What Is A Smart Ad?

Meta Ad Servers & The New Tag-Based Paradigm

I am officially declaring this the Summer of Jargon for digital marketers. It has been a non-stop deluge these past few months of acronyms, technical terms and other associated gobbledygook. I figured that before the summer is officially over, I would throw a few more terms into the mix just to keep it lively: Smart Ads and Meta Ad Servers.

“Whoa! Really Matt? You had to throw ‘meta’ in there, the most overused tech term of the decade?” -the reader

Well, yes, I did. And rightfully so as you will see when you read on. But let me first start with the idea of a Smart Ad, then we can tackle the meta monster.

A Smart Ad by definition has intelligence. This can mean intelligence along many dimensions, but at a fundamental level a Smart Ad must adapt to its surroundings and work across the Internet. You see nowadays, the Internet is really complicated — there are tens of thousands of device types, hundreds of operating systems, and now an app ecosystem in addition to the traditional web. In order to deliver a creative payload in this environment, an ad must adapt the payload for each end-user so the marketing message comes through as intended.

To enable Smart Ads, a new approach is needed so that intelligent decisions can be made in real-time leveraging cloud-based computing power, as opposed to the old way of relying on client-side plugins such as Flash for rendering ads properly. This leads me to the Tag-Based Paradigm mentioned in the subtitle, which is a key enabler to the Smart Ad.

The old way to build ads was to create a single set of files for each ad, be that a .SWF file in the Flash days or a .HTML file in more recent times. This meant that any intelligence needed to live within the file itself, or rely on a player as mentioned before. Whereas, if a tag is used to replace the files, then the ad unit becomes a pointer to the cloud where intelligence can be added. With this new architecture, the cloud replaces the client-side player and decisions can be made in real-time about what creative payload to deliver to each individual user — a truly powerful concept.

So now to address the meta monster mentioned earlier…a Meta Ad Server is a software layer that sits on top of a standard ad server and adds additional intelligence (i.e. the “Smart” in Smart Ad). A typical campaign managed by a media agency using an industry-standard ad server such as Doubleclick Campaign Manager (DCM) is a good example for this discussion. In this scenario, the campaign is setup and trafficked employing various datasets, targeting types, and media types in DCM. A Meta Ad Server such as Addroid is used by uploading Addroid ad tags to DCM and serving the ads based on DCM rules. When the ad is called by each user on a unique device, first DCM applies its rules to decide which ad to serve the user, and then the Meta Ad Server applies its rules on top. If correctly implemented, the result is a precisely targeted ad with a creative payload that delivers the advertiser’s marketing message.

In closing, I don’t expect the reader to memorize all of the jargon discussed in this post, but I would urge all readers to think differently about the Internet and the way ads are delivered. A Smart Ad is an effective ad.

Mythbusters: HTML5 Video Ads
Work Everywhere

One Size Doesn’t Fit All, Unfortunately

Chances are, if you’re involved in the digital media world in some way shape or form, you have by now been impacted by the demise of Flash as the aging standard for display ads, and the recent upswing of HTML5 as a replacement. I am a huge fan of HTML5 and think it represents a big step forward for the industry, but I hear a lot of rumors lately that need mythbusting…in particular, I need to set the record straight that “HTML5 video progressive ads work everywhere” when, in fact, they don’t.

First, let me start by saying this article applies mainly to entertainment brands that are heavy users of autoplay video banner ads (“progressives”); however, we see more and more adoption of this format each day by major brands in other verticals such as action sports, lifestyle, and CPG, so the relevance of this issue is definitely growing.

Next, let’s talk about what problem HTML5 has solved in this context. As Flash support dwindles, the number of browsers that support Flash-based video progressive ads declines as well. From a functionality standpoint, HTML5 offers a drop-in replacement for Flash for modern desktop browsers and autoplays video as before. I am careful to say here that the functionality is the same to the end user, but there are creative, media and security considerations that must be understood with HTML5 progressives which I have detailed in an earlier posting.

