In my first piece about the UK backlash against YouTube by advertisers last week, I said that I saw no reason why the trend shouldn’t spread to the US, because the same issues applied here too. Now we’re starting to see signs that – despite YouTube’s somewhat vague reassurances earlier this week that it would do better – US advertisers are indeed beginning to jump on the bandwagon too. And the first big name is AT&T, one of the biggest advertisers in the US, and that’s likely to lead to more. As I’ve said in previous pieces on this topic, this is a thorny issue for YouTube, which can’t simply remove all ads from more obscure videos. Even its existing standards for which videos are suitable for advertisers are sometimes controversial, as this Guardian piece suggests, so going further down that road is likely to alienate at least some smaller creators, and of course have implications for Google’s revenue as well. At least some financial analysts are already downgrading Alphabet on that basis, and if this continues to snowball I’ve no doubt we’ll see more of that. Update: this story is moving fast: Verizon, Enterprise, and GSK have also joined in.
via USA Today
Almost 20% of digital ad spending could be wasted – Axios (Mar 22, 2017)
The first thing I thought of when I saw this headline was the famous quote from John Wanamaker about half his advertising dollars being wasted, but not knowing which half (and Sara Fischer told me she had included a reference to it, but removed it for brevity’s sake). The difference here is that the “waste” referred to isn’t poorly targeted advertising, but fraud and “invalid traffic” – in other words, ads that no-one sees at all but which are nonetheless recorded as having been seen and therefore paid for. Fraud – especially in programmatic, where 29% of dollars are apparently wasted – is one of several big issues for online advertising at the moment, and it isn’t going away soon, even though the authors of this report have a proposed solution.
Last week, there was a blowup in the UK over ads showing up next to videos promoting hate and terrorism, and Google issued an initial response in Europe without promising any specific changes. It’s now talking about the problem on a global basis and getting slightly more specific about how it’ll tackle the problem. Given that the initial post highlighted the challenge of human curation, Google’s promise to do better in policing content is too vague to be reassuring – how will it do this? By hiring thousands more people to check individual videos? Better computer video analysis? On the other hand, it’s finer-grained controls for advertisers and tighter default settings are very much in line with the solutions I proposed last week, but come with other risks. If by default advertisers’ ads won’t show against the long tail of YouTube content, that will dramatically reduce the attractiveness of posting video to YouTube for creators, and revenue for YouTube as well. So the devil is in the detail here, and detail is something this post is incredibly short on. Hopefully we’ll see a lot more specifics as Google works its way through this. There are no easy solutions here though. Update: one other thing worth noting, which I had intended to include earlier but forgot: Google is going to be cracking down on some content not just from an advertising perspective but in terms of what can be posted to YouTube in the first place, which feels like a significant shift.
This situation in the UK doesn’t seem to be getting much attention here in the US, but it should be, because although the boycott is UK-only for now, the issues at stake aren’t UK-specific at all and could easily spread to other markets. What’s happened is that some UK companies as well as the UK government have become increasingly concerned that their ads on YouTube have been appearing next to some pretty undesirable videos featuring extremism or promoting terrorism, and Google’s tools for avoiding this don’t seem to be doing their jobs. As a result, several companies and the government have now stopped advertising on Google at all as a protest until Google fixes things. A blog post from Google makes clear just how hard it is to police the video on YouTube – 400 hours of video are uploaded every hour, and it stopped ads from showing on 300 million videos last year, which provides some sense of the scale and the impossibility of monitoring all this with human beings alone. Google is never going to be able to police the content itself at sufficient scale and with sufficient accuracy to solve the problem directly. The solution is therefore probably paring back the kinds of videos on which at least certain ads would appear – such as limiting big brand advertising to channels with long histories, large numbers of subscribers, and a good track record. However, it’s likely that many brands would choose to limit themselves to this higher quality material, which in turn would mean the long tail of videos on YouTube might go un-monetized or monetized at a much lower rate, which would have a severe impact on not just creators but YouTube’s financials. Not only could this problem spread to other markets, but Facebook will have to deal with many of the same issues as it ramps up video advertising on its platform.
