Facebook

Rebecca Lieb's picture

How Digital Advertising Will Change Under the New Administration

I just sent the following email to an Austin, Texas-based colleague:

Hey ______,  Are you aware that an ad for your company, with your name on it, appears on Breitbart’s home page? Screen shot attached. Best, Rebecca

I also tweeted out the alert, copying Sleeping Giants, a coalition “trying to stop racist websites by stopping their ad dollars.”

This issue — programmatic ads that appear on racist, sexist and otherwise extreme websites — is going to be an enormous one in the coming year. As is ad fraud.

We’ve already seen the trend developing. One of the most high-profile examples occurred late last year, when Kellogg’s learned its ads were appearing on Breitbart.com, in violation of the company’s corporate values and unbeknownst to the brand itself. Kellogg’s announced it would no longer advertise on the site, which prompted Breitbart to call for a boycott of the brand (a probable first in not just digital, but the entire history of advertising. When has a spurned media outlet ever enacted such a scorched-earth revenge against an erstwhile client?).

The issue isn’t just one of extreme political views and the even deeper polarization between Red and Blue, left and right that currently divide the nation.

Online advertising is already under siege. There’s ad fraud, ad blocking and ad skipping. Click-through rates hover around an abysmal 0.1 percent. Major advertisers, such as Kraft Foods, are rejecting up to 85 percent of marketplace ad impressions. The Association of National Advertisers engaged the help of investigative firms to probe fraudulent agency practices.

And now this.

We have a problem: Fake news and adjacency

“This” is not meant to imply a political argument. Instead, two other issues, (certainly related to the current political climate) are at play. The first is the much newer and highly publicized issue of fake news. The second is an issue as old as advertising itself: adjacency.

No advertiser wants their ads to appear next to news that’s detrimental to their product or that damages their brand. That’s why so many standard advertising contracts have adjacency clauses. Plane crash, no survivors? That page (online or off) is not where Delta, United or American Airlines wants to lure you into the happy skies.

New York Times readers remember this well. Following the events of 9/11, the paper instituted a separate section that ran ad-free to cover news of the disaster and subsequent recovery. If there’s an advertiser that wishes to promote its products directly adjacent to a seemingly never-ending stream of news about death, destruction and terror, I have yet to make that company’s acquaintance.

Fake news is a new wrinkle in the mix, one could call it adjacent to the adjacency issue. Again, no advertiser wishes to be party (or appear to endorse) lies, misinformation and propaganda. Like buying, tuning into or subscribing to a news source, advertising on that same source is an implicit endorsement of the outlet.

Vogue is a fashion authority. The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post convey a certain gravitas to their advertisers. Brands whose ads appear — however inadvertently — on fake news sites may as well be peddling X-Ray Specs in the back pages of a comic book. Or worse.

Another dimension of this newly burgeoning problem is the recent eruption of a bumper crop of hate: xenophobia, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, the list goes on. In fact, the inspiration for this column came from a recent headline on a legitimate news source, DailyBeast.com: “Alt-Right Leaders: We Aren’t Racist, We Just Hate Jews.” As of this writing, my browser is showing a Best Buy and Verizon ad next to the piece. Good luck, guys. I’ve just lost my appetite for faster DSL or a new flat-screen TV.

Again, this loops back to adjacency, even if the authority of the news source isn’t in question.

How the new climate will affect digital advertising

The new climate of fake or offensively virulent news will affect digital advertising and online media in the following ways in the short term.

  1. Already, more than 500 advertisers have pledged to block Breitbart.com from their media plans. This list will only grow. And as advertisers bow to pressure from consumers, expect ad tech players and agency trading desks to follow suit, shedding fake and offensive sites.

  2. Platforms like Facebook are under pressure to assess news stories for veracity before promoting them. Advertisers too will be called to task in the same way. Both human and machine vetting and intervention will be worked on feverishly this year.

