How Brands Differentiate through Quality and Creativity in the Programmable Age

In an increasingly ad-hostile environment, marketers must harness technology not just for innovation but to deliver ads that augment rather than intrude on consumers’ experiences. Careful application of audience data is a crucial component to achieving this successfully, but so too, we are learning, is quality creative. Marketers need not only to use and learn from their audience data in order to deliver “good” targeted ads, but also bring emotional intelligence to their strategy.

This November, at Mindshare’s Huddle for Good 2016 event, AppNexus brought together three thought leaders in the programmatic space – Ruth Zöhrer, Head of Programmatic Marketing at Mindshare UK; Lara Izlan, Director of Programmatic Trading & Innovation at Auto Trader UK and Sarah Wood, Co-Founder & CEO of Unruly – to address the questions: What constitutes “good” advertising in an increasingly programmatic marketplace, and how should marketers measure success?

The answers are not straightforward, as metrics vary greatly by the individual consumer and where they are on their path to purchase.

As the internet and digital advertising mature to become increasingly data-driven and programmable, there comes an ever-evolving relationship between technology, data and human interaction. Programmatic is everywhere, particularly in markets like the UK, but if everyone is using it, it is difficult to find competitive advantage. All three panellists hit on the importance of quality: If marketers want to make the most of their assets to create exciting experiences for consumers, then quality is key. If marketers stop buying inventory for the sake of mere volume, and think about the whole picture, then they can begin to drive opportunity.

When brands consider holistic consumer relationships, there will be instances in which it would actually be more lucrative and brand-building to serve customized creative content than ads aimed at monetizing users in real-time. It is in these fleeting moments that brands can apply both data and emotional intelligence to inform their decisions. And while programmatic may have dramatically reduced human effort and error in advertising, it is important to consider the role humans play in assessing, analysing and applying data in order to – most crucially – think creatively.

Says Izlan, “It is sophisticated thinking that will make the difference and sophisticated application of technology. We need to think more broadly [than the data points.] To put the right creative and message in front of consumers, we need to know what they are actually looking for at that point in their path to purchase.”

With billions upon billions of data points at our finger tips, the panel argued that advertisers can actually over-target consumers. This influx of data – “data-besity,” as they called it – can negatively impact an ad strategy, causing distractions in the creative process, so that the campaign ultimately fails to resonate with the consumers it so closely targets.

Says Zöhrer, “We are putting intelligence at the heart of everything we do as an agency; everything should be powered by our access to data. But we are overwhelmed by it, and I’m focusing on ‘Less is more.’ We have gone through this volume approach, but what really matters in reality is how you connect the data points.”

As P&G’s Chief Marketing Officer Marc Pritchard recently said, P&G took their targeting strategy too far. “We targeted too much, and we went too narrow,” he said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in August of 2016, “and now we’re looking at: What is the best way to get the most reach, but also the right precision.” Pritchard’s analysis is a prime example of both the potential and limitations of programmatic advertising. Incorrectly using and applying data can lead to a strategy that is both too limited and lacking in sophisticated creative thinking – leaving brands with an ineffective ad campaign and consumers with the feeling of being trespassed upon.

As Wood puts it succinctly, “If you have crap creative, it’s all for nothing. You can target the right people incredibly effectively, but it’s going to have zero impact.”

The panel agrees programmatic is here to stay; nevertheless, marketers must learn to strike a balance between programmatic strategy and creative thinking. Zöhrer suggests that marketers need to embed the idea of programmatic into every part of their business plan and not have it be a strategy that sits in a silo. Every team must be trained to interpret programmatic in a way that makes sense for the business. And while programmatic must be a part of every conversation, data points must be elevated to spark creative ideas.

In reality, this will be quite complicated to achieve, and the industry has its work cut out to develop the right combination of technology, data and human interaction that allows marketers to differentiate themselves in ways that are meaningful.

 

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Why You Should Intern@AppNexus

The summer after my junior year, I was an intern on the marketing team at a performing arts center in my college town. I learned a little bit, but overall my experience was plagued with boredom and lack of direction. I didn’t have much fun and certainly didn’t feel I made an impact through the work I was doing. Now, after working on the AppNexus University Recruiting team and experiencing a full-fledged internship program, I wish I could go back in time and do it all over again.

