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Trend Snapshot: Contextual Advertising, WARC July 2018

Explores whether advertisers may be better served reaching consumers on the basis of digital media context. Just as brand safety controversies and regulatory shifts have prompted an exploration of contextual advertising, the trajectory of those two trends is likely to influence the extent to which context becomes a vital consideration in brands’ future media plans. … Continue reading Trend Snapshot: Contextual Advertising, WARC July 2018

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Explores whether advertisers may be better served reaching consumers on the basis of digital media context.

Just as brand safety controversies and regulatory shifts have prompted an exploration of contextual advertising, the trajectory of those two trends is likely to influence the extent to which context becomes a vital consideration in brands’ future media plans. Marketers may wish to consider if they have sufficient access to first-party and consensually acquired data to underpin audience-based targeting in digital ad campaigns. If not, they could explore whether contextual placements in relevant “quality” environments are likely to deliver similar audiences at the required scale. Brands should compare likely effectiveness and value of contextual advertising versus media investments on the open web, or through ‘walled gardens’ like Google, Facebook and Amazon.

Trend overview

With audience targeting under pressure from a double whammy of brand safety controversies and post-General Data Protection Regulation requirements, advertisers are exploring whether they may be better served reaching consumers on the basis of digital media context.
Using context to improve the effectiveness of marketing communications is as old as the ad industry itself, from the positioning of billboards advertising ice cold Coca-Cola at US gas station, to brands buying TV spots during programmes most relevant to their customers and messaging strategies.
In the early days of the internet, contextual advertising reigned supreme: video game ads would be served on video game websites, movies would be promoted on sites dedicated to Hollywood, and so on and so forth – all in the expectation that users would find the messages relevant. However, an inability to measure the effectiveness of these ads hindered investment. When ad tech companies and digital media firms began to allow marketers to target audiences through programmatic advertising, context often became a secondary consideration.

However, this exponential growth in audience-based targeting has been challenged over the past two years. First, revelations that brand ads were served alongside unsuitable and offensive content on YouTube shook marketers’ faith in the safety of the open web. Then the arrival of GDPR presented a major hurdle to the use of third party data which long powered audience targeting: Vibrant Media, an early purveyor of contextual through keyword ad placements, claims that as much as 43% of all EU consumer data is “unusable” in a post-GDPR environment, with ad tech vendors unable to secure all-important user consent.
The sea change has prompted some US tech firms, including Drawbridge, a provider of cross-device identity data services, and Verve, a location data firm, to close their business in the European Union. Others, such as Video Intelligence, a Swiss-based video platform, have pivoted away from audience targeting towards contextual advertising solutions.

A new generation of tech companies claim they are making contextual advertising more effective than the basic keyword reading of old. By using machine learning to enable a more nuanced understanding of content, it means, for instance, fashion brands can target consumers in a brand safe manner based on sentiment, and avoid editorial critical of its products. And this increasingly includes video content, with audio-to-text conversion allowing some understanding of AV content. Larger marketing software providers have taken notice: in April 2018, Oracle announced the acquisition of Grapeshot, a UK marketing technology provider which claims to be able to help brands contextualise digital ad placements. The company has been integrated into the Oracle Data Cloud product.

The trend for contextual targeting appears set to influence even more traditional media channels. In July 2018, UK broadcaster Channel 4 unveiled new, artificial intelligence-driven product called ‘Contextual Moments’ which it claims can identify “unique scenarios” within a TV programme offering contextual ad opportunities for advertisers, such as an on-screen character eating food or using a mobile phone.

Brands ahead of the curve

Plenty of brands are experimenting with context as an alternative to audience-based targeting, notably in the automotive, travel and FMCG sectors. Grapeshot’s ‘Contextual Intelligence Platform’, for example, has been used by brands including Air France, British Airways, Chrysler, Johnson & Johnson, Mazda and Unilever. Gadget maker Garmin worked with GumGum, another ad tech company specialising in contextual advertising products, to promote its wearable activity tracker, vívosmart, to a fashion-conscious audience. Mobile ad units were rolled out across contextually relevant lifestyle and fashion content on premium publishers such as Sports Illustrated, Men’s Journal and InStyle. According to GumGum, it delivered 1.1 million “unobtrusive” ad impressions, a click-through rate of 3.2% and engagement rate of 72.7%.

As well as simply running ads alongside contextually relevant article pages, advertisers can also use placements to share branded content that engages with the editorial material. A good example of this approach can be seen in Cheapflights’ Drag, Drop and Go’ campaign from 2016, when the travel fare search engine used contextual placements to transform banner ads into automatic search engines for flights.