Device targeting is improving across the board, but on any given campaign at Addroid we see 10-60% of impressions intended for desktop actually render on tablet or handset. If you are an advertiser, you may setup your campaign correctly on your side, but ultimately it’s the publisher’s ad server that sees the ad calls. I call this “device spillover” and it wouldn’t seem like a big deal since most sites nowadays are mobile-friendly, but as noted above HTML5 video progressive ads will only autoplay on modern desktop browsers so 10-60% of video impressions won’t render.

Sure, your desktop impressions may look nice on a new laptop, but what will your client think when they grab a tablet during the campaign and see a big white play button over their ad that was supposed to autoplay that cool new action movie? Or worse, what if they see a static JPEG ad that was served up as a backup by your ad server?

Speaking of bad user experiences, let’s talk about backwards compatibility. HTML5 is certainly the future as a fundamental technology for ads, but additional intelligence is needed in software to pick and choose which browsers can support HTML5 ads and which cannot. For example, a portion of the Internet (around 10% of desktop) still use Internet Explorers 8 to 11, which do not fully support HTML5. This means the desktop ads that you are serving and expecting to autoplay video will simply fail to work on these browsers.

Now let’s assume for a moment that you actually want to run some cool autoplay video ads on mobile or tablet – what is the solve? And what if you want to buy media as share-of-voice and not worry about which ads work on each browser? You need to enlist a platform that manages device and browser detection, and delivers ad formats unique for each.

An important distinction here is to delineate between delivering a backup or waterfall ad of limited functionality, versus delivering the ad experience that you desire. The former will be handled by your everyday ad server, but the latter is an additional layer that needs to be intentionally enlisted. Addroid is such a platform that sits atop ad servers and manages delivery of autoplay video progressives ads on every device, period. The result is efficiency gains across the board from creative to media to client approvals.

Deep Dive: How To Build a Mobile-Compatible HTML5 Autoplay Video Banner in Addroid

On August 4th, 2015 Matt Cooper, CEO and creative expert, gave a one hour webinar covering advanced creative topics. Starting with a video downloaded from YouTube and a design with assets pulled from Google Images, Matt built a mobile-compatible HTML5 autoplay video banner in the Addroid platform.

Also covered are tips and techniques with Adobe Photoshop and AfterEffects. If you’ve never opened any of these applications you can look at this as a crash course. Everything is explained as Matt moves through the tutorial. If you’re an old pro but come from more of a Flash background, you will still get a lot out of this training as Matt shares his production process which will surely speed up your own development while working with Addroid.

This is tutorial broken into 4 chapters:

  1. The Basics of Photoshop and After Effects ( 00:55 )
  2. Build a Unit with Addroid: Fading Endframe ( 19:00 )
  3. How to Build an Animated Endframe With Addroid ( 23:30 )
  4. Adding Audio and an Interaction Video ( 43:10 )

Your Clients Want Cars, Not
Faster Horses

Legend has it that Henry Ford once proclaimed “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Whether he actually said this or not is a debate left to the historians, but my point by making this reference here is that it’s time to move on from the paradigm of Internet ads that look like South Park cartoons and into a new creative paradigm for banners.

In recent news, browser companies Mozilla and Google have announced reduced support for Adobe’s Flash player. To the digital advertising world this signals the final chapter in the long life of the Flash banner ad. Like the fax machine in your doctor’s office, it’s finally lost its relevance. Advertisers just aren’t clamoring for those 90’s style South Park-like animations. HTML5 is touted as the savior for the humble banner ad and the logical evolution away from Flash, but in my opinion HTML5 banners are just more boring shadow puppets.

Instead, I believe video is the future for banner creative. There, I said it.

Look, in 1998 when the Internet Advertising Bureau published the specification for the standard banner, which is still in effect today—yes that spec is 17 years old—we were in a world where the majority of people were still on dial-up connections. Also, in the 90’s if you wanted to watch a video on the Internet you had to choose if you wanted to watch it in Quicktime, Real Media Player, or Windows Media Player. You also had to select what size of video you wanted to watch: small, medium or large. Lastly, none of these options auto-played so video inside of a banner wasn’t even a remote possibility.