AppNexus’ Summer Internship Program is structured and robust, but remains flexible to the intern class’ needs and wants. Overall, the program centers around five key pillars: onboarding, mentorship, events, performance management, and meaningful work.

Onboarding: All interns spend their first week together in onboarding on our office’s basketball court going through AppNexus University, a course designed to teach new hires what they need to know about our company, technology, industry, and culture. It’s also a key time for everyone to get to know each other during their first week.

Mentorship: Each intern is paired with an AppNexpert (AppNexus Expert) who serves as a knowledge buddy, mentor, and friend throughout the summer. AppNexperts help interns get acclimated to and integrated into the AppNexus community.

Events: We survey our interns before the summer begins and organize a variety of educational and social events based on what the class wants to do and learn. Educational events include Learn & Teach sessions, Executive Meet Ups, and the intern FAIRwell, a career-fair style expo where interns present their projects to AppNexians. Social events include going to a Broadway show, catching a Mets game, and breaking records at Escape the Room.

Performance Management: Each intern is assigned a team manager and a university recruiting manager to oversee their performance. Interns have a formal mid-summer and end-of-summer performance review, where managers identify areas of growth and celebrate successes. Consistent feedback and encouragement is key to ensuring our interns are successful throughout their internship.

Meaningful Work: Managers design summer projects with their interns in mind, ensuring the work they’re doing is aligned with the skills and experiences they want to gain. The projects our interns complete have a huge impact on the business and are often utilized long after the intern program has ended. Sound too good to be true? Read about various intern projects from the 2016 interns themselves:

 

One of our core values here at AppNexus is Making Greatness Happen, which is defined as “helping our colleagues and partners rise to their highest level of ability and engagement.” I witnessed this in our 2016 Summer Intern class in every way possible, but the most impressive display was seen in the robust community built among the interns. Each intern was immersed in the AppNexus culture, joining clubs and sports teams, planning weekend adventures, and eating lunch together every day. The group built each other up to reach high again and again, and their achievements wouldn’t have been possible without the strong relationships that flourished among them. This sense of community is exactly what was missing from my internship experience years ago, and is what I truly believe sets the AppNexus experience apart from others. The opportunity to spend your summer having fun & making an impact? Sign me up! Or rather, you should sign up, because unfortunately, that ship has sailed for me.

 

About the Author: Nancy Connell is a member of the University Recruiting Team, where her efforts are focused on Princeton, Columbia, and Barnard. Previously, she was a travelling sorority consultant and graduated from Furman University with a BA in Spanish. Outside of the office, Nancy loves running, yoga, and her awesome pup, @theodorablecorgi.

For more information, follow us at @appnexustalent or visit us at appnexus.com/university.

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AppNexus Continues to Improve Viewability Measurement with Desktop, Mobile, Video and Flashless Technology

 

With viewability becoming an increasingly important KPI for the ad marketplace, it’s imperative that advertisers continue to invest in technology that provides reliable measurement.

If a buyer only pays for viewable impressions, the measurement of those impressions must ensure that each paid impression was viewable. If an impression can’t be counted as viewable, it can’t be paid on a viewable CPM basis.

So, having the highest measurement rate for viewability is a key goal for AppNexus.

An even better global measurement rate

In a few brief months between December 2015 and August 2016, AppNexus’ global measurement rate has climbed from 82 percent to 87 percent.

At first glance, a five percent improvement rate might well seem incremental. But that’s just not the case. It’s relatively easy to measure the first 50 percent of online ads. But the going gets trickier once you find yourself edging closer to the 100-percent accuracy rate.

DesktopViewability

If only desktop is taken into account, the AppNexus platform’s viewability measurement rate is Continue reading

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3 Things We Learned About Header Bidding At The AppNexus Yield Executive Summit

Header bidding has grown dramatically over the past year, from an experimental monetization tool to an integral part of the publisher technology stack. At the AppNexus Yield Executive Summit last month, our own Ryan Christensen discussed this progress with AppNexus chief economist Gabriel Weintraub and a trio of executives from CBS Interactive, USA Today Network and The New York Times.