For instance, users reading about a music concert in Berlin were able to drag and drop relevant imagery into the Cheapflights banner to find out the best flights to attend the event in person. Writing for Admap in June 2018, Mindshare’s head of connections planning Ruth Zohrer and creative director Becky Power explained that the
campaign succeeded by reaching consumers with a greater inclination to book, and by removing the friction of finding the right flight at the best price.

What it means for brands

Some senior figures in the industry are endorsing contextual advertising as an antidote for the blunt audience targeting which has caused numerous problems over the past two years. Speaking at an event in June 2018, former Publicis Media EMEA chief executive Iain Jacobs argued that “context is back”.
“So much damage was done because it suited the aims of certain organisations to get rid of the idea of context, with very little evidence to show that it was the right thing to do, frankly. There’s way too much content, so quality of content […] is absolutely crucial,” said Jacobs.

According to Mark Bembridge, chief executive of ad tech firm Smartology, which specialises in ‘semantic’ brand safety tools, GDPR has had a “very significant impact” on advertisers’ appetite for programmatic audience targeting, with a “dramatic drop” in bidding for inventory – a claim admittedly contradicted by media buyers such as GroupM (see below).

“Clients have pulled campaigns and paused programmatic budgets indefinitely,” he said. “Context is increasingly being seen as a critically important replacement for audience targeting while the industry re-assesses the impact of GDPR.”
Bembridge insists that contextual ads deliver higher engagement based on pre-click, click and post-click metrics, and that developments in natural language processing technology ensure the disambiguation of homonyms such as ‘apple’ and ‘coach’.
“If a user has chosen to read about electric cars it should not be a surprise to find that serving an ad related to Tesla or battery powered vehicles in that moment will have much higher impact,” he added.

Belinda Barker, director of World Media Group, an alliance of international publishers including Bloomberg, New York Times and Wall Street Journal, said her organisation has long campaigned for recognition of the importance of context – and quality journalism – and argues that agencies are beginning to pay heed.

“In the last five years agencies have put a lot of emphasis on buying the cheapest possible inventory through programmatic trading desks and the value of an engaged audience was to some degree devalued. Over the last 18 months, in part due to GDPR, there has been some swing back, but there is still a way to go,” she said.
This view is shared by Jason Tollestrup, vice president of programmatic advertising and yield at The Washington Post, a fellow member of World Media Group. Putting an ad in the right context can approximate audiences “very effectively” and yield positive results, he insisted, something it has proven with its own ad campaigns.

“With GDPR, we believe the industry will adapt and offer more contextual targeting moving forward. We don’t see this as a negative since we have seen its success with our own programmatic buying,” said Tollestrup.

However, Barker is reluctant to overstate the demise of user data-driven advertising, claiming it would be “wrong to put all programmatic targeting into one bucket and to label it ‘bad’”.

Indeed, not everyone is jumping on the contextual ad bandwagon. Robin O’Neill, managing director of digital
trading at WPP’s GroupM, admitted he is “extremely cynical” about ad tech vendors switching narrative from audience targeting to contextual solutions. “It is absolutely because their ability to use data in compliant and legal way is no longer there,” he said.

O’Neill argued that GroupM has “always targeted ads against the context or content within which the ad is being delivered”, irrespective of channel, and that programmatic, automated campaign delivery will continue to be a key method of digital media buying.

“If you take contextual advertising to its most targeted format, then I suppose you go back to the old days of Vibrant Media, and underlined words within article pages. That is contextual advertising. What I’m talking about is more being aware of the source of content and the quality of the content you are in,” he said.

“If it has taken GDPR to make people wake up and realise we’ve got ourselves into a situation where following an audience around and not giving any bearing to the content they are engaging with is not the way forward – then that’s good. We’re not going to change anything that we do, mainly because we’re doing it already and we’ve been doing it successfully for many years.”

What we can expect

Just as brand safety controversies and regulatory shifts have prompted an exploration of contextual advertising, the trajectory of those two trends is likely to influence the extent to which – or not – context becomes a vital consideration in brands’ future media plans.

There can be little doubt that GDPR has proved a catalyst for reform of the ad tech landscape. The industry will be watching closely to see how GDPR is enforced by authorities in Europe, what impact it has outside of the EU, and how difficult it becomes for advertisers to bolster audience targeting through the use of third-party data. Similarly, while the likes of YouTube and Facebook are devoting more resources to removing extremist and ‘unsafe’ content, any subsequent revelation of ads running alongside offensive content will further dent CMOs’ confidence that technology can be relied upon to find safe environments.

