Study highlights efficacy of display advertising

comscore logoThis week comScore and ValueClick Media released a white paper I co-authored titled “When Money Moves to Digital, Where Should It Go? Identifying the right media-placement strategies for digital display.”  The study was based on over 100 campaigns run on the ValueClick Media network and used comScore’s Action Lift reporting methodology to evaluate the impact of various display placement and pricing strategies on site visitation and search behavior .

                       Read the press release.                        Download the paper.

While cross-media and search vs. display has been studied previously, to our knowledge this is the first quantitative analysis of the view-through effectiveness of various display placement strategies (Audience Targeting, Contextual Targeting, Retargeting) and pricing options (Premium/CPM, Efficiency/CPC). And while the study is by no means exhaustive, and may even raise more questions than it answers, it validates the efficacy of display advertising and provides direction on which placement strategies to deploy to drive advertiser performance, whether measured by brand or direct response metrics.

Here are a few of the key findings:

  • Retargeting works extremely well and should be considered for both direct response and branding initiatives
  • Some placements create new traffic while others find audiences that are already engaged with the subject
  • Marketers in different industries take advantage of the strategies differently
  • All multi-strategy marketers increased site visitation above the norm
  • Advertisers who used three or more placement strategies tended to have one metric in which they disproportionately beat the norm

While the study was exclusively on placements across the ValueClick Media network, it was not sponsored research, but rather done in partnership with comScore. Regardless, the campaigns were all sold and delivered on a single network, so a different network or analysis across an entire campaign may have shown different results.

That said, the data tells an interesting story about ValueClick Media. Most surprising to me was the lift, however small, driven by the RON baseline, something we attribute to the impact data and optimization is increasingly having on the ability to predict the performance of every impression — a huge validation of our technology. Contextual pricing probably skewed high due to inclusion of campaigns run on our more exclusive vertical networks. And the data suggests we just may be undervaluing our audience targeting and retargeting inventory.

Laurie Sullivan did a great job of recapping the results of the paper in her MediaPost article published today. I will be presenting the research with Anne Hunter on Tuesday at the IAB MIXX conference in NY. Our workshop is up against sponsored content from Google/AdMob, Yahoo! and AOL, so I’m eager to see what audience we attract. Whoever comes, I’m looking forward to seeing everyone during Advertising Week in NY!

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Bocce Gets Hip in West LA

bocceblitz1Who knew Beach Bocce was so cool? Apparently it’s the new thing to do in Los Angeles these days, and will catch a big wave on October 2 as Bocce Blitzkrieg comes to the Santa Monica Pier for a great cause. I’ve been volunteering with communication efforts for the Room to Read chapter in LA. If you’re interested, this will be a fun way to learn more about RTR and meet a diverse group of individuals who support its global mission to support literacy and equality in education in the developing world. I’ve posted the press release below for LA chapter members (or anyone else) to help spread the word.  

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact: Allison Wilson 213-925-9633

Event Contact: Dominic Bernacchi, 310-664-4530

BOCCE BLITZKRIEG STORMS SANTA MONICA PIER WITH LOS ANGELES’ FIRST BEACH BOCCE BALL TOURNAMENT TO BENEFIT ROOM TO READ

Registration is now open, with all ages and skill levels invited to experience bocce while making a direct impact on literacy in the developing world.

Santa Monica, Calif. (September 16, 2010) – Los Angeles’ first-ever Beach Bocce Ball Tournament will hit the sand on Saturday, October 2, with all proceeds to benefit Room to Read and its fight for global literacy and gender equality in education.

 when Los Angeles’ first-ever Beach Bocce Ball Tournament comes to the Santa Monica Pier on Saturday, October 2. All proceeds will benefit Room to Read and its fight for global literacy and gender equality in education.  The all-day event is open to the public and will begin at 9 a.m. in the sand near the northern corner of Santa Monica Pier parking lot. Registration is now open, with entry categories for men, women and couples teams. Registration is $70 for teams of two.  The tournament will feature early round robin play funneling into brackets that will result in one team reigning as Beach Bocce Champions in each division. Trophies and prizes will be awarded to each and every bocce master.

Beach Bocce has been gaining in popularity in recent years, and can be enjoyed by competitors of all ages and all walks of life. The game is an adapted form of the traditional Italian ball game, played on the sand.