  3. Programmatic advertising, already suffering, will descend another peg or two until these issues are at least partially resolved. Abysmal click-through rates don’t cause consumers to rise in insurrection, but supporting (or appearing to support) hate and divisiveness is another matter indeed.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Facebook: The Paid/Organic Distinction

When Facebook announced last week that it will soon become more difficult for brands’ page posts to appear in the news feeds of their friends, fans, and followers, the outcry was predictable. This was the latest move, many brands asserted, in Facebook “forcing” them to buy ads to reach their rightful audiences.

After all, the thinking goes, news feed post appear only the in the feeds of people who hand-raised to follow the brands. So any incidence of Facebook filtering, editing, or otherwise controlling which posts are seen, and by extension, which are not, is pay-to-play statement.

On the one hand, that’s true, in part. Facebook is a business. Its monetization model is ad sales, and that’s the way it works. Of course it wants brands to buy ads.

But what Facebook also wants and needs even more than it needs ad revenues is users. Facebook researched user complaints that their news feeds were ringing too commercial and promotional. Upon probing deeper, the company learned users weren’t complaining about actual ads so much as they were complaining about the brands that they follow on the platform. Posts were too click-here-buy-now, and loaded with promotional calls to action.

So Facebook will now institute a system that requires actual humans to check the quality of brands’ news feed posts for overtly commercial, promotional content. If the human factor deems posts to be to promotional, they’ll plummet like stones in organic results.

Quality score. Organic feeds versus paid placement. If this vocabulary sounds familiar, it should. By checking feeds for quality and determining whether or not they appear prominently (or at all) in users’ feeds, Facebook has just taken a page from Google’s playbook. Google, as you’ll recall, applies this selfsame human evaluation technique not to organic search, but to ads. Actual human beings evaluate search ads based on a number of criteria such as copy, landing page, call-to-action, etc. The ads that Google deems higher in quality are positioned more prominently (i.e., higher) on the search results page.

And of course, Google famously has algorithms to determine the relevance and ranking of organic search results. In no small part, these criteria center around content that is well-crafted and well-written, relevant, useful, shared (i.e., linked to), and credible.

There’s something fascinating about Facebook doing for organic what Google is doing for ads, isn’t there?

There’s also a lesson being reinforced here, namely, there’s a difference between organic content and advertising copy. Between owned and earned media (content and social) and paid media (advertising).

Media are converging, but the medium also determines the message. It’s fallacious to blindly accuse Facebook of trying only to sell more ads because they are trying to up the quality of the news feed. The same accusation was (and continues to be) lobbed at Google when brands’ organic search results suffer: “They’re just trying to make us buy ads.”

Both Facebook and Google aren’t going to turn away your money. But the fundamental reason brands are prepared to pay money to advertise on both these very different platforms is because of the size and breath of the audiences they can deliver to advertisers; audiences they wouldn’t be able to build or maintain without a steady stream of content those audiences are eager to return to consume again and again.

The takeaway from Facebook’s adoption of a quality score (let’s just use Google’s term for it) is that brands must learn to distinguish between advertising content and content marketing content. The latter is never overtly commercial in nature. It’s pull marketing — the marketing of attraction, rather than push, the marketing of interruption. Content requires very different skill sets and strategies than does advertising.

Facebook’s decision in this arena doesn’t just do its users a service. Ultimately, it’s doing a favor for brands, too, by helping them to make this important distinction.

This post originally published on iMedia

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Micro Content, Maxi Effect — How Shifts Toward Visual Content Will Impact Marketers

The written word seems to be on the decline, at least in the online space. Articles and white papers have morphed into blog posts and status updates. Hashtags, acronyms and emoticons stand in for sentences. OTP, BRB, LMK, OK?  :-)

How low can you go? In a year or two, 140 characters — a miserly allotment now — will seem a luxury, a vestige of an era marked by logorrheic verbosity.

If you doubted it before, believe it now: a picture really is worth the proverbial thousand words. Maybe more.

Opinion? Sure. But the facts bear this out. Facebook keeps redesigning to feature bigger, bolder images. Oh yeah, and the company bought Instagram for a cool million. Videos now auto-play on the platform. Yahoo, meanwhile, snatched up Tumblr. Twitter continues to make images and videos a more prominent part of the user experience. And don’t forget the increasing popularity of Pinterest, YouTube, and SnapChat — you can easily see where all this is going.

