Mozilla Discusses Native Ads

Mozilla has announced in a blog post that it is considering selling advertisements in its open-source browser as an additional revenue stream.  The ads would be placed on the new tab page, mixed with the panel of a user’s most-visited websites, which is the current new tab page content.  This is unique behavior for a company like Mozilla, but could hint at another form of native advertising particularly helpful for open source software companies.

Brands Who Release Super Bowl Ads Early Win Big

The Super Bowl is still fresh in the minds of advertisers as they slowly determine the returns on their advertising dollars.  The reach of an ad doesn’t stop at the end of the game, though, and online views have become increasingly important to the overall success of a campaign.  Analytics firm Visible Measures looked at online “True Reach” statistics for every Super Bowl campaign since 2010 and found that advertisers who released their ads online before the game saw far greater reach than those who didn’t. Budweiser’s “Puppy Love” commercial from this year’s bowl had already received 26.7 million views before the game, and its final reach is expected to be much higher.

British Airways Debuts Airplane-Tracking Billboard

British Airways can claim a first in advertising, having launched its new Look Up campaign, which includes a custom animated billboard that updates to track actual flights overhead.  The ad displays a little boy pointing to the sky, and his finger follows the path of an actual plane.  The billboard also displays the plane’s flight number and origin.  Innovative ads like these capture the imaginations of their audiences and provide a more positive experience of being advertised to, while also ensuring higher levels of engagement.

Brands Flock To Instagram

According to a new study from Simply Measured, 71% of the most recognized brands in the world are now active on Instagram. That number represents an 80% year over year growth rate, and brands’ adoption of the platform rivals Google+ and Instagram. That same study also concluded that as brand activity on Instagram increases, so too do followers, with automobile brands leading the way. It’s easy to see why automotive brands would do well on Instagram; people love sharing photos of cars. But what’s also important to note is the fact that brands with the most engagement actually didn’t use hastags as often as most users or other brands. Believe it or not, hashtagging the world doesn’t give you more reach or impressions. 

Foursquare Ad Platform Available To All Businesses

Foursquare’s self-service ad platform is now available for all small business, in addition to the limited number of firms to which it has been available since April. Now, any physical commercial venue can pay to have a personalized promotion appear within users’ feeds. Labeled ‘promoted,’ the ads are targeted based on the location of Foursquare users, and whether or not they’re likely to become a customer. To determine the likelihood of becoming a customer, Foursquare assesses whether or not a customer has checked into a venue before, or whether the user has searched for related listenings. On the business side, ad creators will be notified, via a dashboard, about whenever someone views their ad, clicks on it, and walks into the store; Foursquare can offer very real conversion metrics in this way. 

Twitter Acquires MoPub

Twitter has been building clout as an advertising platform for all of 2013, and their acquisition of startup MoPub is another piece of the puzzle.  MoPub helps mobile publishers manage their ad inventory, and by owning them, Twitter has shown an increased focus on revenue generation.  This acquisition will serve to maximize Twitter’s own ad space, increasing the effectiveness of ads running across the entire platform, but will also add revenue from other companies using MoPub’s service to develop native advertising strategies, like WordPress, Flixter, Ngmoco, and OpenTable.

Instagram Preparing to Sell Ads

The coveted millennial demographic is elusive to advertisers due to its prevailing savvy that comes from being a digitally native generation.  Much of the effort to reach these tough customers has been focused on social media, and another player is about to enter the game. Image sharing giant Instagram is on the path to monetization following its acquisition by Facebook last year, and director of business operations Emily White is ready to begin selling ad packages on the service.  Brands are already using Instagram to run viral campaigns for free, but many have expressed an interest in more formal advertising options.  There is fear that excessive advertising could drive users, especially millennials, away from the service, so there is explicit focus being placed on the development of Instagram’s ad program’s seamlessness.  Only time will tell what shape this final presentation will take, but it could quite possibly shift how we think about ads in the app space, given Instagram’s oversimplified user interface which currently shows few obvious options for ad placement.

BMW Mini Customizes London Bilboards

While most billboards are static, or at least programmed, Mini bought electronic billboards in London that projected special messages to drivers. The ads were activated by human roadside spotters with iPads, and offered compliments to Mini drivers, took photos of them in their cars, and displayed them further on down the road. As well, the spotters often provided gifts, treats, car washes, and other incentives after instructing Mini uses to pull over at the next exit. The billboards are part of a “not normal” campaign, which aims to make Mini drivers feel like part of an exclusive clique. Mini has aimed for similar goals before: in 2007 the company used RFID chips to let drivers identify themselves in billboards around the world. 

Why Are TV Channels Still Numbered, Anyway?

In the on-demand, programmatically-bought future, fitting content into numbered slots will seem antiquated and superfluous. Our great-grandchildren will hardly believed we ever did things this way.

When I was a kid, we had a small black & white TV with a dial. We had our choice of channels 2 -13, plus another knob for the vast UHF wasteland. No offense, Weird Al.

