Digital Advertising

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Four Epic Native Advertising Fails

As a research analyst, I just completed a study of native advertising. The report, based on months of research and dozens of interviews, contains eight critical recommendations for successful native advertising campaigns.

We help our clients incorporate these recommendations in their native advertising strategies. What happens when best practices and tried-and-true practices are disregarded or ignored? That’s what iMedia’s editors asked me to share in this article. Not for the sake of schadenfreude really, but as a set of object lessons. So let’s take a look at a handful of native advertising fails and also map them to the whys of their shortcomings.

Best practices matter in native advertising a lot, and soon they’ll matter even more. Recently, 73 percent of Online Publishers Association members said they offer some form of digital advertising, a number that is swelling daily. Spending in the sector is expected to swell to $4.57 billion by 2017, though that’s a figure that bears some scrutiny, given “native advertising” does not yet bear the distinction of a formal, much less universally-agreed upon, definition.

Nonetheless, if we can agree that native advertising is a form of converged media (regardless of whether it appears on a publisher site or a social platform) that combines paid media (i.e., an ad) with owned media (i.e., content that isn’t “advertising-y” in nature), best practices and success elements do begin to emerge.

Trust and transparency

The Atlantic-Scientology debacle is the poster child of native advertising gone horribly — no, hideously — wrong. Under a small-ish “Sponsor Content” box, the site published a sunny and upbeat piece about the extremely controversial leader of the Church of Scientology: “David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year.” An uproar ensued, causing the piece to be taken down in short order, and an apology was issued. In short order The Onion followed up with “SPONSORED: The Taliban Is A Vibrant And Thriving Political Movement.”

In a further apology issued the following day, The Atlantic stated, “We now realize that as we explored new forms of digital advertising, we failed to update the policies that must govern the decisions we make along the way.”

What’s a best practice in this area? Disclosure, transparency, and trust are non-negotiable. Period. And come on, we’ve danced this dance more than once: With search engine advertising, paid blogging, and word-of-mouth marketing. Do we really even need to have this conversation? Disclose to readers that it’s a paid placement. Link to the relevant editorial policy. Create a channel for inquiry.

There. That wasn’t so bad now, was it?

Strange bedfellows

The Economist teamed up with Buzzfeed to create a promotional listicle entitled “Dare2GoDeep,” the stories behind the venerable publications’ serious hard news and policy coverage. The piece, and indeed, the pairing, was widely mocked as “inane” and “cringeworthy.” It is kind of hard to draw the line between one of the world’s most respected news magazines and a website known for its lists of all things LOL and feline.

Sales-y

At the heart of native advertising is content marketing, which is soft, not hard, sell. Last holiday season, “A Gift Guide for Surviving Your Family at Home This Holiday” on Gawker Media read more shill than article. The body copy doesn’t really deliver on the headline’s promise, which feels bait-and-switch.

Collaboration and earned media

I hate to single out Buzzfeed again (the publication does so much native advertising so very well), but last August the site was involved in an imbroglio that should have been nipped in the bud rather than allowed to spiral into scandal. A conservative anti-abortion group published its own listicle bashing Planned Parenthood in Buzzfeed’s then-new community section. The post violated Buzzfeed’s community guidelines, yet it wasn’t immediately taken down, causing a media, as well as social media, fallout. The Guardian followed up: “BuzzFeed is taking trolling to a new level by pandering to right-wing nuts.”

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

Rebecca Lieb's picture

A Big Deal for Content Marketing: Oracle Buys Compendium

Today Oracle announced that it’s buying Compendium, a company that offers cloud-based content marketing workflow solutions.  Compendium will be integrated into the Oracle Eloqua Marketing Cloud.

 
At Altimeter Group, I’m just now embarking on a research project to map the content vendor landscape (slated for publication in Q1 of 2014). There are literally dozens and dozens of companies on the scene, all offering solutions that address small niches of the very broad content workflow requirements. The first and most immediately apparent finding is that there will be many such mergers and acquisitions in the sector.
 
Oracle’s acquisition of Compendium is indeed a watershed moment for content. It’s acknowledgement that content is the foundational element of marketing. Without content (and all that it necessitates: governance, workflow and strategy being paramount), there is no advertising, there is no social media, PR, or other forms of marketing. All are fed and nurtured by content,  the demands for which are increasing exponentially.
 
There’s also a need to integrate the existing tools on the market that facilitate content marketing: workflow, process, measurement, production, distribution, aggregation and curation, etc. Expect not only more acquisitions by enterprise players, but also M&A activity among the smaller companies as content “stacks” begin to form that address marketers’ end-to-end content requirements.
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AOL’s “Programmatic Upfront”: Still an Oxymoron

Programmatic upfront? AOL’s much-ballyhooed event at New York’s Advertising Week was positioned to provoke. Upfronts are ginormous, splashy, boozy, star-studded, A-list, steak, lobster and caviar TV blowouts for advertisers, not digital media buyers. It’s where broadcasters preview the next season’s programming (and, as a Starcomm executive mentioned before AOL’s event kicked off, “We’ve always had an opportunity to see AOL’s premium inventory in advance.”)