Research, too, bears out the hypothesis that visual (and audio-visual) content is subsuming the written word. As an analyst, when I ask marketers about the types of content and media channels they’re leaning toward in the future, all forms of written content are on the decline, from press releases to blog posts.  Investment is around multimedia and images.

Content types

The chart above highlights the reason behind this shift in the we communicate online: mobile. Simply put, no one’s about to read War and Peace on a smartphone. Mobile means a lot of things, but mostly it means that screens are getting smaller. The smaller the screen, the pithier information must be in order to be comfortably communicated and absorbed by its target audience.

Ease of use is key here as well. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter don’t create content, rather they enable its dissemination — and if no one updates their status, then these platforms don’t stand a chance. Clearly, it’s a lot easier to upload that shot of your Hawaiian vacation (or delicious lunch, or mischievous puppy) than to narrate in detail why such things are interesting — especially while using your thumbs and combating auto-correct.

Content Strategy Implications

That content is becoming shorter, less verbose and more visual obviously has tremendous ramifications for content strategy. Here are three major points to bear in mind.

Please read the rest of this post on MarketingLand, where it originally published. 

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Instagram Carefully, Respectfully, Selectively, Bows Native Advertising Offering

As the company recently strongly hinted it would, Instagram today announced it will debut advertising on the platform early next month – native advertising, that is.  Aligned with the definition of the term in the research I recently published, the ad creative will be photos from the advertisers’ own Instagram accounts that appear in the feed, differentiated by a “Sponsored” notice in the upper right corner which users can tap on for deeper disclosure.

Just prior to today’s announcement, I discussed the launch with Instagram’s Emily White, director of business operations and Jeff Kanter, product manager. Their approach to monetizing the platform is so careful you could almost characterize it as curatorial. Ten brands were hand picked as launch advertisers based on the “great things” they’re already doing on Instagram: Adidas, Ben & Jerry’s, Burberry, GE, Lexus, Macy’s, Michael Kors, PayPal, and Starwood Hotels.

White says Instagrams’ users come to “be inspired,” and these brands maintain a level of quality that’s inspirational. Which is why the initial metrics for the campaigns will be heavily brand centric: recall, brand lift and awareness. “There’s a lot of value in impressions and views that may not be captured in likes or comments. Instagram will guarantee a certain number of impressions initially, which will vary by campaign. This is a premium brand advertising product. Success is brand lift over a longer period of time.”

The ads will initially appear in the feeds of U.S. users who are 18 and older with very minimal targeting by segment. No social data will be used in targeting, instead broader segments (e.g. male vs. female), “Somewhat like a magazine experience,” says White.

“We’re really focused on maintaining a high bar and will publish quality guidelines,” added Kanter, who explained that users can opt out of ads, Facebook style, on a case by case basis (but not opt out of the entire Instagram advertising experience).

While not having seen this in the wild (the ads don’t launch for another week or so), I’m impressed. We’ve mapped eight critical element for success, and Instagram is apparently conforming to each of them right out of the gate, from disclosure and transparency (that “Sponsored” link) to education (published quality guidelines for advertisers).

Next? Let’s hope we hear from the advertisers by the end of the year with a progress report, as well as lessons learned. This is new terrain not just for Instagram, but for the industry as a whole.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

New Research: “Defining and Mapping the Native Advertising Landscape”

Not since the legislative debate over spam back in the early part of the millennium has a digital marketing term been so riddled by obfuscation and misunderstanding as native advertising.

A quick search of the term on Google returns an impressive 219 million results, yet to date there’s been no real definition of what marketers, publishers, agencies, social media platforms, or any other players in the digital ecosystem mean when they bandy it about.

With so much discussion centered around native advertising, we felt it critical to define the term, assess the nascent landscape, and evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of this new-ish form of advertising. That is what we have done in research published today.

Based on over two dozen interviews with  publishers, social networks, brands, agencies, vendors and industry experts, Altimeter Group has arrived at the following definition of native advertising:

Native advertising is a form of converged media that combines paid and owned media into a form of commercial messaging that is fully integrated into, and often unique to, a specific delivery platform.