The 26-minute conversation covered the different ways header bidding is helping publishers build stronger businesses, as well as the challenges that must be overcome to make it an even more effective tool moving forward. Here are the top three things we learned about where header bidding is, and where it’s going next:

 

The second-price auction needs a makeover.

A major challenge cited by CBS Interactive’s Jason White is that the second-price auctions held by SSPs will often pass a significantly reduced-price bid into the header auction. In some extreme cases, a retargeting buyer will offer a $200 CPM for an impression that gets sold for a $1.01 CPM because a performance advertiser set a low second price.

“It’s that analogy of the buyer has the bazooka and we’re sitting there with a knife, where we’re like, ‘We can set floors…by brand!’” said White, CBSi’s GM and VP of programmatic revenue. “And it just doesn’t scale. So we need help, and we need machines to help us there.”

Shortly after, Weintraub revealed that AppNexus is working on a new header bidding auction logic that would raise the value of winning bids by increasing bid density. Under this new proposal, the header bidding wrapper would collect the first and second highest bids from each SSP. Then, the wrapper would run a second-price style auction to determine the winning bid to be sent to the adserver.

 

User experience is still a major concern for publishers.

When asked about the biggest risk publishers need to consider when it comes to header bidding, USA Today Network VP of revenue operations Tim Wolfe said media brands must continue to focus on balancing monetization with the user experience. Though his company has been aggressive in diving into the header bidding space, he noted that the firm had seen some shifts in site and page performance that it needs to be mindful of.

New York Times VP of ad operations and platform strategy Rachel Savage echoed these sentiments. In order to reduce latency, The Times chose to implement a server-to-server header bidding integration, rather than the more commonly used client-side execution. So far, Savage said she and her team weren’t getting too many complaints about site performance.

“Ads are not additive to the experience, but they shouldn’t be detrimental to it,” Savage said. “And we need to keep that up.”

 

Google’s EBDA is a far cry from a header bidding replacement.

Google made waves earlier this year when it announced the release of Exchange Bidding Dynamic Allocation, a new product that promised to allow pre-approved ad exchanges to compete on equal footing with AdX bids inside the DoubleClick for Publishers adserver. Though this setup in some ways mimics the open auction created by header bidding, CBSi’s White and USA Today Network’s Wolfe both expressed skepticism when asked what they thought of it.

Indeed, Wolfe said he was approaching the product with “extreme caution” due to its lack of transparency. From his perspective, EBDA could be part of a portfolio of tools that force direct and indirect demand to compete, but it won’t be any kind of replacement for header bidding. As an example, he said he might use EBDA as a place to move header bidding partners who aren’t performing as well as he’d hoped.

“Frankly, everything that we’ve tried to build internally is around transparency and allowing everyone to compete even with our direct-sold type of opportunities,” Wolfe said. “So to have these black box type scenarios potentially exist is not necessarily something that’s comfortable for us.”

Ultimately, all four panelists agreed that after the tremendous growth header bidding experienced in 2016, the monetization tool would likely be alive and kicking when the eighth annual AppNexus Yield Executive Summit rolls around next September.

In fact, the three publisher executives on the panel even suggested that they’re already exploring ways to extend header bidding to new formats like native, video and mobile.

Want to learn more about the state of header bidding? Watch the entire panel here.

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MeetMe: Why The Future of Social Media Lies in Mobile Advertising

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At ease in his corporate headquarters in idyllic New Hope, PA, with the Delaware River flowing evenly a few blocks beyond his office window, Nick Hermansader, VP of Ad Ops at MeetMe, might seem worlds apart from the lightning-round realities of the mobile social media space.

Yet there he is, right on the front lines, as he describes the brand positioning of his company, a social media platform with five million active monthly users; one that’s known industry-wide for its bold moves in both mobile advertising as well as in acquisition.
“Some seem to have the impression we’re a dating app,” says Hermansader, “but really that’s just one among many of our functions. The whole point of MeetMe is we’re a social discovery app where people can go to make friends, find a tennis partner, meet their fellow Pokemon Go players… and yes, absolutely, discover people in their area they want to date.”

