Audience and content: two sides of the same coin

Advertisers and media buyers are consistently told that online advertising these days is “all about buying an audience”, that “content does not matter so much any more”.

This is to disregard that content is the reason that brings members of the audience together in the first place. It happens offline at a movie or in front of a TV show and also online, on a famous economist’s blog or a cooking website. The very concept of audience exists because of the content attached to it.

Now, of course audiences online don’t just sit in front of their screen(s) waiting for the event to unfold. The Internet is not a bus stop. Online audiences are on the hunt, for information and increasingly, entertainment. It’s their doing so in such a disorderly fashion, anywhere and any time, that creates the illusion that what they’re actually reading, watching or interacting with is secondary.

There is one big reason why this is not the case: it is called engagement, or the amount of attention that a viewer actually spends in interaction with the content. For an advertiser, the effect is immediate: if a user opens a web page and bounces off immediately because what they see is not what they’re looking for, any ad impression that was part of that page becomes de facto wasted. The better the content, the more responsive the audience, which automatically rubs off on the advertising. That content online may be found easily because there is so much of it does not mean it should be taken for granted. Think quality content and you quickly realize that it may not be so ubiquitous after all.

Good content is what feeds those audiences that you’re looking for. It’s the plankton of that food chain on top of which you sit as a marketer. Take that link away and the whole ecosystem collapses! Therefore, “audience” can not be disjointed from “content”: make sure you don’t fall prey to some clever beast determined to convince you otherwise.

Open Or Private Marketplace? How To Decide

by Andrew Casale (VP Strategy)

We’ve continued to see private marketplaces as the preferred model for facilitating programmatic access to impressions from major publishing companies, with new announcements from the likes of Hearst, Federated Media and Condé Nast, along with many that have been in market for over the year (NBC Universal, Quadrant One, etc). However, while evaluating whether or not launching a private marketplace makes the most sense, there are three things every publisher should consider in the context of programmatic selling: relationships, data and transparency.

Relationships

Both open and private exchanges use machines to handle workflow – automated buying and selling, targeting and optimization. The open model creates no conversation between the publisher and agency trading desk (ATD)/buyer, but is ultra efficient because it requires no setup. On the other hand, private marketplaces benefit from the requirement that relationships make them work — but that also means additional work is required to transact. Open and private marketplaces act as two tools that can be used exclusively or interchangeably based on the scenario to maximize the opportunity programmatic represents.

Publishers wary of real-time bidding (RTB) can arrange private marketplace deals through discussion with specific buyers on their own terms, rather than opening their impressions for all to access. We’ve had conversations with publishers who haven’t embraced programmatic selling, but want to transact with ATDs that are new prospects that their sales team should be talking to. Publishers may be specific about whom they want to buy, and only want to transact with that short list.

Relationships are very important for private marketplaces, but publishers have to dedicate resources to enable those relationships to thrive. In many cases, buying through private marketplaces is an easier “sell” for agency clients, especially conservative ones, because of a familiar brand name and warm relationship with the seller. Marketers may view open marketplaces as risky or foreign because billions of impressions in them, and only algorithms and machines facilitate the transactions. Certain brands embrace programmatic buying only when connected directly to premium publishers they know, skipping the open market entirely. While performance and price matters to marketers, so does brand association.

Data

Publisher first-party data can have a significant impact on ad effectiveness. With RTB, publishers increasingly worry about how they’ll control their valuable user data so they typically leave data out of their strategy. Private marketplaces address this worry because data rights can be negotiated into individual deals. If the right deal can be negotiated, data can be made available at bid time as part of the transaction or omitted if the deal terms do not satisfy the publisher’s valuation of its data. Access to data is important to the buy side, and striking the right balance between price and budget can amplify the size of opportunity for a publisher.

Transparency

Some argue that impressions available in private and open marketplaces are exactly the same. This is where transparency becomes important. With the correct configuration, private and open exchanges should never contain the same inventory. Typically, a publisher will only make its unallocated impressions available on the open market in a blind or semi-blind capacity. This is done for channel protection, to mitigate having impressions available for bid in real-time while a direct sales force is also selling the same impressions. However, buying blind means neither environmental quality guarantees nor contextual relevance, which deters advertisers from spending. Our internal research shows that selling blind typically means losing up to a half of all bids.