There will be just as much action off the sand, with games of skill open to everyone including Blindfolded Bocce, The Awesomely Accurate and the infamous Ball Handling competition. The Beach Bocce Blitzkrieg will also include special appearances by KCRW DJ Dan Wilcox and The Bocce King, “Giuseppe Napoli” as well as some of LA’s finest food trucks and an oasis from the heat of the competition provided in the Bud Light Beer Garden.

To register or make a donation to Room to Read in the name of Bocce Blitzkrieg, please visit http://www.bocceblitzkrieg.com.

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About Room to Read

Room to Read is an innovative nonprofit leader dedicated to promoting and enabling global education. Founded in 2000, the organization is based on the belief that education is crucial to breaking the cycle of poverty in the developing world. Since then, the organization has supported over three million children by providing better access to higher-quality educational opportunities. Room to Read has catalyzed the construction of more than 700 schools, established 7,000 bilingual libraries with 5 million books, and continues to support the education of nearly 7,000 girls. Room to Read is providing opportunities that change children’s lives and communities throughout Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Zambia. By 2010, Room to Read hopes to improve literacy for 5 million children by establishing over 10,000 libraries and distributing close to 9 million children’s books. For more information visit our website at www.roomtoread.org.

About Room to Read Los Angeles Chapter

Room to Read chapters are comprised of dedicated individuals who have made a long-term volunteer commitment to promoting Room to Read within their networks and communities. Since 2006, the chapters have collectively helped source over one third of Room to Read’s operating budget and they have an equally ambitious goal for 2009. Currently Room to Read has 39 chapters in the U.S., Asia, Europe and Australia. Room to Read’s Los Angeles Chapter was launched in 2008 and to date has raised more than $250,000 toward Room to Read’s goal of reaching 5 million children by 2010.

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Fixing Advertising Los Angeles | July 2010

CaptureRarely does a panel discussion achieve an optimal mix of education, entertainment and controversy the way the Fixing Advertising session did on Monday night in Los Angeles. The education series, sponsored by Dapper, has now made its way to every major U.S. media market in an effort to not only make sense of the fragmented display advertising landscape, but to actually do something about it. Bravo!

Credit for the effective cadence and tone of the session goes to Pete Kim, General Manager of Yahoo! SmartAds, who clearly being qualified to serve on the panel himself had the audience on the edge of their seats just by knowing just when to dial up and down the intensity. He began by asking the audience what level of discussion they wanted to hear, which was promptly met with shouts of “deep dive” and “hard core!” And the panel did not disappoint. 

So what is being done to “fix” advertising? Kim began the conversation by asking the panel to articulate what’s broken — and everyone had an opinion about given the theme of the evening. 

According to Zack Coelius of Triggit, advertising is broken because it’s fragmented. It’s broken when it costs 20 to 30 percent of the media budget just to plan, buy and manage the process, especially when you don’t know where your ads are going and when you don’t have control over the buy.

Frank Adante of Rubicon echoed his sentiment from the publisher perspective, explaining how the sell side is fragmented too. Finding the money is difficult, he says, when an estimated two million advertisers are buying from one thousand sources and at least 500 sales teams worldwide. Not to mention the difficulties presented by multiple billing, collections, reporting systems. The solution, he suggests, is a central platform for selling and the  need for automation.

According to Jon Aizen of Dapper, people enjoy the web and get great value, but they don’t like display ads, which cover 10-20% of the visual real estate. After all, banners haven’t changed much since 1994. Advertisers actually have sometthing people want, but the advertising isn’t reflective of their offering, which Dapper hopes to change by matching visitors to relevant content.

Amy Lehman of United Online made a compelling case for how expensive it is to manage campaign reporting, metrics and attribution and how insane it is that we have not dealt with this as an industry already. Furthermore, she said, the industry is “beyond commodotized” and we make enable fragmentation which only makes it harder on ourselves. Ultimately, according to Lehman, most facets of the fragmented ecosystem (analytics, rich media, creative optimization, ad verification, etc.) belong resident in the ad server. 

As automation of these processes takes hold, will jobs actually be eliminated? Probably not, since machines can’t do creative or strategy, but more junior level roles centered around manually running reports and  managing pivot tables may evaborate, or at least their jobs will change, as the industry continues its rapid trend toward automation. According to Adante, automation is partly the cause of the fragmentation, referencing how a huge SEM/SEO services industry was built upon the backs of the major search engines.

