Will Increased Scrutiny Make Google More Transparent?

Will Increased Scrutiny Make Google More Transparent?

Advertising Google

It’s been a tough week for Google from a PR standpoint.

On November 11, The Wall Street Journal published a story about how Google has been collecting Americans’ personal health data as part of an ambitious foray into healthcare. Although Google was not accused of any wrongdoing, the examination of its data collection practices resulted in the announcement of a federal probe. And then to cap off the week, on November 15, The Wall Street Journal published a lengthy article, “How Google Interferes With Its Search Algorithms and Changes Your Results.”

Let’s just say the title of that second article captured plenty of interest in the advertising world.

Do Google’s Actions Match Its Message?

The November 15 article, like the article about Project Nightingale, did not accuse Google of doing anything illegal. But The Wall Street Journal painted a picture of a company whose actions are not always aligned with its statements. For instance, The Wall Street Journal pointed out examples of Google intervening to manage search results contrary to what Google says on its blog, “We do not use human curation to collect or arrange the results on a page.” According to The Wall Street Journal, Google:

  • Weeds out more-incendiary suggestions in the search auto-complete function.
  • Has made algorithmic changes to search results that favor big companies over smaller ones and “in at least one case made changes on behalf of a major advertiser,eBay, contrary to its public position that it never takes that type of action. The company also boosts some major websites, such as Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook Inc.  . . . .” (The comment about Facebook and Amazon is especially interesting given how Amazon and Facebook compete with Google for advertising revenue.)
  • Employs thousands of contractors whose job is to assess the quality of the algorithms’ rankings. “Even so,” says The Wall Street Journal, “contractors said Google gave feedback to these workers to convey what it considered to be the correct ranking of results, and they revised their assessments accordingly, according to contractors interviewed by the Journal. The contractors’ collective evaluations are then used to adjust algorithms.”

For me one of the most fascinating details in the article is the inference that Google’s advertising growth has influenced how the company treats businesses on Google. According to the article:

Some very big advertisers received direct advice on how to improve their organic search results, a perk not available to businesses with no contacts at Google, according to people familiar with the matter. In some cases, that help included sending in search engineers to explain a problem, they said.

One former executive at a Fortune 500 company that received such advice said Google frequently adjusts how it crawls the web and ranks pages to deal with specific big websites.

Google updates its index of some sites such as Facebook and Amazon more frequently, a move that helps them appear more often in search results, according to a person familiar with the matter.

For its part, Google said it does not provide specialized guidance to website owners. Google said that faster indexing of a site isn’t a guarantee that it will rank higher. “We prioritize issues based on impact, not any commercial relationships,” a Google spokeswoman said.

I would urge any business to take the time to read the article. Here again, this is not an exposé of wrongdoing but rather an in-depth examination of how well Google’s practices align with its words.

The Core Issue: Transparency

Google is certainly not alone in facing increased scrutiny for its management of data and its relationship with advertisers, and the heat Google is experiencing right now is nothing compared to the firestorm that Facebook is enduring.

To me, the core issue of the November 15 article is this: transparency. Google’s practice of holding its cards close to the vest has created an impression of a business that has something to hide – perhaps not a fair impression, but as they say, perception is reality. As Google manages the fallout from the November 15 story, I do think we may see some interesting outcomes for advertisers:

  • Smaller businesses — which the article characterizes as second-class citizens groveling for fair consideration — may receive more responsiveness than they typically get from the advertising giant when issues arise that demand attention.
  • All businesses may see more transparency from Google, such as how the algorithm works and the explicit impact of the many algorithm changes that Google enacts through the year. A message of “Trust us – we know what we’re doing” just isn’t going over very well. At the same time, Google needs to protect its intellectual property, and the company says that revealing too much of how the algorithm works will make it easier for parties with bad intentions to game the system. It will be fascinating to see how Google reconciles these factors amid increased scrutiny.