This feels like an extremely stupid move for Google. Though Google claims this wasn’t an ad, that’s utterly disingenuous, and inserting ads this early in the Google Home lifecycle (if ever) is a huge mistake – this is just the kind of thing that will put people off buying a Google Home, especially because it fits a narrative of Google only being interested in advertising. This is a hardware product, for which users have paid a decent price, and it shouldn’t be playing ads, especially without an opt-out – there is no indication that users would hear ads in any of the marketing material. I just tried my own Google Home to see if it would play this message, but it didn’t, suggesting that Google may have stopped playing the message. If so, good, but it never should have happened in the first place, unless Google wants to kneecap its own product this early in its competition with Amazon’s Echo.
via The Verge
The timing of this new data from eMarketer is perfect, because I just wrote a piece for Techpinions subscribers today about the battle for third place in online advertising. The reality is that Facebook and Google have been dominant for some time in this space and that shows very little sign of changing. As I argued in my piece this morning, some of the big Chinese names are actually the strongest contenders for third place on a global basis, but they mostly operate only in China, so it’s largely other US companies which are competing in the rest of the world, and they’re all pretty small in comparison to the big two. Between them, Google and Facebook appear to have search and display advertising pretty well sown up, with only the crumbs left for other players, who largely have to compete among themselves rather than having any prospect of taking meaningful share from the big two. As I also pointed out this morning, though Snapchat gets lots of attention, it’s currently behind even Amazon, let alone other bigger names like Microsoft and Yahoo, and will have to wait years to break into the top five. Meanwhile, Twitter is a cautionary tale about even once promising companies stalling before they reach their perceived potential.
In a sense, there’s really nothing new here – the key quote comes from the S-1/A filing from a month ago. The article, though, argues that Snap will make money from higher ARPU over time rather than from user growth. While it clearly won’t be going for user growth in emerging markets for the reasons stated in its S-1/A, I don’t read that as not being focused on user growth – it clearly will be but that focus will be on mature markets, where it still has tons of headroom, at least in theory. It’s worth noting some other things here: Kurt talks about Facebook as the comparator, and it’s clearly the obvious one, but Twitter is another. And whereas Facebook has now reached a nearly $20 ARPU in the US quarterly, Twitter has stagnated at around $6-7 over the past year. Just because Facebook was able to keep growing ARPU seemingly indefinitely, that doesn’t mean Snapchat will be able to. And I’d argue that with such a simple, non-stream-based interface, Snap probably has far fewer places to put ads, meaning its ceiling is likely quite a bit lower than Facebook’s. It’s also worth remembering that Facebook’s ARPU numbers are at least a little misleading – the user number is only for the core Facebook app, whereas the revenue number includes Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger too. Lastly, part of rising ARPU at Facebook is price per ad, not just more ads shown, which is a reflection of new demand outstripping new supply, something else that’s not guaranteed with Snapchat. Overall, I’d be very wary of drawing too many conclusions about Snapchat’s potential from Facebook.
WPP is one of the world’s largest ad agencies, and Martin Sorrell is its CEO. As such, what he says about trends in advertising is worth listening to, and he says he worries more about Amazon than almost anything else. That’s because Amazon’s ad business is both growing fast and has the potential to displace agencies and work directly with advertisers, much as Facebook does. This story is fascinating, because it’s a great reminder that Amazon is building a decent-sized ad business largely under the radar – hardly anyone ever talks about it, but it’s becoming pretty big. This article cites eMarketer forecasts, which are about the only estimates I ever seem to see, and which suggest the ad business is getting pretty big – over a billion dollars in 2016. You may not have thought about it much, but certain searches on Amazon lead to pages literally full of ads. Given how many people now start product searches on Amazon, it’s in an enviable, Google-like position of being able to serve up ads that are directly relevant to what consumers are interested in right now. That combination of relevance and timeliness is rare – almost everyone else can manage relevance, but timeliness is much tougher. Though Amazon isn’t going to rival Google or Facebook’s scale in the near future, it’s arguably got a strong shot at becoming number three in online advertising in the near term.
via Business Insider
This feels like a clever little idea from Google – showing people ads for games in which a tiny version of the game itself is embedded, making the ad playable. It could also be part of an eventual path to Progressive Web Apps and other web-app hybrids Google is working on, just as some of these tools are already served up in search results. There are some other clever enhancements here too – it feels like app ads are far from done as a medium.