Jon Aizen spoke about page saturation, consumer immunity (banner blindness). Unlike how a half page ad in print is half the cost of a full page, more ads on the page online are sold at the same rate, thus creating banner blindness. In Aizen’s view, sometimes it is more prudent to know when not to serve an ad. He also claims display units are too small and not intrusive enough. After all, when was the last time a banner ad made you laugh or cry?

The days of arbitrage models where middlemen add no value are over. If Terrence Kawaja’s now infamous GCA Savvian fragmentation slide is an indicator of some future consolidation, the Kim asks “by whom?” According to Coelius, “it’s going to be a going out of business process, not a buying process.” For those vendors who help to add insight and extract real value for advertisers, however, the outcome may certainly be acquisition by those larger media players and agencies who must continue acquiring such technology to compete long term.

Partly justifying the need for so much data and analytics is how much more multi-dimensional and dynamic display is compared to search. The mere fact that campaigns are distributed among thousands of sites in and of itself is complex. Then add in the critical creative component, which according to Michael Baker, a recent DataXu study found was the single most important factor in driving conversions, followed by consumer and context.

Being hosted at The Rubicon Project, Adante diligently represented the voice of publishers, whose role in all of this cannot be overlooked. According to some, a publisher backlash related to how networks use their data is looming, but there shouldn’t be any at all if publishers are simply paid for each impression based on what it is worth to the advertiser, which is what DSPs and sophisticated ad networks are set up to do.

Best quotes of the evening:

“We’re trying to kill online advertising and replace it with content.” – Jon Aizen

“Arbitrage just needs to die.” –  Zach Coelius

 “These little buy and sell side technologies are like plaque in the teeth of Google.” – Michael Baker

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From left to right: Amy Lehman, SVP Advertising, United Online; Zach Coelius, Founder & CEO, Triggit; Frank Addante, Founder & CEO, The Rubicon Project; Jon Aizen, COO & Co-Founder, Dapper; Peter Kim, General Manager of Yahoo! SmartAds; Michael Baker, CEO, DataXu, James Beriker, CEO, Dapper.

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Venture Capital Investment Up in Q2

pwc logoAccording to a report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data from Thomson Reuters, venture capitalists funneled $6.5 billion into 906 startups in Q2, an increase of 53 percent over the same period in 2009. The software industry led the way with 229 rounds of funding, but clean tech led financing with $1.5 billion going into 71 deals. Internet-specific companies received $879 million via 212 deals in the quarter. TechCrunch has a good graphic of funding by category and quarter-over-quarter trends.

What does all this mean for the Southern California technology sector? According to SoCalTech.com, we’re tracking second only to Silicon Valley in year-to-date funding, with $857 million going into 91 investments in Q2, nearly double the $451 million put into 69 deals in Q2/2009. Among the largest Southern California firms receiving funding were Miles Electric Vehicles and Tri Alpha Energy. Redpoint Ventures and Steamboat Ventures were the most active Southern California firms involved in transations nationally.

All in all, it sounds like positive signs for the economic recovery, innovations in technology and the growth of Southern California’s software, clean tech and Internet industries.

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A way forward for brands online: Audience Measurement 5.0

arf logoI’m no researcher, but in recent years have acquired an appreciation for the role of research in audience targeting and measurement as well as its effectiveness in B2B marketing. Last week I had a rare opportunity to rub elbows with some of the digital media industry’s top research experts during the Advertising Research Foundation’s Audience Measurement 5.0 conference in New York. As part of the “Media Smackdown” track, I was there to co-present new research on “Media Placement Strategy and its Impact on Online Ad Effectiveness” with Anne Hunter, VP of advertising effectiveness at comScore.

Notwithstanding how excited I was to participate in the conference and introduce the research ValueClick Media and comScore will release in the coming weeks, I took the opportunity to revisit my own understanding of the state of online measurement and targeting. The main question on my mind: how far away are we from seeing brands invest more heavily in digital, which today accounts for a disproportionate +/- six percent of total media spending? Through my conversations, I reaffirmed my understanding of what’s possible today, and I got fairly consistent feedback on where things need to go in order to move us toward the measurement and targeting capabilities necessary to give brand advertisers the confidence to spend more online.

