Our Adtech Stars column features contributions and insight from thought leaders in the adtech community.
Steve’s media and digital career spans over 15 years, starting out at The Guardian, followed by stints at Unruly Media and Collective before joining AOL as UK MD, responsible for running AOL’s branded video content business goviral and ad network Advertising.com. In 2013 Steve left AOL to join the award-winning platform Scoota – Europe’s leading programmatic technology platform for online branding.
Let’s start with some home truths about digital advertising: if they can, most people will avoid it. Because most people don’t like it – and some even hate it.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. The most overused description of the value of programmatic is ‘the ability to target the right user at the right time with the right message’. As an industry we nail the ‘right user’ bit. Combining this user data with additional behavioural insight to target people at the right time we do pretty well – add to that ‘in the right place’ in terms of environment, device and location and so far, so good.
However, skip to the ‘right message’ piece of the puzzle and the industry falls over. More often than not it’s a massive let down which at best gets ignored and in the worst cases forces people into hiding, swiping or blocking. There is no doubt that brands are delivering smart, personalised and relevant messages that resonate with people at point of purchase, but we are not seeing the same creative sophistication being applied to digital brand advertising.
The sheer volume of messages we have to consume daily means it is tougher than ever to get noticed if you’re a brand trying to find new customers. With the stakes so high, it’s surprising to observe very few clients rising to the challenge in their day-to-day brand activities. Nine times out of ten, the creative agency gets blamed for providing unfit-for-purpose creative but the truth is that we all need to take responsibility.
Let’s start by holding our hands up and admitting that executing brilliant, smart digital brand work isn’t easy. If we want to challenge consumers’ perceptions of digital advertising to a point where they have an instinctive desire to engage, then we have got to be prepared for a bit of hard graft.
It all starts with the client. I won’t dwell on the need for brands to create assets that are actually interesting, relevant and entertaining rather than a repurposed TV ad, as I’d hope that’s pretty obvious by now. Where I think the biggest problem is, is the disconnect between the creative and media agencies. Currently both media and creative agencies work independently from each other, with media agencies having little input into the creative stage and conversely, the creative agency having little visibility on the activation strategy. I’ve seen so many campaigns targeting a number of different audiences with specific interests with the same generic creative format and message used in each strategy. It’s easy to lay blame at the door of the creative agencies, but they are flying blind.
Added to this, there is very little mid or post campaign performance data fed back to the creative agency meaning they are essentially excluded from the optimisation process, with no adequate insight into what worked or didn’t. It’s a cycle of disconnectivity with one party taking most of the brunt: the client. Or should we go one step further and say: the audience.
For brands to meaningfully connect with audiences online, something has to fundamentally change. Where better to start than with what constitutes a successful ad? Currently, half of an ad being seen for one second is what constitutes ‘viewability’, which is obviously not good enough. I think we will see a new metric of ‘noticeability’ develop, introducing a new era where brands aim for meaningful audience engagement for a decent length of time. I firmly believe ‘time’ will become the next key form of digital brand measurement, presenting an opportunity for brands to engage with audiences in a way that has never been possible before. Of course viewability will remain the first stage of brand measurement, but I expect we will soon see this evolve from a question of “was my ad in view?” to “how long was my ad in view?”.
The following image illustrates this tipping point, where online brand impact can move towards engagement quality over quantity as a gauge of success:
Of course media agencies, tech vendors and supply partners will continue to improve viewability scores but we shouldn’t be surprised when clients start asking for more, combining intelligent targeting with an understanding of how important the creative message is in grabbing a user’s attention and taking them on a journey.
Let’s remain positive and remember that, once engaged, anything is possible. I hope that soon brands will realise they can move away from overvaluing exposure and call for a new school of layered measurement: Was my ad noticed? Was it engaged with? Watched, played with, enjoyed, liked and – the digital holy grail – loved? Only then will we be able to claim we’ve moved online advertising forward and put the audience first. Until then, we must keep striving.