Programmatic buying – real-time, automated bidding for ad inventory, is the opposite of carefully negotiated premium display advertising.

So what’s a programmatic upfront? It’s still an oxymoron, and a lot of people left the AOL event scratching their heads.

What AOL really announced at an “upfront” that featured precisely one live celebrity (Nate Silver), a velvet rope and mini-skirted, high-heeled models checking agency and client-side guests into a midtown Manhattan venue was a sort of VIP buyers’ club. Beginning next year, the company will make reserved premium inventory (e.g. the Huffington Post, TechCrunch and StyleList home pages) available via its automated real-time buying system, the AdLearn Open Platform, to buyers who have committed multi-million dollar investments upfront (upfront) – said to be in the $10M range, per Advertising Age.

So far, two brands and five agencies have signed on: Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, LG Home Appliances, Accuen, Amnet, Havas Media, Horizon Media and MagnaGlobal.  DigitasLBi, Razorfish and VivaKi are thinking about it, according to AOL Networks CEO Bob Lord.

AOL is clearly trying to decouple associations such as “remnant inventory” from “programmatic buying.” It’s looking for deeper and longer-term commitments for brand campaigns, and is emphasizing the amount of planning that’s required for such initiatives, programmatic or otherwise.

Effectively, what AOL is offering is not an upfront, but rather a private, reserved marketplace where a group of high rollers get right of first refusal on premium inventory.

Substantial advance monetary commitments to premium ad inventory – not to mention the technology that powers it – is clearly advantageous to AOL.  Simplifying the process of buying, placing, targeting, optimizing and re-targeting messaging across platforms and formats including desktop, web, mobile, apps, smartphones, tablet and rich media clearly has advantages as well.

What’s less clear is if AOL didn’t almost completely obfuscate this message in its buzz-building insistence to provocatively brand its event a “programmatic upfront.” Exit polls, and post-event email exchanges, indicated that there was little more understanding what the term meant after the event then before it, “And we talked about it for days beforehand at the office,” said one strategist from Universal-McCann.

AOL claims to be streamlining online ad buying, to be simplifying the process. “What would you do with more time?” asked banners, signs and projections at the New York event, implying that AOL’s promise is to deliver something newer, more streamlined and simpler.

We’ll take it! But please, call it something different. Because the morning after the event, people who had been there were still asking, “What the heck is a programmatic upfront?” In that one very important sense, AOL still can’t get out of its own way.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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FTC Legitimizes Native Advertising

There’s one sure way of telling if a new form of digital marketing is becoming legit: the FTC decides to take a long, hard look at it. And that’s exactly what they have announced they’ll do with native advertising, holding public hearings in Washington on December 4.

We’ve danced this dance before. Back in 2003, I testified at the FTC’s Spam Forum, which led to the enactment of the CAN-SPAM act passed by Congress the following year. The previous year, the FTC published guidance on search engine advertising. In 2000, the FTC published its first guidance on .com Disclosures, aimed at eliminating deception in digital advertising. Guidelines governing endorsements and testimonials (and, by extension, word-of-mouth marketing practices), were published in 2009.

Having published the first independent research report on native advertising just days before the FTC called this public hearing, it’s pretty gratifying to see what was clearly inevitable happy with such alacrity. Almost synchronously with the FTC’s announcement of hearings, brands ranging from the hyper-established New Yorker to not-yet-monetized start-up Pinterest were announcing new native advertising plans and offerings, joining a host of other publisher and social media platforms.

The IAB, anticipating the FTC’s move, already has a native advertising task force at work (disclosure: I’m not an IAB member, but I am a taskforce member).

In December, the FTC hopes to begin to answer questions about maintaining editorial integrity in the face of new advertising products that look a lot like content. The hearings will examine how these messages are presented, differentiated and disclosed to consumers as sponsored content. I’m particularly interested in learning more about consumer perceptions of native advertising (so little research has been conducted in this very nascent discipline), and how disclosures will transfer when native ads are shared and amplified in social channels.

