who you calling premium?

It’s a term often used in digital and yet its definition lacks consensus: so, what constitutes premium? Traditionally speaking, a premium publisher in the digital sense is the online representation of a high street publishing brand, such as a well known magazine title or popular newspaper. As established media properties, these premium publishers have enjoyed strong audiences and hefty advertiser revenues. For advertisers, the proposition has become more interesting with the advent of digital marketing, where the ability to exploit end user data has resulted in better and better audience targeting mechanisms.

The digital shift within advertising propelled many tech companies to start extracting learnings from an individual’s online behaviour to decide which ads to show them. With data technology companies trading audience metrics through programmatic, the challenge for traditional premium publishers became how to assert their brand value and differentiate their audiences as “premium” in an increasingly cluttered digital ecosystem.

In today’s world, brands can connect to thousands of publishers and their audiences in real time. This unprecedented access to scale means premium publishers have had to up their game to set themselves apart: offering brands a more unique, relevant and measurable audience. Advertisers are also increasingly granular in their data, prompting premium publishers to increase the value of their audiences and advertising space when negotiating their trading currencies.

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a tech viewpoint on programmatic rich media

Rich media has been the mainstay of online brand marketing for more than ten years, thanks to its ability to deliver a blend of video and interactivity directly to where the user can be found. But, unlike standard display advertising and pre-roll video, rich media has been late to the programmatic agenda.

So what is programmatic rich media? Let’s start with programmatic. Just as stock-market trading activity migrated from ticket-waving and noisy phone calls to sophisticated platforms relying on algorithms to seek out and bid on interesting stock, online media buying increasingly exploits real-time trading opportunities now made possible thanks to demand-side platforms and supply-side platforms.

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reflections on #dmexco15

Last week Scoota headed to Dmexco – the world’s largest gathering of leaders, innovators and technologists. Held in the heart of Cologne, across three enormous expo buildings, the biggest data exchanges, ad tech vendors, publishers and media agencies came together for a mass celebration of science. A global geek-off, notably attended this year by an increasing amount of high profile advertising leaders.

Sir Martin Sorrell led the charge with a keynote speech on horizontality and consolidation at WPP. Yannick Bollore gave a glamorous description of how Havas intends to provide the world’s best and most meaningful brand experts. Yahoo’s Lisa Utzschneider spoke passionately about the challenges and frustrations of inconsistent data.

Looking back, Dmexco successfully mixed companies more likely to be found in Cannes than Cologne with hardcore tech businesses. All seemed to be suffering from the same issues of convergence, growth and engagement. Seeing such different businesses have this commonality was startling. Notable areas of growth were discussed such as the emerging mobile markets of Africa, the Middle East and India. Also on the agenda: fragmentation of platforms; inefficiencies of measurement; plus the common anthem- the huge opportunity of programmatic.

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random access memory lane

In the last century, this is how we did things. I was working for the predecessor of Scoota, Tangozebra. In those days, most people connected to the Internet by connecting a piece of string to a baked bean tin and connecting the other end of the string to an RJ11 cable, then chucking the whole lot over a telephone line and hoping for the best. Something like that – the details are hazy, it was a hundred years ago. The dizzying 28k download speeds that could be achieved were unable to cope with much more than a heavily-pixellated 8-bit jpeg, or a 4-bit animated gif that would sit there, flashing “ME! ME! ME!” in a sort of monochrome existentialist primal scream.

We were pretty sure we could do better than that, and had developed a java-based system that could deliver very small audio and image files, which were knitted together on the client side into something greater than the sum of its parts.  A tiny configuration file described how they should be played back, and how they should be dealt with in the event that one of the constituent parts should be held up en route – a Java applet did the rest. This was pretty nifty and won lots of awards and a good chunk of funding, but the winds of digital change were blowing and Java was hoofed out of the client-side like yesterday’s chip-wrapper. So we turned our attention to the new kid on the block – Javascript. This allowed us to do what we cool kids called DHTML.

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four legs to two wheels

Bizarrely, every now and then, I bump into people within our industry who still remember Tangozebra. Splendid. Eight years is a long time in online speak, the equivalent of 56 land-based years; and if I follow that logic it would seem that I’ve been involved in rich media advertising for well over 100 years, which feels about right; a lot has happened.