In many ways, Google is grappling with issues that social media platforms do all the time – providing an open forum for the exchange of ideas among people while at the same time making it possible for businesses to succeed through advertising and commerce. What exactly goes on behind the scenes to represent the interests of both people and businesses is not always clear. But that situation may change soon.

Contact True Interactive

At True Interactive, we live in the world of online advertising. We know how to help businesses succeed with Google, Facebook, Amazon, and many other advertising platforms. Contact us to learn how we can help you.

Why Digital Ad Spend Is on the Rise

Why Digital Ad Spend Is on the Rise

Advertising

Digital advertising is not only growing, it’s becoming more mainstream. As noted in two recently published research reports, internet advertising spending is hitting record highs and is projected to soon exceed 50 percent of all advertising spend for the first time. Let’s unpack what this information means for your business.

Trends in Growth Reflect Value

According to a report issued by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) on August 6, “U.S. digital advertising revenues reached a landmark high of $28.4 billion in the first quarter of 2019. This is the industry’s strongest Q1 on record.” The 18 percent rise over Q1 2018 digital revenues are part of a trend, as David Silverman, Partner, PwC US, sees it: “These historic Q1 figures are in keeping with digital’s ongoing rise,” he notes. The leaps in growth are also telling, reflecting the value digital ad spend can yield. Sue Hogan, IAB’s Senior Vice President, Research and Measurement, says that “[t]he continued growth of digital ad spend is a reflection of its ability to help brands and publishers reach consumers and build meaningful one-to-one relationships.”

The Balance Is Tipping

Digital advertising isn’t just strong and growing, it’s also overtaking offline advertising. In a report released July 8 by Zenith, internet advertising is predicted to account for 52 percent of global advertising expenditure in 2021. This development would mark the first time digital advertising exceeded the 50 percent mark of all ad expenditures, overtaking analog advertising formats such as linear television, billboards, and print. According to Zenith, print in particular is on the decline, and traditional television ad revenues can be expected to dwindle every year from now to 2021.

Brands should note that internet advertising isn’t a monolithic spend. Ongoing technological improvements to smartphone technology and connection speeds, paired with strong content investment, have informed the growth of ad spend in online video and social media, in particular.

What Does It All Mean?

The reports suggest a few takeaways, including:

  • Digital ad spending is finally becoming mainstream. It’s no longer part of a company’s advertising, it’s central to a company’s strategy.
  • Businesses are getting more sophisticated about how they advertise. They are increasing and decreasing their digital spend in different types of digital advertising to suit the specific needs of a campaign, and to adapt to changes in consumer behavior. The fact that advertisers are upping their spend in video and social media reflects an understanding of the surge in consumer social media usage and, as we’ve noted on our blog, the demonstrated appetite for visual content.

What You Should Do

Taken together, these reports underline how important it is that advertisers constantly assess and respond to consumer behavior. By staying current, savvy advertisers can be leaders, not followers—and reap the benefits of being an informed early adopter. For example, businesses that reacted early to the rise of visual storytelling already have a leg up on those that waited too long. You want to be one of those businesses that monitor how consumers are acting and adjust advertising strategies accordingly — before your competitors do.

A really good example of a trend to watch? Voice search. Per Zenith, “A lot of innovation in search is taking place in voice, which is currently not monetised.” Voice-based advertising may not be paying off yet across the board—but it’s only a matter of time before it does. Smart brands will keep an eye on voice search and take action before it’s mainstream.

Contact True Interactive

How are you sensing and responding? Contact us. We can help you maximize ROI of your online advertising.

How to Advertise to Gen Z

How to Advertise to Gen Z

Advertising

Generation Z is a fast-growing demographic, and savvy businesses are getting to know them and how to connect with them, as good marketers have done with generations that precede Gen Z, such as Millennials and Baby Boomers. Who makes up Gen Z, and why are they important? Read on for a thumbnail sketch of the generation that has grown up in an “always on” technological environment.

Who Is Gen Z?

