Category Archives: Article

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

The Scrap Value of a Hacked PC, Revisited — Krebs on Security

As I continue to dig into the dark and murky world of malware and madvertising I am discovering some pretty cool stuff. Here’s a great diagram of all the things that nefarious individuals can do once they gain access to your computer — even a basic web-browsing and email-checking one.

Source: The Scrap Value of a Hacked PC, Revisited — Krebs on Security

From his post:

One of the ideas I tried to get across with this image is that nearly every aspect of a hacked computer and a user’s online life can be and has been commoditized. If it has value and can be resold, you can be sure there is a service or product offered in the cybercriminal underground to monetize it. I haven’t yet found an exception to this rule.

I definitely recommend Brian Krebs’ site if you’re interested in this stuff. He’s kind of a (somewhat nerdy) badass.

A crucial moment for premium video publishers

SpotX UHS Report FiguresSince SpotX released their findings with IHS last week there has been a lot of excitement about the adoption and growth of programmatic video, in particular in the UK. The report, “found that revenue across Europe from online video jumped from €22 million in 2012 to €375 million in 2015. IHS forecasts that €2 billion, which is over half of all online video advertising revenue, will be generated programmatically by 2020.”
These numbers are definitely exciting. However, I think they raise a secondary question and point to an important moment for suppliers of premium video inventory. Even at current levels of spend supply of premium, broadcast-quality video content is extremely constrained and that is the video inventory that marketers are after. For the first time, well, ever, as far as I can remember this is a first for online. We have always suffered from the double-edged sword of an effectively infinite pool of supply. Now, however, in this extraordinarily hot space, publishers may have some leverage.
Some ideas and observations:

Opportunity to move to a first-price auction

IPONWEB Optimal Auction PriceA lot of money has been left on the table by suppliers because of the second-price auction. Suppliers of quality video inventory can’t afford this anymore. There is a liquid market for their supply. The first publishers to INSIST on a top-bid-wins marketplace will reap significant benefits. PubMatic, SpotX, Tremor and others have the ability to deliver a lot of value to publishers. Of course there could be nuanced approaches here such as providing publishers the option to turn on and off first or second bid or creating a blended win rate, similar to what IPONWEB has suggested.

Because of fraud no one knows how much REAL inventory is out there

The blatant fraud exposed in Rob Leathern’s and then Mike Nolet’s pieces over the last fortnight have really kicked the hornet’s nest when it comes to video ad fraud, even on premium sites. According the Mike’s piece:

One fraudulent ad-unit shows so many ads that in 25-minutes I tracked:

  • 5359 HTTP calls. Yes, five thousand three hundred and fifty nine individual HTTP calls.

  • 70.19 MB of traffic. SEVENTY MEGABYTES. Thankfully I loaded this on my laptop as this one single ad unit would have used 7% of my monthly cell phone data allowance!

While the growth numbers projected by SpotX and IHS are exciting, I fear that as the ripples of these findings spread, they could be negatively impacted. Buyers do NOT want to be pumping cash into an ecosystem this dodgy. AppNexus’s recent revelation that 65% of their impressions vanished when they began filtering for fraud further underscores the scope of the issue.

Where will the growth come from

Where will this 5x growth in programmatic video spend come from? The inventory is constrained and largely sold out. Marketers are less interested in long-tail, short-format video and the jury is still very much out on the value of out-feed solutions like Teads (especially for desktop) and other ‘new video’ sources of supply.

Of course inventory is only half the equation. Price is the other. I do think there is probably quite a bit of upside to be achieved by switching to first-price auctions as mentioned above. This would at least create a real marketplace with real price signalling. Obviously though, not all this growth will come simply from better pricing the supply we’ve got.

There will be continued organic growth in the supply of premium video inventory as audiences continue to shift viewing habits but as far as we’ve seen to date this shift has lagged behind advertiser demand for those eyeballs.

The mobile issue

Users are quickly adopting mobile devices for video consumption. However, video on mobile can be a tricky issue. The screens are much smaller, user behaviour is very different (think fast scrolling), audio is often muted, there’s less screen real estate for gutters and out of page advertising, and data is frequently metered and expensive. What happens to video programmatic should we see a sudden, rapid shift to the majority of video being consumed on portable devices?

Redefining programmatic video

As far as I see it the only way that these numbers can be achieved but only with a few fundamental issues being addresses first. In addition to the fixes, what will have to happen is that “television” advertising will need to become “video” advertising. It’s like in Chinatown when Jake Gittes is told, “either you bring the water to LA or you bring LA to the water.”

There is a vast pool of supply sitting in set top boxes and televisions that is currently being classified as “television” ad spend. What will (and must) happen is that this inventory needs to be made addressable through programmatic means. The convergence  of offline tv and online video will create a huge pool of inventory for buyers to purchase and by layering on data, targeting, and programmatic delivery the efficiencies of online can be applied to the most valuable advertising supply resource in history.

In summary

  • The incredible growth numbers in programmatic video face significant hurdles
  • The supply of the valuable inventory buyers want is severely constrained and largely sold out
  • Publishers have the upper hand from a pricing perspective and need to aggressively embrace this fact. It’s a very liquid market.
  • SSPs for video inventory should move to first-price auctions to drive incremental revenue for publishers (or at least offer the option to do so)
  • It’s currently unclear where the 500% growth in the next 5 years will come from given the lack of inventory available
  • Some growth can come from increasing yields and organic growth of inventory supplies
  • The consumer shift to mobile exacerbates the issue of quality supply not being available
  • A huge opportunity exists by converging traditional tv and online ‘video’ advertising and seems to be the only viable way that this growth can be achieved.