Social media has come a long way since 2003 – 2006, when peer-to-peer networks like MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter first gained traction with their users and investors. In those bygone days of first-generation social media, users tended to flock to platforms that simply allowed them to socialize and network online with their “offline” friends and colleagues.

Times – and tastes – have changed. First-generation platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn continue to dominate the numbers game (Facebook boasts 1.65+ billion active monthly users). But today’s social media audiences aren’t necessarily looking to join social networks simply because “everyone else” is on them.

With app stores now stuffed with scores of social media platforms, second-generation social media users tend to join particular networks with specific goals in mind. They’re looking for dates, discounts and fellow enthusiasts. They seek out digital communities that share their own ideals, orientations, politics, lifestyles and passions. Moreover, they’re looking for a user experience that lets them pursue their social networking goals easily – with the simple tap of a key, or swipe of an app.

The result is that newer social media platforms tend to cater to highly individuated tastes, regions and lifestyles.  People flock to Tinder in search of others who are looking for true love or casual hookups. YY Live, the wildly popular Chinese social video platform, provides a unique offering for China’s karaoke-obsessed culture, letting up to 100,000 users tune in and watch someone performing livestream karaoke. There’s even a worldwide social platform for industrial-music-loving Goths called VampireFreaks, whose “shadowy” membership ranks currently in the millions.

 

From a user standpoint, social media might seem a free-for-all bonanza. But for the actual companies building apps and websites designed to attract these selective social media consumers, it can be a tricky business. An inevitable question arises: how does one earn sizable revenue, while still catering to a limited user base?

MeetMe is a prime example of a mobile social app that’s been able to strike gold within a niche market. But Hermansader emphasizes that MeetMe is a fortunate exception, and far from the industry norm.

“There are thousands upon thousands of different social media websites and apps out there,” says Hermansader. “The challenge isn’t so much finding a niche; it’s finding a niche that’s big enough to sustain your business over the long run.”

How has MeetMe met the challenge of monetizing its business, while still cultivating an individuated user base? In a word: advertising.

While in-app purchases and a premium subscription version of the app also help with monetization, the majority (around 80 – 85 percent) of MeetMe’s revenue comes from programmatic advertising. And since 90 percent of MeetMe’s users access the social network via their mobile app, the vast majority of those profits come from mobile advertising.

Figuring out the best possible ways to maximize ad revenue using the MeetMe app is Hermansader’s field of expertise – as well as something that keeps him awake at night, he admits with a laugh.

“Basically, we’ve embraced the idea of programmatic ad serving – and the ideal of serving ads that appeal directly to our users’ interests,” he explains.

MeetMe’s use of mobile advertising is sophisticated. It includes a number of different ad units such as 320×50 and full-screen interstitials. And with its growing, year-on- year popularity, Hermansander and the MeetMe team are placing big bets on native in-app advertising, which consistently lets advertisers achieve high impressions – and mobile publishers earn high yield.

MeetMe started the integration of native ad units towards the end of 2015, but the demand hasn’t quite caught up with the technology. While the CPMs are high, says Hermansader, the same can’t be said for the demand – at least not yet.
But MeetMe came prepared. As part of their advertising strategy, the company gave itself the ability to control weighting of native ads versus regular display ads. As a result, they’ve been able to roll out their native ad units slowly.

The current strategy, according to Hermansader, is for his Ad Ops team to run a small amount of native ads, keeping an eye on how well they perform. All the same, Hermansader anticipates that native will become one of MeetMe’s largest sources of ad revenue in the near future.

But native is only the beginning, as far as Hermansader is concerned.

“There are some other new things we see on our radar,” he says. “We’re looking into mastering private marketplaces and forging longstanding relationships with certain brands and agencies that appeal widely to our audience demographics.”

He also concedes that making fuller use of the company’s user data will be of vital-most importance to its continuing success. “As a mobile publisher, there’s never any shortage of data – but translating all of that [data] into ad revenue is a story for another interview,” laughs Hermansader.

For a social media site that sees average daily traffic of 30 million messages on its platform, that story seems more than promising.

 

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