Pew Research defines Generation Z as anyone born from 1997 onward. Bloomberg research indicates that in 2019, Gen Z will comprise about 32 percent of the population, making it the most populous generation — larger even than the Millennial generation, which, for years, has dominated the imagination and attention of advertisers.

Gen Z is different from any other generation because of one simple fact: they are true digital natives. They don’t know life without smart phones. In addition, they are growing up in an economy where ownership isn’t mandatory or even preferable: Older Gen Zers are comfortable renting someone else’s belongings to get from Point A to Point B (think Uber) or spending time in a new city (Airbnb), a pattern that will probably persist once they come of age and have real spending power. And this is a generation invested in meaningful social connection and expression, where “friend” count, or quantity, is less important than the quality and personal nature of one’s connections.

5 Way to Connect with Gen Z

It’s important that your business understand how to communicate with Gen Z. What are the keys to a meaningful connection with a tech-savvy generation that values just that — connection?

1 Lead with Digital

Use online advertising as the cornerstone for all your advertising. Remember, this is the generation that is growing up digital. As Jonah Stillman, the co-author of “Gen Z @ Work” and a 2018 panelist at Advertising Week in New York City, has noted, “[Generation Z] sees no difference between the physical and digital worlds. This is a generation that is native to technology and has complete comfortability with [their] phones.” This is also a multi-screen generation: if Millennials are known to use three screens at once, you can plan on Gen Z using five. Make sure your ads are present across multiple platforms in order to optimize views and clicks.

2 Be Visual

Gen Z is growing up in the age of YouTube and Instagram. For example, online videos are a key brand discovery platform: Marketing Dive reports that 56 percent of the group has indicated “they want video to reflect the products and services they already own or are specifically interested in.” As we have blogged, creating great visual content is no longer a nice to do – it’s a must-do.

3 Look beyond Facebook

In 2018, eMarketer senior forecasting analyst Oscar Orozco told Business Insider that “[o]utside of those who have already left, teens and tweens remaining on Facebook seem to be less engaged—logging in less frequently and spending less time on the platform.” A 2017 Piper Jaffray survey, in which only nine percent of teens designated Facebook as their preferred social-media platform, confirms this trend. As nineteen-year-old Ishan Goel, a marketing strategist with the Mark Cuban Companies, observes, being on Facebook is “not cool.”

So where is Gen Z spending its digital time? According to Ishan Goel, “Because Gen Zers are individualistic and value their privacy, they prefer anonymous social media like Snapchat, Secret, and Whisper rather than Facebook,” An Hodgson, an income and expenditure manager at Euromonitor International, notes that Instagram is also a go-to.

4 Be Authentic

This isn’t necessarily a generation invested in status. Piper Jaffrey reports that “refined-classic” brands like Ralph Lauren or Vineyard Vines are suffering record lows in the Gen Z market, dropping from a 14 percent average to a 5 percent market share among teens. (That said, according to a recent report from consultancy Irregular Labs, 25 percent of the 1,000 13- to 24-year-old females surveyed indicated that they are saving up to buy a luxury product.)

Gen Zers also value ads with everyday people in them, as opposed to celebrities. Look to retailers like Target for a sense of how to get it right when it comes to authenticity: in Target’s online as well as in-store advertising for women’s fashions, for example, models come in all shapes. And in the store itself, even the mannequins showcasing the clothing are different sizes.

5 Tread Carefully with Cause Marketing

Gen Zers value social issues. In a new study from the consulting firm DoSomething Strategic, two-thirds of Gen Z consumers indicate that there is a correlation between a brand’s association with a social cause and positive impressions of that brand. That said, authenticity (see above) must be established: any whiff of a disconnect between the cause marketing and a company’s values, and Gen Z will not be impressed. Furthermore, a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research suggests that businesses should avoid relying on guilt in any cause-related marketing they pursue.

Contact True Interactive

Looking for more insight into how to reach Gen Z with your digital advertising? Contact us.