Tangozebra was an 11-year adventure.  The energy and passion from a wonderful team created the first rich formats in the late 90s – a time of complex hand-stitched Java-based interactivity, zero bandwidth, melting data centres and vertical learnings. By 2007, 1,500 campaigns were live at any one time on our cloud-based rich media serving platform; the Tangozebra Flash components turned thousands of creative agency Flash installs into rich media authoring suites, and all scaled nicely.

Rich media’s journey from those early days is an interesting one. The advent of Flash and introduction of layered site delivery allowed all sorts of exploding formats to emerge, often to the detriment of the users’ experiences. Experimentation was the order of the day back then but within a few short years those uninitiated large screen overlays had lost favour within the industry due to understandable user kickback, and with a sense of relief the industry started to mature. By 2007 when Tangozebra was bought, intrusive forms of rich media were yesterday’s news. Or so it seemed.

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how do you name a product, and name it well?

Create some panic. Bring your deadlines forward. Brag about how, in two days, you’ll have a product name that you can live and die by, that will be broadcast into space, that will be written into the first post-apocalyptic scrolls while the wind howls across the nuclear wastelands formerly known as Kent. That will get you to the subspace known as “Monkey Tennis”. Where you are almost always guaranteed genius.

So arbitrary deadlines dutifully broadcast, we got our war room “no-one leaves until we have an agreement” mentality on, and we gleefully dived into the depths of the bizarre (i.e. the deep well of thesaurus.com).

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creativity is technology’s best friend

Using technology to drive results for brands is nothing new: for a while now advertisers have capitalised on smart algorithms to optimise campaigns towards a desired goal. Crucially however, the creative element of the equation has always been overlooked.

A common approach in the digital space has been to produce a limited set of creative assets such as a thirty second TV ad and a rich format to host it. The media schedule and targeting would be optimised to deliver the desired result, ranging from user engagement with the video to more action orientated goals.

Naturally, such optimisation continually narrows the media and targeting parameters until the campaign ends, resulting in many of the original audience being funnelled out and left unexposed to the brands messaging. On the surface that approach can work if the campaign results are strong – but this approach does mean that brands are casting aside potential Customers.

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do you speak jargonese?

I wish I loved jargon. I could then pretend that I know a lot about a subject. At least to people who know less than I do. I could use terms that make me sound like one of the in-crowd, a person who is so knowledgeable that I’m able to short-cut industry terminology, adopting jargon as proof that I am a “super expert”. I could use loads of phrases that make it hard for my audience to know what I’m talking about whilst simultaneously making them feel inferior. The thing is, you get found out by the real experts very quickly.

You see my problem is, I don’t like jargon at all.

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is short-termism killing the industry?

In the early stages of a noisy new trend, we mustn’t lose sight of the more robust tech solutions, warns Scoota’s James Booth.

I had a word with myself at the weekend. The question I now ask is: was it laziness or lack of motivation that meant I completely failed to nail the short list of DIY I’d planned and confidently promised? Or was it the head-full of Friday evening grog that felt a tad strange but seemed so alarmingly effective at the time.

Either way, I failed, and equally failed in digging up any resemblance of a convincing excuse.

If we can get away with little, we often do. How many times have you looked in awe at a work of art and wondered how on earth the individual responsible stayed upright and sane long enough to finish it?

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separating ‘value from the noise’ in online advertising

As The Drum’s 2015 Digital Trading Awards (DTA) approached, Scoota founder and DTA judge James Booth spoke to The Drum about the importance of separating the value from the noise when it comes to programmatic.

What are the main challenges in programmatic trading marketing currently and why?

I see the current challenges as being separating the value from the noise. Brands have a tough time trying to unpick what’s what in programmatic and there’s a way to go before the dynamic shifts in their favour. Whether it’s transparency driving better trust that’s then complicated by third party auditing solutions that misinform, to advances in technology limiting reach, the challenges remain, but that’s to be expected as we run at it at 90mph.

To what extent has transparency improved in the value chain over the past year? 

Considerably. The market has had to suffer high levels of fraud in recent years; transparency is opening up a premium audience and driving better quality metrics. It’s surprising that the industry has been able to get away with hiding so much for so long.

What could marketers be doing better to maximise on their programmatic investments?

Develop a better understanding of programmatic and its capabilities. Demanding transparency but understanding how supply side platforms (SSPs) and premium publishers sometimes exploit the option on whether to reveal their URLs. Beware of third party analytics packages that claim to be able to track programmatic properly but equally aren’t built with full understanding in tow. Find individuals in the market who care enough to share without pitching; find good people to talk to.

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