In other words, we believe native advertising lives at the intersection of paid and owned media, and is therefore a form of converged media. ‘Owned’ media is content that the brand or advertiser controls. Paid media is advertising: space or time that entails a media buy.

Does native advertising overlap with established forms of sponsored/branded/custom content? Advertorial? Indeed it does. Often differentiation can entail splitting hairs. Yet the evolution of so many unique platforms and technologies has made forms of advertising truly “native.” A sponsored tweet can be native only to Twitter, for example, just as a promoted Facebook post is native only to that one channel.

Native Advertising: The Pros and Cons

Native Advertising: Pros

In addition to defining the term, our research looks at how native advertising can benefit the ecosystem players: technology vendors, agencies, social platforms, publishers, and of course, brands and advertisers. Overall, we see opportunities for all players, these being the chief advantages for each player:

For publishers: new forms of premium inventory.

For social platforms: new advertising products.

For brands: new opportunities for attention, engagement, and message syndication.

For agencies: benefits from creative and media opportunities.

For technology: new solutions facilitate and scale both the creative and delivery aspects of native advertising.

The disadvantages? Scale is an issue, and clearly there are (haven’t were been through this before) issues around disclosure and transparency.

As with all Altimeter Group reports, “Defining and Mapping the Native Advertising Landscape” is Open Research. Please feel free to read it, download it and share it.

Tell us what you think.

If you like it, we’ll create more.

Cross-posted from the Altimeter Group blog.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Six Emerging Content Marketing Trends

Three related, clustered events constitute a trend. So, what have we here?

  • February 25: Mindshare appoints a content chief
  • February 27: Edelman names (a new, digital-focused) chief content officer
  • February 27: Facebook announces a content strategy fellowship
  • March 25: Sequoia Capital appoints a head of content
  • March 26: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt names its first chief content officer
  • March 27: Weber Shandwick launches a content marketing unit with 100 staffers
  • April 1: Havas signs a global chief content officer

Chief content officers have been de rigeur in media companies for years. Editorial web sites, magazines, newspapers, and broadcasters have them. Even Netflix boasts a chief content officer.

What’s staggering now is the alacrity with which agencies are now piling into the white-hot content marketing space. Not all of this is new, of course. Content divisions and/or practices have existed for some time at major players such as Leo Burnett, Ogilvy, and OMD. Digital shops, too, have content heads, as do (of course) the small cohort of content-only agencies.

The appointments above reveal these interesting takeaways:

Agencies that don’t have content practices are scrambling to get into the game

From the appointment of an executive with “content” in his/her title to blowing out an entire new division, both ad and PR agencies realize content can no longer be ignored. Clients expect content-related services and advisory. While mileage on the revenue models varies radically, there’s also heated competition on the PR and ad sides for a piece of the content pie. “We’re in a dogfight with the ad agencies,” is how one PR executive put it to me in a private meeting.

Content’s meaning is increasingly (if not almost exclusively) digital

It’s not as if Edelman didn’t have a content officer before appointing Steve Rubel to the role. His predecessor, Richard Sambrook, a former BBC editor, focused on editorial development. Rubel’s purview will be much broader, focusing on relationships both with digital media properties and technology vendors.

PR shops are in the media buying business

Historically, PR firms never, ever bought media. They earned it. In announcing their new content initiatives, both Weber Shandwick and Edelman have stressed that media buying and other forms of brokering will be very much part of what they do going forward. Media convergence and native advertising models make this evolution imperative.

Content is essential for startups

When one of the leading venture capital firms appoints a content head to help its portfolio companies develop and improve their blogs, social media, and video, it underscores just how essential a well-executed content strategy is to success — or failure — in business.

Hire-a-journalist: Will it suffice?

For the past several years, “hire a reporter” has been the mantra of companies eager to get a leg up in blogging or on social media channels. Now that content strategies are more technologically complex and digitally convoluted (converged media, native advertising, video, mobile) than “just writing,” it will be interesting to see what skillsets the next crop of content hires possess.