Top 5 Things to Know about Audio Advertising

Most of the time, when we talk about advertising platforms, we think of ads with displayed content, whether that’s text, images, or perhaps video. One area that’s often overlooked is audio advertising, which is important in the world of music and radio where the attention of customers is sought through ears, not eyes.

So what do you need to know about audio advertising? Here are the essentials.

The same principles apply

What does a platform for audio advertising look like? In essence, the same as it does for other kinds of ads. Advertisers buy access to the users of multiple radio and music services through a single advertising platform, just as they would normally purchase target audiences through advertising on multiple websites and apps.

It has huge reach

Such an advertising platform is a good fit for the radio and digital music industries because of the ways in which these things are consumed—which is to say, mainly via mobile devices, with the ever-increasing ability to listen to digital audio anywhere at any time. This includes AM/FM radio, online radio (streamed and on-demand) and podcasts, which means access to huge audiences.

It’s targeted

The nature of digital audio also means the ability to target very specific audiences. Podcasts and radio come in many flavours, including music, news, sports and politics. Digital audio is also consumed in different contexts, such as in the car, at home or in the office. All of this means that audiences can be segmented accordingly.

It’s not limited to audio

While audio advertising refers mainly to the transmission of audio, music streaming services and platforms—on mobile apps and on the web—typically have interfaces where visual components can be used, such as banner ads that can be used in conjunction with audio ads. On Spotify, for example, a synchronised banner ad replaces the usual square album cover image whenever an audio ad plays.

The platform exists

Last year, Global Radio launched a new advertising platform they call the Digital Audio Exchange, which gives advertisers access to an impressive list of digital radio brands, music streaming services and audio social networks, including Spotify, Blinkbox, Capital, and Classic FM. Advertising partners already include giants such as Vodafone, Virgin Media, Lexus, eBay and 20th Century Fox.

Like many publishers, Global Radio is particularly well-positioned to sell inventory because they can offer their own rich, ‘premium’ audience data, as well as that of reputable partners who can expand their reach.
It’s easy to overlook audio advertising, but in fact digital audio is now more relevant than ever, an increasingly omnipresent fixture in the consumer landscape. This makes digital audio one of the best ways to reach consumers today.

How does a biddable media team work

The online advertising world has seen the rise of biddable media, programmatic bidding where automated auction platforms are used to purchase ad impressions. In essence, the advertiser who is willing to pay the highest price for an individual impression wins that impression.

In some ways, this has simplified how purchasing online ads works. It’s an efficient, transparent and precise means of ad buying that cuts out a lot of the manual input, allows for more specific targeting, and makes the ad-buying economy more organised.

However, while biddable media platforms have all of these advantages, media and marketing agencies frequently fail to integrate the needs of biddable media properly into their agency structure, resulting in a fragmented media team whose priorities can conflict.

So what should a biddable media team look like, what should it do and how should it be structured?

Search versus display

The responsibilities of purchasing ads are traditionally split between:

The search team — responsible for search ads, typically Paid Search where they show up alongside search results.

The display team — responsible for display ads that appear on websites.

However, thanks to the evolution of online advertising where both kinds of ads have grown in complexity, these two sides have merged such that the distinction no longer entirely makes sense.

Search ads include increasingly rich media and social extensions that aren’t fully accounted for by the responsibilities of the search team. At the same time, display ads have also adopted elements of search; for example, targeted native ads that reflect a user’s recent searches.

Biddable media, where advertisers purchase audiences via ad impressions, has grown in popularity because the ability of ads to collect and exploit contextual user data has become more universal, allowing the attention of specific target audiences to be purchased for all kinds of ads–while previously, search ads would ignore the audience data layer, looking only at the immediate context of, for example, search keywords.

So when putting together a biddable media team, it becomes a question of ownership: who should own biddable media when the traditional priorities of the search team are no longer sufficient?

What does biddable media need?

A biddable media advertising strategy needs to incorporate the following stages:

Planning — the team develops plans according to a branding strategy and business objectives.
Buying — real-time bidding for ad impressions, purchasing targeted audiences.
Optimisation — making ongoing changes to the ads according to their performance.
Reporting — evaluating the success of campaigns and citing where they could be improved.
Analysing tech landscape — keeping an eye on current developments in the online advertising world.

This is a process that needs to be at the centre of marketing operations. Programmatic buying should be treated as an integral part of the wider strategy and communications plan, and as such the different teams should be brought in line so that they both serve each of these stages of the process.

Team culture

The aim of a biddable media team should be to foster an approach to the campaign that is adopted by both search and display teams and reflects the process required by today’s biddable media. And there are key attributes to look for in the team.

Experimental — willingness to test, look at results, and experiment with changes.
Analytical — the ability to interpret data and campaign results using analytics tools.
Quantitative — crunching the numbers, being aware of costs, clicks and audience reach.
All-round data nerd — (said with love, obviously!) understanding the overall precedence of data, and looking not only at search data but display data (e.g. which images or videos are effective) and social media reach.

Each team should retain its core expertise and be able to bring that to the table, but with some understanding of the other side of the process. An effective biddable media team requires ‘cross-pollination’, each team learning from the other to synthesise their practises.

This means that team members are likely to need some training in each other’s disciplines. The search team will need greater awareness of audience and brand, while the display team will need to fully understand the implications of targeted ads ruled by data and algorithms.

The result should be a dynamic culture of constant testing and experimenting, with continuous review and improvement of workflow processes. Each member of the biddable media team should be multi-skilled specialists with a full understanding of ad requirements.

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