Television was presented to us as an ordered list, because that was how it was broadcast. Since each TV station needed to broadcast on a different frequency, they were assigned orderly little slots. Since geographically adjacent markets needed to alternate which slots they used, and TV-makers didn’t want to manufacture new knobs for each market, the slots were assigned numbers and the numbers were put on the knobs in sequence. Channel 4 broadcast at a slightly higher frequency than Channel 3, but a lower frequency than Channel 5.

Then along came cable TV. Cable inherited this legacy even though it was not bound by broadcast frequencies. Consumers needed to know that if they subscribed to cable, they would still get “Channel 2” and “Channel 7”; plus they get new cable networks, which get their own arbitrary numbers. Why train people on a whole new system, right? Cable is just like “regular” TV, except with lots more of it. Also, it’s easier to show a number on the front of the cable box than the name of the channel. So the numbering model was still useful. Also cable companies could use “low” numbers as negotiating leverage with networks.

This model doesn’t hold for newer forms of content. The Huffington Post isn’t “Website number 802.” Of course it isn’t, trying to number websites would be superfluous and silly. You don’t have to navigate up and down through a list of websites, you just type in what you want based on its descriptive name and go there. Your only hurdle perhaps is remembering which vowels to leave out of the domain name.

A slow revolution of sorts is beginning to take hold that will finally challenge the numbered-TV model. You may have heard this referred to as “cord-cutting” or as the adoption of “over-the-top” entertainment options. This trend doesn’t just mean people cancelling cable and watching Netflix instead. It challenges the 70-year old definition of what a “network” is and the 7-year old definition of what an “app” is (vis a vis entertainment).

Right now, we have cable networks with linear programming, and we have apps with supplementary content about those cable networks. The logical conclusion of the current trends is that the two merge; the linear TV broadcast of live events plus on-demand shows all live within an app that is ad supported (e.g. Hulu), subscription based (e.g. something like HBO Go or Netflix), or some sort of hybrid. Imagine a world where you subscribe to “cable”, but instead of 500 numbered channels, you get access to 500 apps. Each app then has the “TV network” as you used to know it embedded within, plus supplementary functionality. So your ESPN app includes live coverage plus a widget showing scores, and your History Channel app shows an interactive map with the best routes for ice road trucking along with the show of the same name.

You don’t necessarily lose the ability to bundle content the way cable does currently. For instance, a parent company with many cable networks could bundle them together into one subscription app, effectively becoming a mini-cable company unto itself. A user could then rebuild an approximation of current-day cable service by subscribing to some of these bundles. The idea of assigning numbers to these apps at that point would seem completely ridiculous. As content providers shift to this model, so begins the decline of the channel number. The last vestige will be over-the-air broadcasts; but even then any remotely modern digital tuner can list channels by name rather than number with a simple firmware upgrade.

And what would that then mean for advertising? Well it’s a whole new world entirely. The 30 & 60 second spot formats will erode in favor of a new set of standards for video and interactive ads. These new standard units will be distributed across a vast sea of platforms, apps and experiences in real time based on programmatic algorithms. In parallel there will be enormous opportunities for specialized sponsorships, apps, games and experiences that can rise above the clutter and integrate themselves with audiences’ lives. If you need help imagining what this future will be like, just take a look at where digital display advertising has been headed.

We’re already reading about Apple skipping the cable companies and going directly to content providers for their long-awaited TV offering. Netflix original programming is another example of what this future may look like (albeit without ads). The more Netflix produces original programming, the more they begin to resemble what we currently think of as a TV network. Except they never had a channel number, and never needed one, and never will.

The Eyeballs Will Be Monetized

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Much has been made of Google’s newly-awarded Pay-per-Gaze patent for a mysterious “head mounted gaze tracking device which captures external scenes viewed by a user wearing the head mounted device,” (I wonder what they can be referring to), which would monitor the pupils of those wearing the device to infer emotion and track what ads they are looking at.

If it’s not too wild a presumption to think they are referring to Google Glass – and while there are certainly a few technicalities they need to work out first – it seems to be the obvious delivery mechanism for the patented technology.

At the Lab, we’ve been in the business of “monetizing eyeballs” for years using eye-tracking technology and other attention and emotion-detecting technologies to benchmark the ad effectiveness. With the prevalence of webcams, and the advanced sophistication of biometric software in the past year, we’ve been able to amass sample sizes in the thousands in our research studies.

Being able to do this with Glass, and gauge consumer sentiment to stimuli out in the real world, is an extremely exciting proposition for research.

Considering how invasive it is, the key is to have consumers opt in, and have a pretty good incentive to do so. We imagine just a sample of the population would participate, as in a large scale research study or Nielsen panel. Or perhaps, consumers at large will be paid to have their personal data tracked, possibly paving the way towards a data economy where consumers receive micro-payments in exchange for sharing personal data, as envisioned by Jaron Lanier in his book “Who Owns The Future?”


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