If context is to become the key method by which brands reach relevant audiences, there must be a dramatic increase in the volume of inventory. By only running ads alongside specific types of content, this automatically rules out swathes of the web – from publisher homepages to social network feeds. The identification of whitelisted brand safe sites further reduces inventory levels, as does the overlay of any location or demographic targeting.

Smartology’s Mark Bembridge believes declines in audience targeting will open up more inventory for contextual advertising, with publishers investing in the relevant technology, and consolidation in the martech giving rise to more accurate tools, including those able to deliver video-to-video contextual matching. It is “likely” we will also see contextual solutions from Google and Amazon, he added.
In the case of response-driven advertisers seeking clicks and downloads, GroupM’s O’Neill expects them to continue to “chase” audiences around the web through re-targeting. However, those companies looking to boost brand performance will aim to differentiate between “premium” publishers and open exchange inventory, he claimed. It is an approach supported by a recent study by GroupM and UK newspaper body Newsworks, which
found that an ad viewed in a “quality environment” is 42% more likely to be cost effective, and that a direct, positive correlation can be made between the quality of environment and shifts in brand metrics. Publisher cooperatives such as the UK’s Project Ozone will look to push this message more proactively, and offer the scale required to make context more appealing to brands pursuing mass-market audiences.
Moreover, O’Neill thinks these findings will prompt a reconsideration of how the industry labels different types of online content: “We’ve got ourselves into a situation where we use the terms ‘premium’, ‘quality’ and ‘brand safe’ interchangeably, and that is not right.

“When did something that is ‘brand safe’, and not going to cause particular offence, mean that it was a quality environment? We need to start to make the distinction.”

Next steps

Marketers may wish to consider if they have sufficient access to first-party and consensually-acquired data to underpin audience-based targeting in digital ad campaigns. If not, they could explore whether contextual placements in relevant “quality” environments are likely to deliver similar audiences at the required scale. Brands should compare likely effectiveness and value of contextual advertising versus media investments on the open web, or through ‘walled gardens’ like Google, Facebook and Amazon.

About the author
Alex Brownsell Freelance writer
Alex Brownsell is a freelance writer based in London. Alex’s previous roles have included Digital Editor at Marketing magazine and Editor at M&M Global.

The Value of Trust Breakfast Briefing

Our highly successful breakfast briefing – The Value of Trust was held on 7th June 2018 and featured 2 panel discussions focusing on rebuilding two aspects of Trust: Building the Media Agency of the Future; and Post GDPR – how trustworthy is your data? To watch the videos of the panel discussions, please click on read more below.

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Our highly successful breakfast briefing – The Value of Trust was held on 7th June 2018 and featured 2 panel discussions focusing on rebuilding two aspects of Trust: Building the Media Agency of the Future; and Post GDPR – how trustworthy is your data?  Click on the videos below to watch the key points raised.

Building the Media Agency of the Future

Post GDPR – How Trustworthy is your Data?

New Analysis Shows That Quality Journalism is Winning the War on Attention

Latest figures revealed by the World Media Group (WMG), a strategic alliance of ten of the world’s leading international media brands, demonstrate the growing ‘premium’ effect that is boosting the performance of ad campaigns when viewed within a high quality, trusted editorial environment. Independent analysis from SaaS analytics and measurement firm, Moat, demonstrates that premium … Continue reading New Analysis Shows That Quality Journalism is Winning the War on Attention

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Latest figures revealed by the World Media Group (WMG), a strategic alliance of ten of the world’s leading international media brands, demonstrate the growing ‘premium’ effect that is boosting the performance of ad campaigns when viewed within a high quality, trusted editorial environment. Independent analysis from SaaS analytics and measurement firm, Moat, demonstrates that premium digital inventory (comprising digital inventory across all WMG brands) in 2017* outperforms all of Moat’s benchmarks by between 16% and 73%.

In addition, when looking at the quality of engagement delivered by WMG brands the analysis shows that there has been a significant increase in attention measures year-on-year. In particular, active page dwell time for WMG Display Desktop (average length of time the user was on the page with the window in-focus) is now 72% higher than the Moat benchmark (compared to 9% higher for the same period in 2016) and in-view time (the length of time an ad has been active and in-view) is now 51% higher (was +19% last year) – see below.