Fast forward to 2007 when Apple releases the iPhone with no Flash support, and Steve Jobs famously denounces Flash in his 2010 Thoughts on Flash letter listing six reasons why Apple chose not to support Adobe Flash on the iPhone. Because of this HTML5 was the solution to the Flash problem on the iPhone; however, if we’re being honest, they don’t even look as good as Flash banners. The animations tend to look mechanical, and you can’t do visual effects like a light-wash in HTML5. The fundamental problem is that, with a set of tools that weren’t designed for animation, we’re attempting to emulate the look of a 90’s banner!

Today Facebook, along with Twitter, Instagram, Yahoo! and others, have all jumped on the auto-play video bandwagon and the performance has been fantastic for advertisers. Yet, the banner is still this corny looking image-based animation. Advertisers spend $30BN a year, give or take, on banners yet are forced to conform to a format that preceded Facebook, YouTube or Twitter by 7 years.

Seeing as the ad tech world has perked up to the idea of changing how banners are built, I feel like it’s a good time to reexamine what a modern banner should look like. It’s time to move from horse drawn carriages to cars, not faster horses. If the idea of animating a handful of 2D images around was so powerful, then why have I never seen a Super Bowl commercial produced in Flash?

Yes, HTML5 is clearly a key enabler for the future of online advertising but lets stop emulating the past and give advertisers a true chance to tell the story of their brand using video. If it’s good enough for Facebook it should be good enough for the rest of the Internet.

Who Will Test The Ads?

The Wild, Wild West of HTML5

I’ve written recently about the Flashpocalypse currently unfolding in the digital advertising world.  The rug has finally been yanked out and people are scrambling to figure out how to convert ads into working formats.

The quiet benefit of Flash as the de facto standard for digital advertising for the past two decades was that quality assurance and testing was straightforward and automated.  Now we are back to the Wild West where virtually anyone can build an ad using home-brewed code and blast the ad out into the Internet.  The difference now is that with programmatic technologies, the need for security and standardization has never been greater.

The digital advertising world has a real problem on its hands — who will test the ads?

Allow me to rephrase that in a more relevant way: who will advertisers now pay to test their ads, and what will it cost?

There are a ton of ways to build ads including online software, desktop applications, and hand-coding for the real experts.  There are two key considerations that every advertiser (and publisher) needs to understand in the new world:

  1. Compatibility – There are over 4,000 unique browser and device combinations hanging around the Internet, with more emerging every day.  To get your money’s worth, every ad needs to work on every device, old and new.  Testing custom built ads for this level of compatibility is simply ludicrous.  Either the cost will be astronomical, or the compatibility will not be guaranteed, particularly on older browsers, which means advertisers lose.
  2. Security – Flash has certainly shown vulnerabilities over its lifetime but I believe in a future where an extremely open ecosystem of hand-coded HTML5 ad units are being dropped into DSPs, with only the most rudimentary quality assurance before the ad is cleared to go live, will mean a surge in ad-tech related security problems and will add cost.

Bottom line: to deal with these issues the cost of production will go up for advertisers.  The solution is for standards bodies such as the IAB to certify ad building and ad serving platforms such as Addroid for security and compatibility.  This way, the advertisers and publishers out there can rest assured their ads will not crash the Internet if built on a certified platform, and the developers and creative professionals can push responsibility onto the platforms to make the ads work, safely.

Home Brewing Is For Beer Nuts

Top 5 Reasons Not To Build Your Own Video Progressive Ads

If you are a digital marketing executive at a movie studio, chances are you know the term “Flash Progressive.” For those who don’t, a Flash Progressive is an ad format created circa 2007 by movie marketers — a “hack”, really. It is essentially an empty Flash SWF file which makes a call to a video sitting on the Internet. The Flash shell is loaded as an ad unit on a website, then it makes a “phone home” call to the video file which then loads and plays automatically.