Photo by JodyHongFilms on Unsplash

Why Yahoo! Scores An Advertising Touchdown with NFL Live

Why Yahoo! Scores An Advertising Touchdown with NFL Live

Advertising

As more cord-cutters embrace connected TV, advertisers don’t reach as many people as they used to. We blogged recently about the fact that even blockbuster TV shows like Game of Thrones attract a fraction of the audiences that used to gather in linear television’s heyday. The change has created an environment in which content creators and advertisers are invited to find new ways to make money from digital audiences. The shift isn’t limited to shows or series, of course. It also includes live sports, with platforms and publishers such as Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo!, and YouTube landing rights to broadcast games from the likes of Major League Baseball, the NFL, and the NHL. Yahoo!, for example, has adapted to the connected TV era by providing the NFL Live experience, which, in turn, creates an opportunity for advertisers: a less expensive, more targeted way for brands to reach NFL fans.

What Is NFL Live?

NFL Live is currently the only free mobile site for watching live NFL games. Yahoo! makes free NFL viewing a reality by empowering businesses to advertise on NFL Live. Some of the advantages to advertisers are straightforward: brands get their name in front of six million+ people who have downloaded the app, for example. But it’s not just the volume that matters—it’s the ability to target viewers. Instead of buying advertising spots for certain times during a game (the third quarter of a Bears/Packers game, say), advertisers on NFL Live can reach out to particular audiences. By targeting a group as specific as women ages 25-34 making $100,000+ annually, an advertiser may not reach the largest audience — but they can reach a market they determine is uniquely suited to their brand. It’s a trade-off that can be lucrative, bringing to mind the maxim “quality versus quantity.”

Another perk: it’s less expensive to advertise on NFL Live. A typical network ad during an NFL game costs about $300,000. By contrast, there is no minimum spend for advertising on NFL Live. Advertisers can spend as much or as little as they want.

How Is Yahoo! Expanding NFL Live to Yahoo!’s Fantasy Football App?

Yahoo! has done something else. The company is ramping up its NFL Live offering by also streaming NFL games on Yahoo!’s popular Fantasy Football app. As Yahoo! Fantasy analyst Liza Loza recently said, “NFL fans all over the country can root for their favourite teams and watch all local and primetime games free and unauthenticated in the Yahoo! Fantasy Football app, the Yahoo! Sports app and other Verizon and NFL media properties on phones and tablets.” Multiple streaming locations mean a larger audience. They also hold the promise of attracting new fans. Yahoo! Sports general manager Geoff Reiss said that the digital platforms have brought in a “concentration of younger fans watching the NFL . . . Half of our fans were under the age of 40. I think one of the reasons the league was interested in working with us is we would be a means for them to reach younger audiences.”

Contact True Interactive

Yahoo! is a prime example of a business that’s adapting with the times. It’s important that advertisers remain nimble and aware of what companies like Yahoo! are doing, and capitalize on the opportunities that the changing market affords. Accept the fact that you won’t be reaching as big of an audience. Embrace the reality that you can in fact reach a much more targeted audience: one that’s smaller but more measurable. Call True Interactive for more insight into how to do that.

Advertising Opportunities in the Era of Connected TV

Advertising Opportunities in the Era of Connected TV

Advertising

The final episode of Game of Thrones set an HBO record, with 19.3 million viewers tuning in on May 19. Though this number sounds big, it’s small potatoes compared to the numbers generated during the heyday of linear television: consider the 105.9 million viewers attracted by the M*A*S*H finale in 1983, for example. The reality is that we’re simply not gathering around our TV sets to create massive audiences for advertisers anymore (with notable exceptions such as the Super Bowl). In fact, audiences are increasingly fragmented as they watch television shows across multiple devices and channels, on their own time and terms. What do these changes mean for advertisers?

The Challenges

For one thing, it’s harder to reach people en masse. And depending on the viewing platform, television shows may not even offer an opportunity for advertisers to air commercials. Sure, the Big Three television networks still allow advertisers to place ads, and opportunities like the Super Bowl and Academy Awards can still be lucrative. But shows appearing on HBO or streaming platforms like the forthcoming Disney+ don’t accept advertising.

