network reach) and buying advertising space at auction (up to a set maximum bid).

It’s the optimal way to keep pace when opportunities to advertise and consumer behavioural trends are emerging and being sold in real time, and shifts some of the data management burden from human staff onto automated systems. However, the systems need to be properly selected, constructed and deployed in order to achieve their full potential. BCG identified the following key elements in doing so..

Cross-channel, data-driven strategy


Successful publishers have a cohesive and well-formed data strategy. Their management and monetisation of first-party (i.e. data about their own audiences) governs the strategic choices these publishers make. Marketing strategies and pricing structures are based on concrete successes evidenced and supported by data.

A data-centric approach demands rigorous and clear planning, establishing the extent to which programmatic advertising will supplement or replace direct sales. Take eBay’s recent ‘Programmatic Only Week’ for instance. The experiment—where 100% of the online giant’s UK advertising was booked and executed programmatically— was opened to all media buying outlets and allowed the team to collect vital data for future campaigns.

Anna Stoyanova, head of programmatic EMEA for Essence said:

eBay’s ‘programmatic-only week’ focused on buying through auction. During the week we saw a massive increase in supply relevant to demand, but we haven’t seen a devaluation of the inventory, which is really encouraging for publishers and brands.

This is the kind of data that only comes through planning and testing.

Right inventory, right buyer

Building a body of reliable data also means that publishers can match advertisers more accurately with the audiences they want to reach. A publisher who knows their advertisers’ needs in great detail, and who can refresh and extend their inventory when an opportunity arises, can provide accurate targeting of consumers.

Staying close to buyers and customising programmatic sales of targeted inventory can yield six times the CPM of conventional direct sales.

Assembling the technology

The technology involved in programmatic buying requires careful choices to create the right ‘stack’ of software and user choices. The stack is based on ad-serving technology which delivers the sales. Decisions in which sales to deliver are supported by programmatic demand sources and tools. Both delivery and decision-making software must be configured to maximise CPM and fill rates, and these configurations must be specific to each channel and platform in which the publisher operates; one size does not fit all.

Finally, the stack is topped off by data management/output tools which check the effectiveness of the stack as a whole. In general, discrete stacks will need to be built for each area of a publisher’s inventory, although some ad servers and programmatic buying tools work across platforms and provide integrated input and output for different stacks.

Strong capabilities

Technology is useless without the skills to configure it, assess its output and make the decisions it recommends. Hiring programmatic sales specialists and data scientists is a start; integrating them into an existing team is better, since it gives the specialists access to your existing client relationships and thus offers more developed insights into your advertisers’ needs. The human factor is vital: data will not analyse itself, nor will new methods sell themselves to advertisers.

The bottom line

As trends emerge and platforms proliferate, automated identification and selling of advertising opportunities will become essential to keep track of opportunities and trends, and therefore compete in the market. The gap between direct and programmatic sales will gradually close, and publishers who want to stay in the game will be well-positioned for the predicted explosion in programmatic sales – up to 83% of the online market over the next two years.