With Flash on life support and about to flatline with the release of Chrome’s update in September, movie marketers are now faced with a decision: try to create a new hack, or adopt a platform that takes care of the details so you can focus on other higher priority issues, such as data. In my well qualified opinion (I personally have built many Progressive ads), I see five top reasons not to build your own video progressive ads using HTML5 or other technologies:

  1. Mobile Compatibility Is Really Tricky – At Addroid, we have spent the past four years developing a technology stack that autoplays video on mobile devices and tablet. HTML5 will only autoplay video on desktop browsers so there’s the illusion that you’re making the jump to mobile compatibility, but in reality “HTML Progressives” won’t actually work. Furthermore, nowadays every movie studio should be running mobile rich media because the most valuable audiences live on mobile. Building your own video ads that work only on desktop mean you are back to running static ads on mobile. Say goodbye to brand lift!
  2. Publishers Will Hate You – And when publishers get cranky, they generally charge added fees. With home-brewed, non-standard ads that are not IAB compliant, publishers will need to Q.A. every single ad separately. This adds work, plain and simple, and as a result your timeline will stretch and your media budget will balloon.
  3. Your Fans Will Hate You – In the olden days, there were two browsers that mattered: IE and Mozilla/Firefox. Nowadays mobile and specifically Android fragmentation means that there are thousands of OS/browser variations living on thousands of different devices. Just because your home-brewed video ads are created in HTML5 doesn’t mean they will render properly in every browser. At Addroid we continually test and optimize for new (and old) browsers to ensure readers have a great experience with our ads, every time. A slow-loading, jerky ad with compatibility issues reflects poorly on any brand.
  4. You Need An IT Department – Believe it or not, the videos tied to Flash Progressives have historically been hosted directly by advertisers. Meaning in the movie example, studios have owned and maintained servers to host videos. Nowhere else in the digital advertising world do brands host ads themselves! Crazy right? The reason for this was when Progressives were first developed, video hosting was not as readily available as today. Now, video ad platforms like Addroid are incredibly sophisticated. To achieve the same robustness and geographic coverage with a home-brewed server system comes at a big I.T. expense which ultimately needs to be factored into media costs.
  5. Have You Heard Of Programmatic? – The biggest difference in the media world since Flash Progressives were developed is the advent of programmatic buying. Home-brewed ads will not work in a programmatic environment. An HTML unit formatted specifically for Doubleclick’s ad server is vastly different from an ad tag that can be trafficked via a DSP. Even if the majority of your media spend is still through direct buys, your retargeting is most definitely running in a programmatic environment. Platforms on the other hand such as Addroid use ad tags that are compatible with programmatic environments.

Enough said! Thanks for reading and reach out with any questions.

Addroid Completes Spin-off From Neoganda

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Hollywood creative agency Neoganda officially spins off Addroid, a digital video ad serving platform, as a separate company to allow any agency access to its unique mobile progressive ad technology.

Addroid was originally developed by Neoganda as a way for content producers to tell stories in short format video ads on mobile devices.

Los Angeles, CA, July 8, 2015 — Neoganda, a creative services agency founded in 2005 by award winning industry veteran Matt Cooper, has officially spun off Addroid, a digital video advertising platform, as a separate company. Addroid was created by Neoganda originally as a technical fix to make the video ads it was designing for desktop browsers also work on mobile devices. After serving billions of impressions using Addroid on behalf of entertainment studio and home entertainment clients since its creation in 2011, Neoganda decided that a complete separation was necessary in order to speed adoption of Addroid as the new standard technology for display advertising. The new company has operated independently as of Q1 2015 and is the only cross-platform, autoplay video banner ad provider on the market.

