Rather than type out a list of predictions of what brands are going to do and how advertising is going to change in the coming year, I’d prefer to write about the three things that I want to work on in 2013 to continue to make advertising not suck.
First, what do I mean by making advertising not suck? There are a lot of strange tensions between the three parties of advertising: user (you), publisher, and advertiser. Often these things compete against each other because we’ve tried to apply old business models of advertising into new media. Now that distribution has been reworked in the “people, not pages” era, we have our new buzzword du jour: native advertising.
While native advertising is just something old told in a new way, there are plenty of ways we can make it better. These are my three focus areas of building on the momentum gained in advertising in 2012:
1: Many Platforms, 1 Data Set
If there has been one thing that people say doesn’t work about native advertising, it’s that it doesn’t scale. Since the “ad unit” is different on each platform, folks like the IAB are throwing their hands up saying that this can’t work, because you have to recreate the wheel for each platform which makes it even harder for smaller publishers who lean on banner networks because they cannot merit direct sales on their own (and evaluate against the big boys).
This is what makes building ad products more fun than selling them: you get to listen to gripes and try to disseminate what the real problem is. In this case: a consistent data set across your creatives.
Banners are built on the principle that one to three creatives can be standard across hundreds or thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of domains. We spend a lot of time focusing on the fact that the creative is the same, but the real value is the data consistency.
If we can build a standard for evaluating the performance of a “native ad” through a common pixel, cookie, etc across publishers, we can lay the ground work for building scale (and opportunity for new revenue streams for agencies in the form of developing creative).
2: Praise the Good, (subtly) Punish the Bad
Much of advertising is predicated on the concept that advertisers can pay to advertise with a publisher, and so long as it doesn’t violate their ad policy, the creative can be poorly received by the publishers users with no penalty. Conversely, there is no real benefit passed to advertisers that have created high value creative for the publisher.
Google has actually mastered this concept pretty well by the way that they calculate ad rank (high quality merits lower CPCs — and vice versa). Search ads are built to maximize value to users and a good paid search result gets rewarded.
We need to bring this into the world of creating content that a publisher’s audience consumes. As paid content becomes more of a part of a user experience, it needs to get treated with the same scrutiny: boost the views of good content, and hold back the bad stuff.
While it’s scary to grasp the idea that you’re willing to take money off the table that an advertiser is willing to pay, building a quality advertising product (and maximizing your net yield) requires you to think about impacts to session times and page views. If you’re getting paid, but yielding 10% less monetizable views, then you may not be doing yourself a service.
This logic is an operating principle on anything I want to work on this year.
3: Facilitate Competitive Collaboration
The most exciting thing about the tide in advertising is that when we buy/create media today, it’s no longer about one platform versus the other. It’s about how the content interacts across an ecosystem. Something discovered on one platform can be shared out to another and we can advertise/amplify against that discovery.
For example, if I’m Old Spice, and I create a game with Dikembe Mutombo, I can create several creatives to drive people to my ultimate URL, but then I can encourage people to share it out, which can be amplified via Sponsored Stories, Promoted Tweets, etc. Does a sponsored story compete with or enhance what I spent to drive people to the game in the first place?
More of the collaborative than the competitive approach will yield beautiful strides in the world of advertising. Some of the most productive experiences I’ve had in the past year have been talking with companies that are gunning for the same budgets that my product was gunning for. When you find ways to make your content work together with other platforms, you start building better content.
In 2013, I want to further embrace ways that we can work together to make advertising that equates with the user experience. If we just compete with each other, we won’t make the same strides.
2012 was a great year in moving advertising forward, and now 2013 is shaping up to be even better. There will always be ups and downs, but these three areas will be where I’ll be focusing my brain.
If you’re thinking elsewhere, I’d love to hear about it to potentially expand beyond these three areas.