Google Broadens Hate Speech Policies for AdSense (Apr 26, 2017)
Facebook is Now Paying Companies to Produce Non-Live Video (Apr 22, 2017)
★ Ad Standards Consortium Considers Action Against Bad Ads (Apr 21, 2017)
This story puts the recent Google ad blocker story in some useful context. That Google story suggest Google was going to act unilaterally in adding an ad blocker to its Chrome browser to target bad ads, though it would use standards developed by the Coalition for Better Ads as its benchmark. This story suggests the Coalition itself is debating taking a unified stand on bad ads, which would give Google useful cover as a member of a broader group rather than a single company transparently acting in its own interests (especially given that the EU Competition Commissioner has already said she’ll watch what Google does here closely). And as I said in the earlier piece, being part of a group which bans bad ads but allows the ones that generate 90% of its revenue would obviously be good for the top and bottom line at Google. Update: see also this later piece from Bloomberg, which adds some useful additional context and detail.
Washington Post Culls Ad Tech Vendors Over Site Slowing (Apr 19, 2017)
Also today at F8, Facebook overhauled its Messenger Platform, which launched last year, and went as far as to call it Messenger Platform 2.0. That kind of separation from the version launched a year ago is smart, because the first round was ill thought out, with the vision for bots both too expansive and not nearly detailed enough. In the year since, Facebook has made a lot of progress, and the version of bots it now offers to developers is much more compelling and better suited to the kinds of things it will be used for. Facebook is also getting better at serving small and medium sized businesses, which continue to make up an enormous chunk of the total base of businesses in many markets. That’s important because these businesses represent the biggest future opportunity for Facebook advertising, which is already well penetrated among larger enterprises. I’m still skeptical that bots have broad appeal beyond a few specific categories, but it’s starting to look like Facebook has cracked at least some of what it will take for bots to be successful in those categories where they do make sense. And it’s less religious about bots as full-fledged experiences now, too, which means that other flavors of automated, semi-automated, and human-driven interactions can live side by side more seamlessly, which is smart.
Snapchat Now Offers Online-to-Offline Tracking for Ads (Apr 12, 2017)
Facebook’s business model for Messenger won’t be payments and commerce but advertising – Recode (Apr 11, 2017)
This isn’t a huge surprise – on the one hand, we’ve already seen Messenger start to introduce ads, and on the other though there’s been some payments and commerce activity within Messenger it’s been clear for some time that it wouldn’t be a major money spinner for Facebook. But it’s interesting to hear this straight from David Marcus, who runs Messenger, because Facebook had been at least a little more opaque on this topic in the past. It’s also been increasingly evident that Facebook has been looking for more places to squeeze ads as it reaches ad load saturation in the core product, and Messenger is an obvious place to do that. But a messaging app is also the place where advertising feels most invasive and least native, because it gets in the way of your most personal conversations with the people you care about most. That’s a risk, and Facebook is going to have to tread carefully here to avoid turning off users as it pushes ads in Messenger. (Incidentally, it’s worth noting that Facebook has just announced a group payment feature, so even though payments aren’t going to be a source of revenue or profits, as this article says they’re nevertheless an important feature of Messenger.)
This is another example of Roku’s inevitable move into gathering more data from its devices and using those to both serve up recommendations and potentially help target advertising. Last week, I covered a piece about Roku offering to target specific demographics among its user base, and this week Roku says it’s going to track the video its users watch through the inputs to its smart TVs and offer up recommendations. Presumably, it’ll also use that data to help build profiles on users for those ad offerings. Though this article suggests it will only use this technology to track what users are watching through inputs, it can of course already see what users are watching through its smart TV interface already, so users shouldn’t assume that that activity won’t be tracked too (and likely already has been for some time). As we’ve already seen with Vizio, this kind of tracking is often non-transparent to users, as is the ability to opt out, so Roku is going down a somewhat risky path here, and one which will likely set it apart from Apple, which uses any tracking exclusively for recommendations and not for advertising purposes (Amazon’s stance here is less clear as it builds up its ad business).
Twitter Opens Advertising Analytics to Third Parties (Apr 10, 2017)
As per the Marc Pritchard interview I covered earlier today, many advertisers are still concerned that they’re essentially being defrauded when placing ads online, because they don’t know which ads are really being seen by human beings as opposed to bots. One of the big requests these brands have had for ad platforms is increased outside auditing by independent firms which have standardized measures for things like viewability and can compare metrics across multiple platforms. We’ve already seen Facebook and Google open up both for outside auditing and for measurement by third parties, and Twitter is now joining them. Twitter’s analytics around advertising have been an area of weakness, so even nothing here directly improves Twitter’s own tools, open up to third parties should at least help some advertisers feel better about the data they’ll get back when advertising on Twitter.