Addroid was created by Neoganda originally as a technical workaround to make the Adobe Flash video “progressive” banner ads it was building for desktop browsers also work on mobile devices. “I looked around in 2010 and there was no solution to run video ads on mobile devices,” said Matt Cooper, Founder and CEO of the new company, “with mobile adoption climbing every year by 200%, we had no choice but to invent the technology ourselves. Now we want everyone to have access.”

Coincident with the spin off, Addroid appointed a new commercial lead, Andrew Hunt, as Chief Commercial Officer to grow the business and expand its client base. Mr. Hunt most recently comes from the venture capital space where he helped to fund and grow a number of successful Los Angeles technology startups in the Silicon Beach area. He brings a wealth of commercial experience to Addroid and says “there is no frontier as interesting in consumer technology as mobile video. For years, the entertainment industry has led the way in this area and Addroid is on the leading edge as a preferred media technology partner for world class content providers.”

Since the spin out, Addroid has partnered with leading creative and media agencies serving entertainment clients and counts Focus Features and Lionsgate as clients, among others. Recent studio release projects include Insidious 3 by Focus Features and The Age of Adaline by Lionsgate. “The concept of using short form video to tell a story is well accepted in the entertainment space” adds Cooper, “we offer tools to bring the movie trailer experience into digital ads and engage consumers earlier in the branding process.” For more information about the new company and its unique technology, visit the company website at www.addroid.com.

HTML5 Display Ads Explained

Understanding HTML5 Banners, Rich Media, and The Creative Workflow

One of my favorite TV series in the past few years is Discovery Channel’s MythBusters.  I love this series because the producers take a logical and data-driven approach to demystifying urban legends and common misconceptions…and they do a lot of cool experiments in the process.

I feel like HTML5 has become somewhat of an urban legend as well, and I hear a lot of misconceptions around the advertising industry about the technology’s impact on digital media.  I wanted to break down a few of these for the reader and offer my opinions as well.

First, the basics:

  • The Internet is essentially composed of little building blocks.  Most publisher websites nowadays are a collection of these blocks, some content and some advertising, organized in a way that appeals to users.
  • HTML5 is really just an updated version of HTML (hypertext markup language), which has been the fundamental coding format for the consumer Internet for decades.
  • HTML5 advertisements are really just mini websites that are built using HTML code and live on websites as building blocks.
  • HTML5 ads differ from Flash ads in that the former are naked code that can run on virtually any browser, and the latter are closed files that must be viewed in a plug-in player running in addition to a browser.

So now that HTML5 is becoming more widely adopted as an ad format, the question becomes “should I be using HTML5 ads?”  Similar to ad format choices made by advertisers and agencies in the past, the answer depends on your creative objectives and budget, but generally by now most brands should be running some form of HTML5 ads for reasons noted below, so YES!

To understand the pros and cons of HTML5 ads, we need to understand the two major  categories:

  1. Hand-coded ads with human-built code
  2. Platform built ads with machine-built code

Agencies have been dabbling in custom, hand-built HTML5 banners since 2007 after the release of the iPhone, yet it’s safe to say that the production of these ad units has been extremely nascent due to limited developer talent and low client awareness.  As we move forward into a post-Flash landscape, I think more and more creative agencies will transition their pool of Flash developers into hand-coding HTML5 developers.

But not so fast, while hand-coding provides more creative freedom, I think the agencies will quickly feel the challenge of performing quality assurance on these units for multiple browsers and OSs — something that simply was not required before when building in Flash.  Not to mention quality assurance requirements imposed by programmatic environments, which come after creative approval and can add another week to the build schedule.

On the other end of the spectrum, the preferred platform to build mobile-compatible HTML5 ads in my view has been Celtra; however, considering the total market size the adoption has been slow for Celtra and similar products.  In my view this is again due to lack of awareness by advertisers and compounded by confusion around specs from the IAB.

At first glance, platform built ads may feel limiting as the efficiencies they create rely on some type of template or framework. Yet, when it gets right down to it, the majority of banners are simply 15 seconds of animation that resolve to a JPEG endframe. If the bulk of ad units fall into this category, then why not leverage a machine-built unit that’s tried-and-tested, and faster to build and traffic to boot?