Opportunities in a New Era

 So what’s an advertiser to do in an era of connected TV?

  • Take advantage of the good things that are part and parcel of the connected TV era, like the tools that now exist to help you understand your audience. There are technologies out there — AUDIENCEX is one example — that allow advertisers to come up with more targeted ads. You may no longer have the ability to advertise to massive audiences, but you can target smaller, deeply specific demographics you think might respond to your product: millennial women who live in Boston, say. You can also better understand, and act on, the times that audience might respond best to what you’re selling.

Both the whiskey and cookie campaigns knew how to tie in to the cultural phenomenon that was Game of Thrones in smart, inventive ways, making both products shoe-ins for the themed show-end parties that inevitably took place around the globe. Meanwhile, Shake Shack offered Game of Thrones menu tie-ins—a Dragonglass Shake made of custard “frozen with packed snow harvested beyond the Wall,” and a Dracarys Burger “griddled by the fires of Drogon and Rhaegal.” The items, part of a secret menu, were meant to be ordered in Valyrian, a tongue consumers could master with the help of a Shake Shack-provided translation guide. Mountain Dew featured a cast of musicians singing the Game of Thrones theme as part of Mountain Dews #ACanHasNoName campaign — an example of how businesses incorporated humor to provide light commentary on a TV show known for its heavy themes.

These brands typically relied on social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to generate audience impressions that would continue to accumulate after the final episode of Game of Thrones. The tie-ins weren’t restricted to food and drink. Adidas’ Twitter promotion highlighted six limited-edition pairs of shoes “[i]nspired by the colours and details of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond The Wall.”

Even the American Red Cross got in on the action, partnering with HBO to kick off a Bleed #ForTheThrone Facebook campaign that encouraged blood donations in exchange for an opportunity to win an Iron Throne. The Red Cross did its homework, too, spending the largest majority of its advertising dollars to reach males in Hartford, Connecticut, and Chicago where apparently the appeal of one’s own Throne looms large, as noted here.

As these examples show, it’s never been a better time for advertisers to tap into popular culture to invigorate their brands. The nature of the rules—and opportunities—has simply changed. The question is: have you?

Contact us. We understand advertising in the era of connected TV.

Why the Amazon/Sizmek Deal Matters

Why the Amazon/Sizmek Deal Matters

Advertising Amazon

On May 31, Amazon said it will acquire assets from Sizmek, an advertising technology firm. The announcement consisted of three paragraphs with little detail. But the deal is valuable for Amazon as the company builds a stronger advertising platform to compete with Facebook and Google.

Amazon Advertising Gains Market Share

Amazon’s advertising business is slowly taking market share from Facebook and Google. According to eMarketer, Amazon will capture 8.8 percent of U.S. digital ad spending in 2019. This amount trails far behind Google (with 37.2 percent market share) and Facebook (22.1 percent). But Amazon is building its advertising operation from scratch, and in a short time it has emerged as a threat primarily to Google, as consumers shift their product searches away from Google and toward Amazon.

How Sizmek’s Assets Will Help Amazon

Amazon purchased Sizmek’s ad server and dynamic creative optimization tools, the latter of which helps personalize ads using data. Sizmek’s tools will bolster Amazon’s already strong warehouse of customer data with even more data from ad serving. Doing so will give Amazon more targeted ways to advertise to the millions of people who search for products on Amazon and willingly share their personal information with the company. The deal isn’t making Amazon bigger, but it will make Amazon smarter.

What Advertisers Should Do

At True Interactive, we help businesses capitalize on Amazon as an advertising platform as part of our broader digital advertising offerings. We’ve been actively blogging about the many features Amazon Advertising is developing, such as video ads on Amazon’s mobile app. Based on our own experience, we suggest advertisers:

  • Examine how partnering with Amazon Advertising will help you attract and acquire customers, even if you don’t sell products on Amazon. As The New York Times reported recently, Amazon is tapping into its rich vein of customer data to help companies create more targeted ads across the digital world – an “insanely powerful” capability, according to the article.
  • Watch as Amazon’s competitors evolve their platforms to compete with the Amazon threat. For instance, Google recently announced new features intended to make it a stronger mobile advertising platform (which we discussed here). And, don’t forget Microsoft. Its own advertising business, while small, gives businesses an alternative to the Big Three of Amazon, Facebook, and Google.