Twitter today announced Custom Hearts, an equivalent of sorts to Snapchat’s Sponsored Filters product for advertisers. Advertisers can now use the Custom Hearts product to replace the standard heart icon that users use to show appreciation for a live video stream in Periscope or Twitter with a brand image of some kind. The example used here is the movie franchise The Fast and the Furious using “F8” as an alternative to promote its eighth film, which premiered over the weekend. It’s a lot subtler than Snapchat’s Sponsored Filters, and it doesn’t have the same social multiplier effect of users applying a sponsored filter to a picture or video and sharing it with their friends, but it’s good to see Twitter innovating to find new forms of advertising given its recent struggles with growing ad revenue. More importantly, it’s also doing more with analytics, something I’ll cover in a second post shortly.
Facebook is using a milestone of 5 million advertisers to talk about its efforts to attract small and medium-sized businesses as customers, and it appears Sheryl Sandberg has been doing the rounds talking to various publications about the effort. They key points here are that this number has been growing rapidly – up from 4 million last September and 3 million just over a year ago – and that it’s still just a fraction of the 65 million businesses that have Pages on Facebook. Facebook’s big advantage here is that building websites is the sort of thing no small business wants to do because it’s either hard or costly (or both) to build and maintain, and the results often aren’t that great anyway, so using a Page instead has enormous advantages – it’s easy to build and maintain without any technical knowledge, and it’s in the place where your customers likely already spend a lot of time each day. Adding very targetable advertising on top is therefore an easy sell for businesses who already use their Pages as one of their main ways to attract and communicate with customers, and much of Facebook’s growth over the last few years has come from getting deeper and deeper into that base of companies already using Facebook to promote themselves organically. Twitter, by contrast, has suffered recently in part because it hasn’t been able to break through into this segment and therefore has had to focus on the larger advertisers rather than enabling a much longer tail of more automated buying by smaller businesses, hence its very high sales and marketing cost relative to revenues (over a third of revenue vs. 13-15% at Facebook over the past year).
P&G Chief Brand Officer Renews Calls for Advertising Platforms to Grow Up – New York Times (Apr 10, 2017)
I won’t cover this in depth again here – I covered Marc Pritchard’s remarks in January at the time, and his line hasn’t changed much. But given all that’s happened in the interim it’s worth reiterating that Pritchard remains a prominent voice advocating for change in the digital advertising platforms on behalf of big brands. Specifically, he’s arguing for more transparency in what can be a very opaque value chain from start to finish. None of these issues are going away soon, though it’s arguable that what the brands really want here is more leverage, so I would guess that they’ll keep beating the drum while slowly getting more and more of what they want. The crisis of sorts around ads showing up against undesirable content is likely to blow over soon enough, but the ongoing tension between advertisers and these platforms won’t go away any time soon.
Snapchat adds goal-based bidding for app install ads to rival Facebook – Business Insider (Apr 6, 2017)
App-install ads can be a pretty lucrative source of revenue for online advertising platforms, because at least some ads pay out at a high rate for a successful ad-driven installation. Given Snapchat’s lock on a particular demographic, app-install ads could provide useful new revenue and boost its relatively low ARPU. There was a time when app-install ads were thought to account for a pretty significant chunk of Facebook’s overall revenue, though that’s long since passed (and was likely exaggerated even at the time). App-install ads remain a small minority of overall online advertising, so we shouldn’t expect Snapchat’s ad revenue trajectory to change dramatically off the back of this, but it should be useful new revenue nonetheless.
via Business Insider
I’m tagging this against Alphabet/Google even though there’s no explicit connection here, simply because that company is by far the biggest beneficiary of online advertising spend, and this story suggests that we may see lower spend going forward as some of the world’s largest advertisers start to cut their marketing budgets. As of right now, there are only some early warning signs, with Unilever signaling cuts, but this could easily be the beginning of a much bigger pullback, which could affect not just Google but Facebook and other online ad players. The article cites some other softness in the overall advertising space, and we’ll have to see if this turns into a meaningful drop in spending across the board or just ends up being a minor dip (and whether either of those affects digital advertising specifically).