Amazon’s Twitch acquisition was one of the most interesting it’s made, and one of the few big ones it’s made which weren’t in the e-commerce space. Since the acquisition, it’s pursued two separate tracks with Twitch, one focused on the core gamer space it’s always served, and the second broadening its reach and appeal beyond gaming and becoming something of a YouTube clone. This announcement belongs in that first strand, though it also ties in the online sales angle by putting a buy button next to video game video encouraging viewers to buy the game being played in the video. This is a unique take on the ad revenue sharing model YouTube popularized, and could be pretty lucrative for at least some channel owners over time. It’s also a great way to provide very relevant advertising around a video platform, something that’s often tough to do beyond broad demographic profiling.
via The Verge
This was reported as being on the way back in January, but now it’s official and expanding. That means Facebook is finally going to start trying to make some real money from all the video it’s been trying to get natively onto its platform, hopefully justifying all the effort it’s put into its video push over the last couple of years. For users, of course, that means you’re going to start seeing ads in yet more places on Facebook, though only on longer videos (ads can’t run until the 20 second mark on recorded videos or the 4 minute mark on live videos). Given that the vast majority of videos I see on Facebook are under a minute, I don’t imagine I’m going to be seeing that many. But that’s also why Facebook has been tweaking its algorithm to help promote longer videos. And of course all these ads can potentially go into the videos Facebook will show on its TV app.
It’s interesting to see Google working with the MRC around auditing now too – Facebook just announced MRC auditing a couple of weeks ago, but it had of course had an embarrassing series of screwups relating to metrics for advertisers and content providers, whereas YouTube didn’t. However, this is reflective of a broader mistrust of online advertising by big brands and marketers, and an inconsistency in the use of major metrics like viewability. From what I’ve read, the MRC standards are pretty minimal as far as what counts as a view, but at least there’s consistency there, which is a start.
I’ve changed the headline here to make it a bit more specific, but there’s actually quite a lot more to this speech, and although the article is a little hyperbolic, I do think this is important. Procter & Gamble is the world’s biggest advertiser, so its views and policies with regard to digital advertising are worth paying attention to. Its chief brand officer just gave a speech in which he railed against programmatic advertising and the broader opaque digital advertising supply chain, the power of Facebook and Google, inconsistent standards for measuring ad viewability, and more. Some of the very same things big ad-centric companies are constantly touting as key to their businesses are the same things that are causing consternation among major advertisers, and that’s a tension that isn’t going away anytime soon. Facebook is making strides on its metrics screwups from late last year, but programmatic – which Google talks up every quarter – is getting terrible press at the moment in relation to ads showing up on unappealing sites, and it feels like there are changes coming here. Worth reading the whole article just to see some of the big frustrations advertisers are working through and the possible impacts.
via Marketing Week
More evidence that Snapchat is TV for millennials? (As Ben Thompson, Kerry Flynn at Mashable, and today Christopher Mims at the WSJ this morning have each suggested.) Perhaps more interestingly, though Snapchat has been described as trying to win over TV advertising dollars, this is actually a promotion of sorts for a traditional TV show itself, with shorter-form, vertically-oriented videos on Snapchat as a sort of taster. There will actually be ads within this video as well, so this isn’t advertising per se, though its goal is clearly to drive viewership on BBC America here in the US. As with its Google relationship, Snap’s relationship with TV is likely to be complicated, as it both seeks to steal ad dollars from TV while also taking ad dollars (and content) from the TV industry. At any rate, if you haven’t seen Planet Earth II yet, I highly recommend tuning in when it airs – it’s fantastic.