Rupert Turnbull, Vice President, EMEA & LatAm at Time Inc, a member of the WMG, explains, “Ironically, it seems that far from turning consumers away from us, the ‘Trump-factor’ has had a positive impact across the World Media Group in the past twelve months. The Moat analysis adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests consumers are not only actively searching for quality journalism on trusted sites, but also moving away from bite-sized, click-bait headlines and enjoying the long form content created by quality media brands. This is great news for advertisers who are benefiting from the halo effect of our readers’ greater attention levels when viewing our content.”

Munira Ibrahim, SVP, Sales & Content Solutions, Reuters, which has just been announced as the newest member of the World Media Group, adds, “At Reuters our passion is for providing well-researched, trusted news, written by world class journalists – and the latest Moat analysis confirms that these are values that are held strongly across the whole of the World Media Group. We are delighted to have joined the World Media Group and are looking forward to working together with the rest of the members to promote quality journalism, delivered around the world through high-spec technology.”

The WMG brands comprise Bloomberg Media Group, The Economist, Forbes, Fortune, National Geographic, The New York Times, Reuters, TIME, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. These prestigious titles have received over 1,000 major journalism awards, including at least 190 Pulitzer prizes, between them. In addition, WMG members also provide innovative technology to optimise digital ad delivery and viewability, such as device-agnostic solutions that ensure ads are always viewed at the appropriate size.

The in-depth results from the Moat analysis are as follows:

Measure/Benchmark World Media Group Lift Compared to Moat Benchmarks (Q3 2017)
Display Desktop active page dwell time (secs) 84.5s +72%
Display Desktop in-view rate 63.2% +17%
Display Desktop in-view time (secs) 41.2s +51%
Mobile Web active page dwell time (secs) 50.6s +26%

Mobile Web in-view rate 65.1% +39%
Mobile Web universal touch rate 20.8% +73%
Video Desktop in-view rate 71.9% +16%
Video Desktop audible and visible on complete rate 36.6% +18%
Source: Moat Q3 2017*

## ENDS ##

Media contact: Susan Perolls at Loudmouth PR: T 020 7981 9858, M 07904 236060, E susanp@loudmouthpr.co.uk

About the World Media Group: It is a strategic alliance of the world’s leading publications which incorporates Bloomberg Media Group, The Economist, Forbes, Fortune, National Geographic, Reuters, The New York Times, TIME, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Its aim is to promote award-winning journalism and the role of international media. Visit world-media-group.com.

About Reuters: Reuters, the news and media division of Thomson Reuters, is the world’s largest international multimedia news provider reaching more than one billion people every day. Reuters provides trusted business, financial, national and international news to professionals via Thomson Reuters desktops, the world’s media organisations, and directly to consumers at Reuters.com and via Reuters TV.

Opportunity knocks for publishers seeking to change ad industry narrative

Executives at The Washington Post, The Economist and National Geographic discuss Facebook, cross-publisher collaboration and the return of context. The barrage of coverage of Facebook’s fake news and data breach crises have made for unpleasant viewing inside the ad industry bubble. Rather than simply a reflecting an ecosystem in need of repair, some – including … Continue reading Opportunity knocks for publishers seeking to change ad industry narrative

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Executives at The Washington Post, The Economist and National Geographic discuss Facebook, cross-publisher collaboration and the return of context.

The barrage of coverage of Facebook’s fake news and data breach crises have made for unpleasant viewing inside the ad industry bubble. Rather than simply a reflecting an ecosystem in need of repair, some – including Unilever’s chief marketer Keith Weed – have asserted that the very fabric of the ad-funded web is under threat.

Facebook’s potential loss may translate into someone else’s gain, however. Many have pointed out the significance that newspaper groups including The Guardian and The New York Times led the investigative reporting into the Cambridge Analytica scandal, just as News UK’s The Times aimed a shot across the bows of Google with its YouTube brand safety exposé 12 months ago.

Such stories serve the joint purpose of both highlighting the weaknesses of the so-called digital “duopoly”, which has been busy hoovering up ad dollars over the past decade, as well as flexing traditional print publishers’ journalistic muscles.
The issue of award-winning journalism is one close to the heart of the World Media Group, an organisation tasked with showcasing the strengths of international media brands, of which The New York Times (but not The Guardian) is a member, along with Bloomberg Media Group, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, National Geographic, The Economist, Reuters and Time and Fortune.