“Global” appended to content titles

This trend will become increasingly important with holding companies and larger agencies. Brands, too, are beginning to make content hires and shuffle the org chart to accommodate content strategy and execution. One of the biggest content challenges is the one facing large, multinational enterprises that must create content for a wide range of countries, languages, territories, audiences, and products. If any single cohort relies on outside content support, it’s multinationals. Holding companies possess on-the-ground global support and know that coordinated efforts can be a boon to this important new line of business.

This post originally published on iMedia Connection

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Facebook Search Graph To Impact Social Search

Search is the de facto way in which consumers navigate content platforms. Not just the Web via traditional search engines, but all types of platforms, from television to radio to music libraries. The fact that search has always been lacking from Facebook has long been a source of criticism and frustration.

Facebook Search Graph

There’s a lot of content on Facebook. Until Graph Search was announced by the company last Tuesday, there has been very little way to find or use it. It’s been impossible to search actual content, aside from given names or perhaps classmates.

Graph Search not only enhances Facebook’s functionality, it also makes the entire platform more useful. It has the potential to significantly increase user engagement as well.

While there are not yet any formal products or features for brands or marketers accompanying the launch; rest assured, there will be in the not too distant future. A much more robust paid search advertising product(s) is almost a given. So is functionality linked to Facebook’s API. The company will be in possession of even deeper and richer user data than it already possesses as users’ search history forms part of their profiles, indicating interests, affinities, purchase paths and purchase intent.

While commercial products linked to Search Graph are in the (not-too-distant) future, brands and marketers should start considering their Facebook presence in the context of search today. There’s no time like the present to prepare for the potential impact of Facebook search on the content of branded Facebook pages.

Read the rest of this post on MarketingLand, where it originally published.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Yes, There's Fraud Online. Deal With It.

Breaking: everything you see and read on the internet isn’t true.

Hope you were sitting down for that surprising revelation.  I know, I know, it’s not that big a surprise, but that’s why it’s constantly surprising that people are…surprised by it.

A reporter from one of this country’s leading metropolitan dailies contacted me recently about the late-summer revelation from Facebook that some 83 million (or 8.7 percent) of its user accounts are fake. Facebook is, after all, a platform based on the value proposition that its users are behind real identities.

Doesn’t this blow Facebook’s value proposition out of the water, the reporter wanted to know. Isn’t this an incredibly high number of fake accounts? How could they allow this to happen?

Relax. The problem is hardly endemic to Facebook. Fake accounts, whether malicious in nature or not (Facebook estimates only c. 1.5 percent of active accounts are, in fact, malicious – the others are mostly duplicates, users under the age of 13, your dog, etc.) come with the territory – online or off.

Facebook is working to identify and disable fake accounts just as the search engines are working to combat click fraud – for years now. As ISPs work to block oceans of spam.

Oh, and did I mention fake online reviews?  Yelp has resorted to a sting operation aimed at shaming businesses that are caught trying to game their ratings system. They’re posting “consumer alerts” on those businesses’ pages, and exposing the emails they send to hire favorable reviewers. (TripAdvisor is also participating in its own version of the walk of shame.) So widespread is the fake-review practice that Gartner estimates by 2014, 15 percent of all online reviews will be fake.

Companies running online sweepstakes often encounter fraud, fakes and undesirable metrics in short order. A few years back, I looked under the hood of several soft drink sweepstakes aimed at males aged 12 – 24 (Coke, Sprite and Mountain Dew, to name a few of the brands). I asked Hitwise (now Experian Hitwise ) to crunch the data. They clocked the overwhelming majority of entrants as low-income females…over 45. They weren’t clicking on ads, but rather on a link on contest-aggregator site Sweepstakes Advantage.

Blame the Internet – Or Human Nature?

Somehow, when fraudulent, misleading or even unintentional things happen online, “the internet” is to blame. Or Facebook. Or Google. Or the dating site that was a 14 year old girl’s first step into a bad situation – never mind that a 14 year old had no business being on the site in the first place.

No one seems to be stepping back and saying things like, “Contests are overwhelmingly popular with low-income, middle aged women. Is it wise to run a sweepstakes to reach young men? If we do elect to go that route, how can we ensure we reach the target audience?”