HTML5 banner production is a brand new world yet, ultimately as in all design, form follows function. If you’re looking for something special then hand-coded ad units might be the best approach.  Sure, they might cost a little more to produce, and your turnaround will be slower, but your creative requirements will be met.  However, if cost, compatibility, and speed is your concern I’d recommend choosing one of the many ad building platforms that are currently in the marketplace, Addroid being one.

Bottom line: just make sure your units are built in HTML5, in the same way you would commission a modern website to be built in HTML5.

Life After The Flashpocalypse: Moving Past Flash For Motion Picture and Television Digital Marketing

I wrote in a recent blog post about how Flash is losing support among desktop browsers and, in my opinion, is effectively dead as the standard for display advertising. I received a ton inquiries from agencies and advertisers, most asking in essence “what does this mean to me, really?”

In response, I’ve created a graphic to illustrate what the impact of dwindling Flash support has on digital marketing, specifically those using Flash “progressives” with desktop autoplay video:

The graphic shows that Flash has never worked in-app or in the mobile web, which is no surprise to the reader. The recent news is that Flash will soon pause on desktop browsers including Chrome, which means the first frame will appear and not the failover/poster frame. This means that a resolve frame / call-to-action may never be seen for most impressions, which will significantly impact performance.

Some ad servers such as Doubleclick for Advertisers will convert simple 40K Flash ads to HTML5. This is a convenient fix for some advertisers, particularly those in the performance / direct response world where ads are simple and branding is a secondary KPI. For brand advertisers using more complex ads or ads with video, there are no convenient fixes without a change in workflow or technology.

We created Addroid to address this issue and empower advertisers to recapture the mobile realm by delivering autoplay video to all platforms using a single ad tag.

A Eulogy For The Flash Banner: The Impact Of Dwindling Flash Support On Motion Picture Marketing

Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today to pay tribute to one of the hardest workers in the advertising business. A worker who has made money for nearly every publisher on the Internet, and one who has appeared on nearly every media plan since the turn of the century. A life cut short by a lack of support on mobile devices and, lately, abandonment by desktop browsers as well. Ladies and gentlemen, please take a moment of silence for the Flash Banner.

Now seriously…the Flash Banner had a good run. A really good run. For twenty years the Flash banner was the workhorse of the digital advertising business. But things change, and the player-centric architecture that Flash ads require is a dying paradigm. Nowadays, browsers are mobile and power-pinching, and heavy client-side plug-ins such as Flash just aren’t supported like they used to be by browser builders such as Apple and Google.

So what does this mean to me? Doesn’t HTML5 fix this problem?

If you market motion pictures, this is a really big deal. If you market other stuff, this is still a big deal.

Movie marketers have been using Flash for years to serve mini-trailer ads called “progressives” on desktop browsers. These ads have become a staple on movie, TV and on-demand media plans because they allow marketers to show a few second clip that catches attention. Now, on Safari and soon on Chrome, these ads just don’t work anymore because Apple and Google want to save power for doing other stuff. Poof! There goes 30% of desktop browsers. And worth mentioning is these ads never worked on mobile to begin with.

If you market other stuff, this means your Flash “40K” ads will pause on the first frame. So all the hard work of creating beautiful ads and gaining client approvals will go down the tube for 30% of desktop browsers. If you’re lucky, your ad server will auto-convert your Flash ads to HTML5 format but they won’t look so good. Like converting VHS to DVD. And, if you happen to run any video, it simply won’t autoplay on mobile devices, which now make up the majority of Internet traffic.

[Sigh] So what’s a marketer to do? Can’t I just have Flash back?

Four years ago we set out to reinvent the banner. We saw the writing on the wall that client-side plug-ins were on their way out, and we built an intelligent ad cloud that serves autoplay video banners to all devices without a player. This is the new paradigm, and our clients are reaping the rewards by building and serving the best ads on the Internet.