Doubtless much will emerge from the hearings, as well as in the coming months around industry self-regulation for native advertising. (It’s highly unlikely that actual legislation will emerge on the issue.) In the meantime, I’d like to share the recommendations we make in our report on the issues of transparency, disclosure and trust in native advertising:

Transparency, disclosure, and trust: We’ve been through this before, collectively as an industry. As with the early days of search advertising, when paid search results required clear delineation from organic ones, or word-of-mouth marketing and pay-for-play blogging, industry standards will emerge around the disclosure of what’s paid and what’s editorial content on a variety of media platforms in addition to individual publisher policies. In addition to overt disclosure on publisher and social media platforms, a code of ethics is required to maintain editorial objectivity and the boundaries between publisher and editorial work. Until industry self-regulation emerges (the IAB already has a taskforce at work on the issue), it is absolutely imperative all parties err on the side of caution: too much, rather than too little, disclosure.

  1. Disclose that the placement is commercial in nature.
  2. Link to policies that govern such placement.
  3. Provide a channel for inquiry.

This column originally published in iMedia

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.

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Is the Banner Ad Dying?

Online ad revenues remain on a hockey stick trajectory, clocking in at a record $9.6 billion in the first quarter of this year (yes, a bunch of this is search and video, but still). Yet the demise of the banner ad has long been predicted, and some say the deathwatch is imminent — possibly before the end of the year.

That banners aren’t working very well is common knowledge. You’ve seen the stories: You’re more likely to survive a plane crash/become a Navy Seal/summit Everest/be the next Beatle or Elvis than to click on a banner ad.

That consumers don’t interact with banners is no secret. In fact, it’s entirely possible that most clicks are robot and/or click farm generated. Then there’s the banner experiment the ARF‘s Ted McConnell cooked up, a totally blank ad (no copy, no image, no nothing) that saw interaction rates that in many cases exceed those of “real” campaigns.

The result of all this inefficiency, unsurprisingly, is severe downward price pressure on banners, much to the chagrin of online publishers. As one publisher put it in a recent conversation, “It’s more expensive to get readers, and then when we do we can sell them for less.”

Yet at the same time, publishers speak of a “voracious appetite” for display ads and banners. “As publishers we’d tell advertisers that we’re unique and special, but really we’re not,” one publisher confided just this morning, “When demand for banners was too high, we’d just rent an audience. We’d rent from Google, from telemarketers, or rent email lists. The performance isn’t that different, and the advertisers don’t really care.”

So let’s get this straight: Display advertising doesn’t work, it yields ever-diminishing revenues, and advertisers can’t get enough of it?

Houston, we’ve got a problem.

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

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Going Native

Native advertising.

Everyone’s talking about it, but what is it, exactly? It has something to do with ads that don’t look like ads, but rather provide a degree of value in terms of being content. In that sense, native advertising is certainly a form of converged media as it combines paid media (advertising) with owned media (content) – often with the goal of generating earned media (social interaction, UGC, etc.).

Yet brands have been paying publishers to run their own content since forever. Does that mean “native advertising” simply a neologism for what we used to call advertorial? Or branded content? Maybe it’s sponsored content?

If native advertising somehow differs from older models of advertorial, sponsored or branded content, where are the lines drawn? Does “native” necessitate some sort of technological framework to carry and/or distribute the content in question (à la products offered by The New York Times, or tech start-ups such as OneSpot or inPowered)? Does it mean a publisher’s in-house agency (think Buzzfeed, Gawker Media) was commissioned to come up with the creative?

Bottom line: The term “native advertising” raises more questions than it does answers.

The value proposition of native advertising is, however, clear in a digital environment of banner blindness and plunging clickthrough rates. Pre-roll ads are skipped or ignored, email subscriber rates are eroding. Given any kind of choice, consumers are saying a clear “no” to interruptive advertising.

Native advertising lies somewhere in bridging the divide between content marketing – a pull strategy – and plain, old fashioned advertising, which is interruptive. Somewhere in its definition is probably the fact of paying for space or time (the “advertising” part) is a fashion that’s “native,” i.e. organic, conducive to the user experience, non-salesy, and offers some sort of value in and of itself as an ad (entertainment, education, utility, for example).

Native advertising’s promise, therefore, is better performing ads – but only if metrics are defined that are “native” to “native.” DM goals likely don’t apply in this case. Highly customized ad solutions mean more revenue for publishers (and boy, can they use it now). Also, deeper creative engagements for agencies, and hopefully, a better user experience for consumers.

The fly in the ointment is that without a real definition of native advertising, it means anything you want it to mean. Or anything whoever’s trying to sell it to you wants it to mean. Confusion in the marketplace is not a good thing (though it can benefit certain constituents).

This is why, as a research analyst, my next project will be to define native advertising, as well as to map the landscape of products and technologies related to the practice. (I’m also part of an IAB taskforce that will work to define the term – it’s therefore important to note the research will be my own work, not that of a committee.)

As this project is just kicking off, I’d love to invite your input. What do you believe native advertising is? Isn’t? What are the important companies in the space? Please let me know, either via email or in the comments section.

I’ll report back soon. Watch this space!