For publishers with multiple publications and millions of impressions, it makes sense to break apart the high valued placements and sub-brands (those that are in most demand), and carve out a private marketplace around these impressions. The remaining impressions are best suited for an open exchange where a publisher can access the most demand. It’s key for different impressions to be available in different buckets to create the appropriate buy side value proposition for a private marketplace.

Publishers considering programmatic selling should speak to the buy side directly. Publisher can better assess if they can meet advertiser needs through an open marketplace, or if advertisers are better suited for transactions handled one to one in a private environment. Every publisher is different, requiring a unique approach to maximize success.

What is premium?

It is clear from the various discussions taking place at the recent OMMAPremium Display event that “premium” means different things to different people:

– To the movie marketer, it’s “big splash” advertising that generates widespread awareness in a minimum of time, like a homepage takeover of some news outlet attracting millions.
– To the agency creative director, it’s a cross-channel execution that provides a memorable experience to consumers exposed to it.
– To the online media buyer, inventory that has a chance to perform, i.e. at least be seen (viewable) and brand safe (traceable ownership), while limiting waste (transparency).
– To the data analyst, accurately targeted impressions.
– To the publisher, interesting, fast-paced, shareable content that will boost their readership.

However, there is some common ground: somehow “premium” must offer superior value, worth the extra cost asked for.

In our conception of “premium”, as it relates to inventory quality, less is more. As in the physical world, high inflation makes the currency less valuable: we see this happen with a limitless supply of online inventory leading to CPM decline over the years. Think of the hyper-inflation in the early 1920s Germany: a downward spiral that lead to chaos.

rare inventory will be more valuableAs such, we need to organize scarcity. By nature, what is scarce is expensive, so publishers won’t lose out. If one big, viewable, accurately targeted banner replaces a clutter of flashy ads in different sizes and colors strewn about a page, then user engagement and attention is bound to increase… to the delight of advertisers, who will be able to focus on the user experience. Everybody wins.

How Publishers Can Maximize Value In An RTB World

by Andrew Casale (VP, Strategy)

The introduction of real-time bidding (RTB) has dramatically changed the mechanics behind inventory valuation. Publishers must take a closer look at their sales channel partners to maximize value. RTB, a data-driven buying model, allows advertisers to bid on qualified display media in real-time, at the impression level.

Publishers must maintain control over impressions to assure that inventory value is retained, direct sales channels preserved and the audience experience is upheld.

RTB requires the introduction of additional relationships, such as demand side platforms (DSPs) and agency trading desks, which could further dilute a publisher’s control in the transaction. A DSP aggregates impressions from various sources and adds a layer of user data to identify specific audiences required by advertisers. DSPs then work with channel partners, like ad exchanges, to regulate the type of inventory entering the marketplace.

Publishers need to understand these relationships and work with their channel partners to incorporate them into the parameters. This means asking partners the right questions:

How closely do you work with DSPs?

Channel partners that have the closest integrations with their DSP partners will be able to provide the most flexibility when it comes to implementing mechanisms to augment controls over who and how they are bidding on your inventory.

How granular do your advertiser controls get?

Advertising is an integral part of the user experience, along with actual content, of course. Publishers need to be able to filter out irrelevant ad categories, problematic brands and even some creative that may diminish the value of the content on a page and deter users.

How can you avoid channel conflicts?

The rate of a buyer’s bid is largely dependent on the exact location of an impression. Channel partners should give guarantees that advertisers, brands and verticals that pose a channel conflict can be selectively blocked and that this setting is proactively maintained –even when inventory is sold at the exchange level.

What is the vetting process for your advertising partners?

Publishers expose their inventory to a larger swath of advertisers when utilizing RTB, which theoretically improves eCPMs. However, just because an ad partner can promise more advertisers doesn’t mean any advertiser will do. Ad partners should vet advertisers before including them in the process. Publishers should investigate the degree of controls they have over who and what is eligible to run on their site.

How do you motivate bidding?

To maximize RTB results, the marketplace must be saturated with buyers, and those buyers must be confident they are getting value for money. Partners must know where buyers see value — because sheer volume or sole reliance on third-party data is not a good enough answer.

How do you optimize bid solicitation?