Now celebrating its 20th year, the strategic alliance recently unveiled a new leadership team: Emma Winchurch-Beale, The Washington Post’s international sales director, has extended her tenure as WMG president for a second year, with support from two new deputies, The Economist’s Alexandra Delamain and National Geographic’s Stephen Murphy.

In light of moves by rival UK broadcasters to work more closely together, it is significant that three senior commercial bosses at international publishers chose to be interviewed together by Campaign – albeit before the Cambridge Analytica revelations came to light.

Winchurch-Beale claimed there is a “nervousness” among advertisers regarding the big digital platforms. “Facebook has seen a drop-off in users. There is an opportunity for publishers to break into that space. The bubble will burst, and there are other alternatives [for advertisers],” she commented.

For Murphy, Nat Geo’s brand partnerships director, brands are beginning to “wake up to the fact that it’s not a choice of Facebook, YouTube or more ‘traditional’ media”, and that, instead, they ought to be investing in a more balanced media strategy.

“The headlines are bad and there is a lot of uncertainty around brand safety and metrics. However, these issues can be addressed. The big question for marketers is around the quality of the audience. It’s one thing having a million or 10 million likes on these digital platforms, but how relevant is this engagement to your brand?” he said.

Delamain, The Economist’s senior vice president, head of sales and client services, EMEA, is even more blunt in her assessment of the opportunity presented by Facebook’s recent woes. “Regulation is on the horizon; change is coming. We need to use it to our advantage,” she said.

However, Winchurch-Beale insists the role of WMG is not to disparage the virtues of digital advertising: “I can remember when we set up WMG, it was about promoting print quality journalism. While most members still have some form of print play, it has evolved [but] as has been proven over the past 18 months with fake news, quality journalism is perhaps even more important now than 10 years ago.

“It is clear that trust has gone from platforms. [However], we need to remain at the forefront of innovation, for example with VR, and new ways of storytelling and reaching millennials. We can’t dumb down.”

Facebook’s power and reach has long offered a double-edged sword for publishers keen to push their content as far and wide as possible, but loath to lose the ad dollars vital to supporting their businesses. With Google, Apple, Amazon and Snap each also exerting influence over users’ eyeballs, Winchurch-Beale is unambiguous in her view of the situation: “We have to work with them.”
“At Washington Post, we should be all-in. We publish thousands of articles a week, and we have very much changed the way we use Facebook. It also differs editorial compared to brand studio,” she added.

Murphy agreed: “As with any challenge, this also means opportunity. Facebook is a great example – while it is an amazing advertising platform, it also gives media brands unprecedented reach. So the opportunity here is how media brands monetise it.”

Nonetheless, the conversation around the idea of context – ads appearing in premium environments, targeting the readers most likely to be reading that content – is growing louder. As Delamain quipped, “Content is king, and context is queen.”

With the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) arriving next month, and the very idea of individual-level data targeting under pressure, WMG is keen to prove that premium publishers offer better returns for advertisers than the masses of cheap inventory on long tail websites.

As well as introducing The Smithsonian and ad tech firms Rezonence and Smartology as associate members, WMG last year partnered with measurement company Moat for a report exploring viewability in the era of fake news. The research supported its claims that inventory on WMG member sites exceeds Moat benchmarks in all categories, including across desktop display view rate (+17%), mobile display in-view rate (+39%) and desktop video in-view rate (+16%).

“Scale is becoming less important compared to the quality of the message, and being top of the agenda,” said Delamain.
This means a likely rationalisation of the quantity of ad-funded content players, according to Murphy, with the number having surged in recent years, as newcomers tailored publishing strategies to maximise reach on digital and social media platforms.

“There are too many ‘ad-funded’ players. It is not sustainable as most of them are loss making, funded by VC money. A small number of profitable players will emerge and succeed, with the best ones building scale via free, great content. Then they will move into part-subscriber funding for specialist information,” Murphy said.

Despite sharing much in common, Winchurch-Beale insisted an organisation such as WMG cannot “dictate” to members on issues such engagement with Facebook and Google. “It’s important to recognise that, as different brands, we collaborate in different ways. Those are commercial decisions for commercial teams,” she said.

While its members have “discussed” the possibility of shared programmatic platforms, à la The Pangaea Alliance, an initiative led by The Guardian and backed by CNN, Reuters and others, the integration of existing “strong” proprietary platforms would be too “complex” to undertake for the time being.
Nevertheless, for publishers like The Washington Post, The Economist and National Geographic, a rare opportunity has presented itself to change the narrative around advertising – notably of the digital variety. It is an opportunity the commercial leaders of these brands are determined to seize.