Just as retailers account for “shrinkage” in financial forecasts, digital marketers must account for wasted clicks and impressions. Comes with the territory. There’s always going to be clickfraud. Chihuahuas and Yorkies will continue to update their Facebook newsfeeds (or, even further violating Facebook’s TOS, allow others to do this for them.) People who aren’t 100 percent neutral (like maybe the owner’s mother-in-law) will review restaurants and hair salons – favorably or unfavorably, depending.

Offline Corollaries are Much Worse

While the media are quick to blame “the internet” for a multitude of crimes related to fraud, companies like Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, Bing, Yahoo, and all the major ISPs get little public credit or acknowledgement for their efforts to combat said fraud. Much of the knowledge we have of online misconduct was revealed by these companies themselves. It’s transparency and disclosure.

Not so their offline bretheren. A quick search of “inflated circulation” results in a veritable rogues’ gallery of news stories indicting companies like Time Inc., News Corp, Newsday and other major publishers of being caught in the act – not openly revealing they are combatting a problem.

Forbes recently indicted USA Today for padding hotel bills to the tune of $82 million annually for those unwanted, untouched copies of the newspaper in front of your door in the morning (nearly one million copies per day that you probably don’t read, and probably are billed for).

Online fraud? Yeah. It’s a problem. It will always be a problem. Just like in the real world.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Where Does the Creative Idea Originate?

Those brands that are still ‘just’ advertising have it relatively easy.  They partner with advertising agencies that are tasked with coming up with the creative idea for advertising campaigns. In fact, they have a dedicated staff of “creatives” tasked with doing just that.

Not to denigrate agencies, or creatives, or the vast amount of strategy, research, iterations, testing and refinements that go into creating advertising campaigns, but that model is now radically changing, making the question of where creative comes from a legitimate one.

Sure, advertising agencies own advertising. However in an increasingly mobile world where user-generated content, social media and earned media are burgeoning, advertising is a somewhat diminishing channel and not at all the core creative idea it once was.  In digital (and soon, in traditional media as well), paid, earned and owned media are converging and commingling. Advertising is no longer a stand-alone. It works much, much more effectively in conjunction with broader strategic marketing initiatives that place as much (if not more) emphasis on owned and earned channels.

This raises a chicken-and-egg dilemma for marketers: who’s driving? If paid, earned and owned media all inform a campaign or marketing initiative, and learnings from one channel can be applied to the other for optimization and improvement, which channel leads, and which follow? It the channel that’s doing the driving isn’t advertising, it’s doubtful the creative core of a campaign comes from…creatives.

Together with my colleagues Jeremiah Owyang and Jessica Groopman, I’ve been working on research that looks at how paid, earned and owned media are converging. A growing trend is unquestionably that the creative germ originates in owned and earned media before it becomes paid (i.e. advertising).

Take Facebook ads that ‘pin’ a brand’s wall post in a display ad unit. Or Bazaarvoice’s new ads that retarget shoppers with ad units that feature a geo- and demographically targeted user review of the product they were just viewing.

Brands can even turn lemons into lemonade by taking negative consumer reviews and, by adding a twist of clever content marketing, turn them into positives, as did one local eatery and Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.

When marketing creative flows in from multiple sources, the way marketing and advertising work must inevitably shift. How? We’re sifting through findings, but there are some clear initial insights.

Real time: There’s a constant flow of consumers providing insight, feedback, media, and other digital material in real time on the web. Monitoring all this is a given, but reacting to it in real time is increasingly important, and something too few marketing organizations are prioritizing. Small wonder; real time marketing is resource intensive, and it’s hard. Increasingly, it’s necessary and will prove a real advantage to those who do it.

Listening and analysis: If creative ideas flow from chatter on the web, it’s critical to intelligently listen to all that chatter, to monitor it, triage it, and leverage it into ads and other marketing collateral. The SMMS sector is a veritable explosion of M&A activity right now due to this trend.