RTB partners are required to make decisions about hundreds of bidders in milliseconds, and it takes multiple partners for RTB to run smoothly. Monetization partners should have protocols in place that allow for smooth communication between all parties with minimal errors and overhead.

Can I set reserve bids?

Auctions inherently attract buyers looking to get the most for their money, but publishers should be able to protect their brand value by setting reserve prices. This gives publishers a say in how inventory is priced, without introducing inefficiencies into the process.

What is the value of a private exchange?

Factors like reputation and publisher caliber carry less weight in the RTB world than publishers are used to, which can lead to below-par inventory valuations. In some cases, it may be beneficial to strike a deal within the RTB framework with an advertiser you already know is highly interested in your publication. This tactic gives publishers some control in a market that typically has complete control over inventory value.

RTB is becoming a vital part of selling online, so publishers should remain vigilant when introducing partners into the mix.

Is it Possible to Generate Ad Revenue with Children’s Content Online?

Posted by Julia Casale-AmorimYMC-post

Recently, I was asked to participate on a panel at the 2009 Children, Youth & Media Conference here in Toronto, put on by ACT (Alliance for Children and Television). While I was delighted to have been invited, I was left scratching my head on what could possibly be contributed to the session in question: Making Money with Multi-platform Kids Content – from an ad network’s perspective.

We have been approached countless times by the producers of some first-rate children’s content in search of advice on how to monetize their site portfolios online. Could they be part of our network? They certainly have the eyeballs. They have the quality content. They even have the offline brand power! So, why couldn’t we take them on as publishers?

They have the whole package it would seem, until you account for the fact that as producer’s of children’s content, they are attracting a very specific demographic: children, and therein lies the challenge. As an ad network, the vast majority of our advertising clients come to us looking to place their media in front of the eyeballs of buyers and purchase decision makers. One of the magnetic draws of online media, is its ability to measure, virtually in real time, how a campaign is converting views or clicks into actions – typically purchases.

In oversimplified terms, networks operate in an aggregate capacity. That means any publisher coming on as part of the network in a standard “blind” representation agreement, is sold as part of a larger group of sites. Networks are all about scale and reach to the general consumer population. We service the majority needs of the marketplace. We appeal to much the same clientele as broadcast TV and we need to offer content and audiences that satisfy their requirements.

The most coveted and in-demand demographic is adults 30+ – a far cry from the audiences represented by most children’s content.

What About Moms? Aren’t They the Holy Grail of Online Adverting?
So, getting back to the panel, I put my thinking cap on to see if there was any advice I could possibly offer to an audience of children’s content producers. A mom myself, I frequently watch children’s TV programming with my daughter and even go online with her from time to time to explore the interactive world of Sesame Street (among other children’s destinations).

The younger the child-targeted audience, the more likely that child is to be visiting your website with his or her parent (my daughter isn’t even two years old yet, but she absolutely loves going online with us – and certainly couldn’t do it on her own).

Moms are a lucrative segment that can really light up the eyes of advertisers. A campaign (say for diapers, children’s toys or a grocery item) targeted to moms on a site that promotes child-parent engagement could be very successful from a branding perspective. If however, a campaign’s objectives or success metrics are centered around brand engagement or “direct response”, this type of content – although providing direct access to the household decision maker, isn’t likely to achieve the desired results since moms aren’t going to leave an activity they are engaging in with their child to check out an ad or promotion or to download a coupon.

The Takeaway for Producer’s of Online Children’s Content
So is it possible to earn ad revenue online with children’s content? Yes! But so long as you approach your site’s development with an eye to how advertisers evaluate media placements up front and campaign performance after the fact.

The Success Determinant: Children’s content that requires parental engagement/participation (i.e. targeted to the toddlers – old enough to play with mom online, but not old enough to do it alone).

Ultimately, for an ad network to work with you there needs to be hefty advertiser demand for what you’re selling (your audience) and the environment and user behaviour on your site needs to be conducive to achieving the advertiser’s campaign objectives. It all comes down to:

  • The target audience
  • The campaign’s objectives (i.e. branding, or direct response)

If you can develop a website and audience following the tics the two requirements listed above and you can find an ad network partner that works with a large roster of clients who are looking specifically for venues through which to brand themselves to moms, then you stand a very real (and potentially lucrative) shot at making money with your online children’s content.

Good luck!