By Chip Meyer, CEO of Reactx
After years of grumbling, industry-wide complaints about wasted brand spending and missed opportunities for publisher revenue have reached a fever pitch. Earlier in February, Netscape co-founder turned big-time VC investor, Marc Andreessen, let loose on Twitter about how tech vendors are continuing to drop the ball in digital branding, and how publishers are failing to hold ad tech companies to a higher standard. “The issue,” he tweeted, “is that most ad tech is optimizing against the local maxima of price, rather than consumer relevancy.” Immediately a chorus of notable voices from both the vendor and publisher sides chimed in to support Andreessen’s sentiments (there’s certainly something to it).
Andreessen’s argument was simple: We see too many poorly-targeted ads with poor ad content, which does no one any favors. The core problems he hinted at go fairly deep. For brands and publishers to thrive in a digital setting, we need to see a more advanced alignment of brands ads and publisher content. Tech companies need to take advantage of media that delivers highly relevant, targeted ads across quality content, to make programmatic the valuable digital branding tool its proponents have long claimed it could be. And campaign performance must be measured in a way that makes sense for the way 21st century consumers interact with content and ads, rather than concentrating on click-throughs or assuming every impression is worth the same as any other impression delivered to the same targeted consumer.
It’s a tall order, but that’s what brands and publishers want, regardless of whether or not they know how to ask for all of it right now. They will soon enough, and there are vendors in the market right now who are happy to deliver the goods.
Brand marketers also demand rich content — like page take-overs, overlays, skins, peels, IAB Rising Starts, rich video and a variety of other dynamic digital ad creative that is needed for the depth and rich feel branding necessitates. However, for programmatic to serve these high impact, custom premium ads that brand needs to move the needle for branding online, the industry at large needs to get over the old idea of having to pre-qualify them (i.e. pre-determining that custom digital ad format will render properly on a specific publisher’s domain or page, before it is served).
Pre-qualifying custom ads is holding up the delivery of billions of dollars in high-quality, engaging digital ad content served via Real Time Bidding (RTB). The process of pre-qualifying digital ads is fraught with costly RFPs and custom one-off creative development for individual publisher domains and pages. It’s effectively neutering the speed and scale advantages of programmatic and impression level targeting, turning the delivery of custom ads into a time-consuming, clumsy and expensive process that is not adaptive to cross-device designs and auto-customization of creative and brand messaging. Pre-qualifying ad is a poor fit for the highly competitive, real-time digital environment. By eliminating pre-qualification for custom ads, brand marketers and publishers will save nearly $5 billion in what is now simply wasted spending — money they should be spending with publishers instead of on coders.
Let’s look at measurement. Andreessen hinted at something very important here: Not all impressions are created equal, even when they’re delivered to the same consumer. What matters is how the consumer engages with the ad, and the content around the ad, where it’s served. To that end, we need to look at new metrics for ad engagement, like time spent with the ad. If the consumer spends more time with the content around an ad, that’s a more valuable placement than one where the consumer quickly clicks away. Understanding time spent with the ad can be a great boon for publishers to entice brand marketers to shift their spending from television to digital. For marketers, taking advantage of metrics around time spent with the ad is simply good branding.
The seeds have been planted for an industry-wide move toward more premium, high impact (relevant) ad placements and metrics. In the coming year, an increasing number of solutions will be suggested for the problems of garbage ads and wasted spending. But for change to happen, brands and publishers need to understand what smart branding and smart measurement mean today. Whatever happens, buyers and sellers alike will have to adjust their mentality — and the tools they use — to account for the value of branding in a digital environment.Google+