Content strategy: Owned media matters. Consumers expect it, social media demands it (and all brands are social, whether they’re playing in that particular sandbox or not). The web in general, and social media in particular, demands a steady stream of content, something brands must prepare for strategically as well as tactically.

Shifting agency models: It’s not as if advertising agencies haven’t seen this coming. Many are shifting staffing (as should brands) to bolster core capabilities such as creative and media with more support for content, data, and social media capabilities.  PR shops are doing this a well, of course, and so are the more forward-looking brands.

Others will certainly follow.  Because agencies creatives now only sometimes lead the creative charge, and the media plan is hardly what determines where, and how, that creative message spreads.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Retargeting the Issue of...Retargeting

Attention is being retargeted to…retargeting. Last week, Facebook announced Facebook Exchange, a new real-time bidding platform that will replace the marketplace ads on the site with inventory that will be both more profitable for Facebook and presumably more targeted to the interests of its users. Facebook will be able to target ads to users based not only on their social graphs, but also on their recent browsing history.

Over recent years, we’ve witnessed the rapid growth of demand-side platforms (DSPs) in digital advertising, and as a result a sharp increase in the amount of tracking that’s going on out there on the web. A Krux Digital survey released this week claims the average visit to a web page (not a website, a single web page) triggers a staggering 56 instances of data collection.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Krux estimated that real-time bidding exchanges contribute to 40 percent of online data collection. Moreover, this type of real-time bidding has shot from virtually zero three years ago to an estimated 18 percent of online advertising marketing, according to a Forrester analyst quoted in the story.

There are plenty of reasons why advertisers and publishers alike have embraced the trend. RTB makes media spend more efficient while eliminating waste. It enables rapid optimization and creative testing, quickly provides deeper analytics and insights, and makes retargeting more effective and scalable. All this results — in theory at least — in better-performing ad campaigns.

Otherwise put, DSPs are closer by a mile than standard CPM-based display units to the “digital nirvana” so many advertisers aspire to: the right message to the right person at the right time. A consumer browses hotels in Baltimore for an upcoming trip and is retargeted with deals and offers that pertain to her trip while she’s still got the planning of it in mind.

That’s the promise, anyway. The reality often differs considerably. Everyone knows someone who is still being retargeted with ads for that sofa they bought six months ago. Or that time I visited a local bakery’s site to check the address so I could nip downtown and buy a cake for a party. Months later, I was still being retargeted with “order online and we’ll ship it to you” ads from one of the very few businesses I’d never buy from on the internet, because it’s a bakery, and because it’s local.

Beyond privacy concerns

When forms of digital advertising involving increased cookie collection, personal data, and targeting are in the news as they have been this week, the phrase “privacy concerns” appears frequently in headlines. Yes, privacy is always a concern, and it pays to be vigilant (and all that).

I’d argue that much of what’s raised as a “privacy” problem are the obvious Big Brother aspects of retargeting that are so apparent to users when they become obtrusive and inappropriate — when this type of targeting is used as a blunt instrument rather than a tool of near surgical precision. Getting retargeted with ads for swim fins because you once accidently clicked on a pair in 2009, is far from a best practice and is not how this type of advertising is intended to work, yet it too often does. The results: irritated consumers who dump cookies and tune out or ridicule online advertising.

Turnkey, self-serve solutions come with a measure of responsibility on the part of both the advertiser and the DSP, otherwise the process becomes akin to driving without a license. It’s not helping anyone — not the consumer, the publisher, the advertiser, nor the industry in general — when hyper-targeted ads return to haunt the user again and again. Media buying agencies understand things like frequency caps. Too many small advertisers — the bakeries and the mom ‘n’ pop ecommerce sites — mean well but alarm rather than entice their audiences.

This begs the question: Should buying online advertising be so frictionless and easy when targeted and quasi-personalized ads have the potential to do as much harm as good? And if it’s to remain as turnkey as it has become (which is most likely the case), whose responsibility is it to ensure that the advertisers are educated enough to use their tools wisely.

A version of this post appeared in iMedia Connection

Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb is a strategic advisor, consultant, research analyst, keynote speaker, author, and columnist.

SEE MORE

Get in touch