A version of this post originally published on iMedia Connection

Image creditwww.bydewey.com

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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

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The End of “Digital” & “Social” Media

“Digital media” will soon be a redundant term. Increasingly, all media are digital. Once a term reserved for the internet only, “digital” now embraces your phone, television, more and more “print” media (ereaders and tablets), radio, and out-of-home channels such as in-store kiosks and digital signage.

“Social media” is another term that is rapidly approaching the tautological.  The more media are digital the more they’re social, either inherently or increasingly, linked into a myriad of social networks and social applications that facilitate sharing, commentary and discovery.

Media is driving social, and social is driving media. This is as true offline as it is on the web. Consider, for example, Twitter’s recent acquisition of social TV analytics firm Bluefin Labs. Then there’s the recently launched UK channel, 4Seven that only broadcasts the programming that has proven to be the most socially popular with viewers (http://adage.com/article/global-news/u-k-channel-air-shows-social-media-...). Each program is introduced by a broadcast of viewer comments about the show, positive and negative.

Brands and media organizations must adapt to meet consumers anywhere they might be – at any given moment – on the dynamic customer journey. Consumers flit between screens, devices and channels like so many hummingbirds.  Messaging will slip between the cracks if it doesn’t have hooks into social, into real (or near-real) time, and if it isn’t as multichannel as its intended audience.

Read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published as a column.

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First Media Disruption of the Year: Samsung + AP + Twitter

Even when you know what’s coming, you never know exactly what’s coming.

Paid, owned and earned media are converging, sure. As a result, workflow and roles are changing radically. But even when you’ve been watching this space microscopically for many months, the next manifestation to come down the pike is almost always a surprise.

The first surprise of this year is a stunning example of how quickly media convergence is moving, and how rapidly roles and workflow are changing. Last week, during CES, Samsung paid the Associated Press to run sponsored tweets in the AP’s Twitter feed.

And the “media buy” was brokered not by a media buying (advertising/paid media) agency, but by Edelman, Samsung’s PR agency (earned media – or make that paid/earned media?).

[Disclosure: Edelman is a client of my employer, Altimeter Group]

By definition, PR agencies don’t buy media, right? Just a couple of weeks ago I was talking with the New York Times about Ricochet. Many of the initial campaign results are truly impressive, but since the product involves “buying” New York Times content (not just ad units), the market is confused. Media buyers are calling it a PR product. PR is saying if it’s a buy, then it’s a media buy.

Digital silos, a new twist on that classic waiter’s line, “Sorry, but this isn’t my table.”

Disruption Across the Board

A PR agency functioning as media buyer isn’t the only radical shift in this bold experiment. For as long as there’s been publishing, it’s been pretty much the rule that the publisher sells advertising on his own media property. Now, while Twitter can arguably be defined as owned media because AP controls what’s on their feed, with this campaign they are selling sponsorships on Twitter – and Twitter doesn’t get a cut of the revenue.

Precedent? And how. As Carree Syrek of Kinetic-Social put it to Adweek, “What if Target or Walmart want to start charging CPGs like Procter & Gamble for Foursquare ads? Will the social media platforms allow brands to leverage those properties twice without having to [pay]? Will they let them essentially double dip?”

Twitter’s letting this one go, for now, despite the fact it pulls a U-turn around Twitter’s own ad product. All parties were quick to point out the sponsored tweets weren’t automated and otherwise complied with Twitter’s sponsored tweet guidelines.

Pushback? Some, which is to be expected. Criticism came both from users (a handful) and a few media observers, who worried the move blurred the lines between breaking news and pay-to-play content.

But very much to Samsung’s credit, the sponsored tweets, limited to a very modest two per day for the five-day duration of CES (so 10 tweets in total) were very clearly marked “SPONSORED TWEET.”

Edelman’s EVP/Global Strategy and Insights Steve Rubel has blogged articulately about how his firm reached the bold decision to venture into paid media, where few, if any, PR firms have gone before. The post is worth a read.

Steve and I carried on a conversation (on Twitter, over DM of course) about the campaign. No word from him on the specific goals of the undertaking, the applied metrics or results (in his defense, it was ongoing when I asked).

Like him, I believe this type of campaign is a glimpse into the future in which brands partner with the media companies they formerly ‘just’ advertised with. There are opportunities for native advertising, curation, sponsorship, creation and more.

Is there a revenue model behind this that can sustain media companies, particularly as their traditional ad revenues continue to erode? That’s the question.

In the meantime, it’s important to note Samsung’s sponsored tweets in AP’s Twitter feed very thoroughly satisfied one campaign goal that’s very squarely in Edelman’s wheelhouse: it drove a ton of (earned) media coverage.

This post first published as a column on iMedia

Rebecca Lieb

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

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