Randy Cohen, founder and CEO of Advertiser Perceptions, reinforced what comScore suggested in its 2008 “Whither the Click” research, when he reminded me that “we’re chasing the wrong metric in performance.” The real money, he says, is in upper funnel measurement and our ability to prove that online advertising is capable of moving consumers into the consideration set for a particular brand. More succinctly put, he suggests “return on ad spend is a metric, but what matters most is return on brand.” Although he predicts innovative vendors will partner to deliver breakthroughs in audience targeting and measurement brands can embrace, like most people I spoke with, he doubts a single metric for brand engagement is realistic.

A related theme shared throughout the week and captured best in my conversation with Jack Myers, is the need to move ROI measurement beyond online sales impact and brand lift studies and into better accountability for its impact on offline sales. While offline sales impact studies have shown proven lift from online campaigns, they are expensive and fall short of brand marketers’ true desire: to target ads on the basis of offline shopping behavior.

The ability to target based on offline sales data was first explored by Yahoo Consumer Direct (with Nielsen/Homescan) in 2003 and improvements can surely be expected through a more recent announcement of a joint venture between IRI and Nielsen. It is unclear yet how this will impact comScore’s relationship with IRI. comScore has partnerships with other offline data providers, including dunnhumbyUSA, Polk and others, which until recently existed primarily for the purpose of measuring offline sales impacts as a result of online advertising. But the more interesting development for comScore is its introduction of Audience Advantage, which combines offline data with comScore panel data and a look-alike modeling methodology to allow networks and portals to “pre-score” media for its propensity to identify consumers who have exhibited similar behavior to those who purchased particular products offline.

While Consumer Direct and Audience Advantage, with their look-alike models have been around for awhile, third party data sources for online behavioral targeting have emerged as a key component of the display advertising landscape over the past two years. To the extent these providers can deliver specific audiences who have exhibited a recent behavior with any scale, it would stand to reason that this would be the more effective targeting method – perhaps worthy of a future comparison by an innovating brand. Whatever approach is best, there are actionable brand targeting and measurement solutions emerging, which when proven, promoted, refined and repeated will be a boon for display advertising online.

My most entertaining conversation of the week, and perhaps the most insightful, was with Andy Fisher, EVP Global Data and Analytics Director for Starcom, who suggested that brands really do want to spend more online, if nothing else because they know their future job security depends on digital. If only we could demonstrate for them a clear reason to do so. Brands, he said, want to know who they are reaching. Not just what audience segment performed well for a particular metric, but the specific individuals reached by a campaign. To support this ideal, measurement and ratings vendors should strive to report on granular audience delivery metrics, much in the way they do for media measurement today. One shortcoming, it seems is the lack of a common taxonomy for measuring behavioral audience segments. Even if there were, the user profile data it would rely upon lives in the proprietary databases of advertisers and media companies, each with their slightly different description of the same users and valid reasons for not wanting to share the data freely.

I was unable to find anyone to argue in favor of context over audience, however, as our study with comScore will demonstrate, what strategy to deploy is highly dependent upon price, reach and each marketer’s specific objectives – and deploying multiple strategies may be most effective. To that end, one of the more interesting point made by Mr. Fisher was how in television, media equates to audience because all of the creative is delivered against the same media at the same time, making it easier to measure and scale. Whereas the distributed nature of online carries with it many more complexities because of the requirement to reach and measure audiences across several media placement options. I’m sure I am oversimplifying this thought and hope he will elaborate.

Another concept that arose from a guided luncheon discussion led by Ms. Hunter and reiterated by Joanne Burns, EVP of marketing, research and new media at Twentieth Television, was the need for research and marketing to work more integrally together. When speaking with brands, in fact, Robert McLoughlin, director strategic insights at AOL said his approach is to first ask “what is your research goal” and only then dig deeper into the typical line of questioning related to marketing objectives.

Although I’m sure gaps remain in my understanding of what’s possible and where things are headed, I came away from Audience Measurement 5.0 much more confidence that the metrics CPG and other brand-oriented advertisers demand is on the horizon, if not here already. Regardless, I can assure you there is an army of intelligent marketers, publishers, analysts, scientists and researchers working to ensure online advertising isn’t relegated to being exclusively a direct response medium.

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