Online advertising is changing rapidly as the major players make acquisitions and develop their products organically. Advertisers will benefit so long as you remain vigilant and capitalize on these improvements. True Interactive can help you. As an outside party, we constantly evaluate new tools and ensure that our clients benefit from them with effective digital advertising campaigns. Contact us. We’d love to make your online advertising more powerful.

Google Ramps Up Mobile Advertising with New Features

Google Ramps Up Mobile Advertising with New Features

Advertising Google

Over the next few years, mobile will drive nearly 90 percent of U.S. digital ad spend, according to Forrester. Businesses such as our client Snapfish are using mobile to achieve benefits such as a 343 percent increase in revenue from mobile app installs and a 756 percent return on ad spend. On May 14, Google made some major moves to accelerate our march toward a mobile advertising future:

App Deep Linking from Mobile Ads

Google announced that in coming weeks, Google will enable app deep linking from Google ads. Business that offers apps and also advertise on mobile will benefit from a more frictionless experience. Google will take users from shopping, display, and search ads right to the relevant page on your mobile app. Users with your app installed will complete a desired action (such as buying a product or booking a hotel stay) in a more personal and easier way with their check-out information pre-populated. As Google noted on its blog, “Early tests have been promising—on average, deep linked ad experiences drove 2X the conversion rates.”

In announcing app deep linking, Google shared the example of Magalu, one of Brazil’s largest retail companies. Magalu, seeing that its app was growing in popularity, enabled deep linking. According to Google, “By enabling deep linking, loyal customers who tapped on a Magalu ad were taken directly to the mobile app they already have installed, resulting in more than 40 percent growth in overall mobile purchases.”

Gallery Ads

Google also announced the launch of Gallery Ads later in 2019. Gallery Ads consist of swipeable images that will display on multiple pages on a user’s mobile phones. As Google announced,

By combining search intent with a more interactive visual format, gallery ads make it easier for you to communicate what your brand has to offer. We’ve found that, on average, ad groups including one or more gallery ad have up to 25 percent more interactions—paid clicks or swipes—at the absolute top of the mobile Search results page.

Advertisers will be able to feature up to eight images. As Search Engine Land (SEL) pointed out, one of the distinguishing features is the large carousel of swipeable images available. Per SEL, people can swipe through the images or click one to expand the gallery into a vertical view that users can then swipe down. At the end of the gallery, a call to action to visit the advertiser’s site appears.

Advertisers get charged for Gallery Ad interactions in one of two ways:

  • A cost-per-click basis when a user clicks on the headline to go to the advertiser’s website.
  • After the user swipes through three images in the gallery.

There is no word yet on an exact date when the format will appear. Advertisers can prepare now by experimenting with different ad, headline, and text options that optimize the available digital real estate.

What Advertisers Should Do

These developments have some important implications:

  • If you rely on an app to attract and service customers, creating ad experiences that link to your app is no longer ideal but is essential. As we’ve shared in our own client work, by varying ad formats wisely to account for factors such as seasonality, advertisers can make advertising and e-commerce more tightly integrated than ever.
  • Advertising on mobile is evolving to allow for more sophisticated storytelling. With a Gallery Ad, you can use multiple images to reveal new products with a series of images rather than collapsing the entire ad and offer into one image. In particular, the swipeable format makes it easier for customers to explore your products, which is especially useful for high-consideration products.

Now is the time to test and learn with Google’s new ad formats and tools. At True Interactive, we possess extensive experience helping businesses launch successful advertising online, including the use of Google products. Contact us. We are here to help.