I don’t follow Pinterest closely, but this has been a long-anticipated change to its ad products, and an important one – search advertising continues to be the best way to deliver the killer combination of timeliness and relevance to a user. Most of Pinterest’s ad products so far have been focused on relevance – pins within the context of a topic-based board or within the overall feed of new content, which are somehow related to other things the user has looked at or pinned recently. This move also reinforces the idea that search is in some specific categories migrating off general purpose search engines and into specialized ones, with Amazon and shopping being the most prominent example. The article says that Pinterest sees two billion searches a month already, and that’s a massive base to insert ads into.
via Marketing Land
Facebook Tunes Into Television’s Market – WSJ (Jan 31, 2017)
Facebook’s quest to find new places to put ads continues. It’s far from clear what this Apple TV app will actually look like yet – whether a simple feed of all the videos from the user’s News Feed, or something more. Making the jump to TV from mobile is really tough – Facebook on a smartphone neatly fills all those moments during the day between things: waiting for a bus, killing time during a commercial, and so on. I’m not convinced it can make the transition from the thing you do while watching TV to watching TV itself. It’s another one of those cases where the reasons why Facebook would do it are obvious, but the reasons for people to actually use it are far less so.
The other bit of news from Facebook today addresses the recent problems it’s had with unreliable metrics for advertisers and publishers. Some of this is just about providing more metrics for measuring performance on Facebook across various channels (Facebook, Instagram, and Audience Network within its own products can be compared with TV and/or print data from wider campaigns), but there’s also news on the third party verification front, which advertisers have been asking for. It now has deeper partnerships with Nielsen and ComScore, and is deepening its viewability measurement tools, as well as adding some additional partnerships. There’s lots here, the detail of which won’t be all that interesting unless you’re directly involved in this stuff, but Facebook is showing some promising willingness to open up more to outside measurement platforms its partners trust as a way of offsetting the embarrassing errors which turned up late last year.
I changed the headline here both to capture the main point of the article and to avoid a different connotation with the word “streaker”, which appears in the original. Teenagers in particular, but also some young adult users, work hard to keep “streaks” of activity between themselves and friends on Snapchat alive as long as possible, much as Apple Watch users might try to keep a stand or move streak alive. But the Snapchat behavior verges on obsessive or addictive, and much of the actual sharing between friends ends up becoming meaningless as user post for the sake of posting. Snapchat deliberately encourages this kind of behavior, and it drives usage of the app, but it doesn’t necessarily drive meaningful engagement, which is technically something different. Those users aren’t necessary spending emotionally significant time in the app, and they’re not necessarily looking at the parts of the app where they’re likeliest to see ads. When Snap makes its IPO filing public, digging for signs of this disparity between usage time and real engagement with content and ads is going to be key. It’s really the Discover and other content tabs rather than the one-to-one sharing features that will drive ad viewing and revenue, and Snap needs to be transparent about where users are actually spending time.
This is a great bit of reporting on how Snapchat’s Discover feature has evolved since it first launched, and how Snap’s relationship with publishers and content providers has evolved with it. Discover continues to be the most obvious place for Snap to deliver growth in ad revenue, and having quality content is a big part of achieving that goal. Snap is also putting more emphasis on competing with TV for millennial viewers, an audience which is both overrepresented on Snapchat and underrepresented in traditional TV viewership. There are lots of good comments in this piece from publishers who have worked with Snap and seen good results, some of them driving decent profits from their channels and others merely experimenting with a new format. Well worth reading the whole thing.
Facebook wants you to watch longer videos, so it’s going to show you longer videos – Recode (Jan 26, 2017)
“Facebook wants to sell mid-roll video ads, so it’s going to show you more longer videos” would be an even more direct reading of this situation. Facebook recently began introducing mid-roll video ads, but of course those don’t do any good if the videos people watch are too short to hit the point where an ad would be shown. And Facebook has arguably trained its audience and content providers to prefer short videos, because those tend to grab attention better and lend themselves better to the soundless auto-play scenario that dominates video viewing on Facebook now. In order, then, to feed users more video ads, Facebook needs first to feed users longer videos, and it’s tweaked its algorithms to show more longer videos than before. On the surface, this is about fairness – percentage completion rates are always going to be lower for longer videos for short ones, and so some weighting is required to measure performance fairly. But this is really a fairly transparent way to provide yet more slots for Facebook ads, as with this week’s testing of banner ads in Messenger. As with that announcement, Facebook is here going to begin bumping up against the natural limits of how many ads its users will tolerate, and will have to be very careful.