March 2011 Archives

It’s been over a year since the VAST 2.0 specification was released by the Digital Video Committee of the IAB, and the results have been great, exciting, sometimes confusing, and sometimes hard to see by the naked eye. Let me explain what’s going on with VAST and VPAID and how the Committee is working to accelerate the impact of these standards on the online video business.

Photo courtesy glendalesoccer.com

Let me start with some history. Back in the dark ages of online video (roughly 2004-2008) every publisher and ad network wrote their own XML for communicating from their ad server to their video player. This XML would be interpreted in the player using custom code and the ads would be played, the impressions recorded (hopefully in an IAB-compliant manner), and everyone would be happy. But everyone wasn’t happy. The overhead required to write all the custom code made developers and vendors sad. And the lack of interoperability between the various XML formats made people sadder. In particular, agencies and ad networks had a very difficult time deploying a tag across publishers in the way they were used to doing for banner campaigns—they were the saddest of them all.

VAST and VPAID were intended to solve all these problems. By standardizing the XML specification, vendors would only have to write code once and interoperability would be within our grasp. People called us mad. “You’re playing God!” they said. “No committee of the IAB has ever touched XML and lived to tell about it”. Well, if it would take God to standardize video, then we were ready to strap on a long grey beard and start throwing lightning bolts.

So what happened? The standards were surprisingly widely adopted. According to an IAB survey of its membership, 67% of publishers and 92% of technology vendors were VAST compliant as of Fall, 2010. It recently made news when Australian media agency Ikon Communications threw down the gauntlet and told publishers to allow VAST or be excluded from their media plans. Yet, there’s still a lot of conversation about how the standards haven’t hit the mainstream and how buyers are still struggling to execute online buys across publishers.

The reality is that VAST and VPAID are not ad format standards, like those the IAB spearheaded over the past decade and which are fairly easily understood and adopted by the ecosystem. VAST and VPAID are protocols for executing video campaigns, and they allow publishers to innovate and evolve on top of a common framework. So while VAST is everywhere, it is, paradoxically, rarely seen. When Google recently announced that pre-roll ads on YouTube videos will be available for purchase on its ad exchange, they didn’t mention VAST at all, yet only VAST-compliant creatives will be allowed. When publishers implement new formats or players they are overwhelmingly using VAST as the backbone of those efforts.

The Digital Video Committee is now taking another look at VAST and VPAID and, like Rocky Balboa about to get back in the ring, we are chasing a chicken around a yard. No. Actually, we’re taking feedback from the folks in the trenches to figure out how to make implementation easier, and, more important, to standardize implementation. Wait, what? You’re standardizing the standard? Re-read the last paragraph please, we’ll wait. OK, VAST and VPAID are protocols, not standards, and as such there have been varying ways of utilizing them in production environments. While this flexibility is great and allows for wide adoption, it stands in the way of some of the original intent of their development since, for example, there might be three different ways to implement a simple pre-roll.

The Committee is looking at ways to accelerate adoption and standardization through a number of avenues including

  • Changes to the standards as necessary
  • Improvements to the documentation
  • More reference documents showing “standard” implementations
  • More tools for members to help with testing, troubleshooting, etc.
  • Better understanding and documentation of how VAST and VPAID interact.

We are just getting started so there’s plenty of time to give feedback. As always, any updates will be thoroughly vetted by the committee and by the IAB membership at large, prior to publication. We look forward to your engaged involvement.

Ari Paparo is the Senior VP of Product Management at AppNexus and a member of the IAB Digital Video Committee. You can follow him on Twitter.

The Strength of Mobile Moms

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The Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence is very proud to have a group of truly inspiring members. Today I attended BabyCenter’s Mobile Mom seminar and it held true to that statement.

At the event, BabyCenter released survey results of more than 5,000 moms and members of the general population which, through extensive research, truly showcases the strength of mobile marketing, and maybe even more so, of “mobile moms.” In general, the report reveals that mobile mothers may not be tech geeks, but they definitely know how to work a smartphone.

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“They use it as a remote control to their lives,” said Tina Sharkey, Chairman and Global President of BabyCenter. It is the tool that gets them through the day—socializing, comparison shopping, product reviews, advice, or simply as entertainment for themselves or their children.

More than half (53%) of the women surveyed said they purchased a smartphone as a direct result of becoming a mom and have no idea how they got by without one before. In addition, 45% felt decreased stress as a result of having a smartphone, and 27% said that it gives them a sense of calm.

The sample from the general population reflected that 39% used their phone for shopping in the past month. By comparison, as the primary purchaser in the family, 42% of moms said that they had done the same.

Moms are clearly a group to watch and invest in for mobile marketing. BabyCenter’s research helps pinpoint how important they are. Check out their “21st Century Mobile Mom®” report details here, and at babycentersolutions.com.

Anna Bager is Vice President and General Manager of the Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence, at the IAB.

I’ve been following the evolution of the mobile consumer here at InsightExpress since 2007 through our quarterly Digital Consumer Portrait study. Over the years, I’ve witnessed consumer confusion, curiosity, real interest, and delight when it comes to all the experiences that mobile phones can supplement in their lives. I’ve also had an inside perspective when it comes to mobile strategies and how agencies and brands develop their tactics to reach the consumer on their device. With all of this experience, you’d think that I’d be an expert on the mobile consumer. And I would, except for one tiny little thing…consumers change and they change quickly.

Let’s take the whole “reaching consumers when they are on the go” strategy. About a year ago, this was a viable way to think of advertising and marketing on mobile. But then consumers started reaching for their mobile when they were at home. They were doing things that they normally would have done either on a computer or just not done at all. This progression to using a mobile phone as a substitute computer can throw a whole strategy into irrelevancy. It’s not enough to just use one creative and call it a day. Now we need to be thinking about messaging based on dayparts, how we’re going to get their attention when there is likely other media competing for it, and how we’re going to drive them to purchase when they aren’t out and about.

We also need to be thinking more broadly than mobile as a single channel. If consumers are bouncing all over their phone, using the Mobile Internet, apps, video, SMS, and so on, how can we take advantage of all those eyeball opportunities (ee-bo’s)? My recommendation, as a constantly consumer chasing expert-wannabe, is to think of mobile as a cross media execution. Yes, we need to incorporate it into our larger media strategy, but what I’m recommending here is that you develop a specific cross-mobile media strategy. How are all of the media channels or touchpoints available in mobile going to work together to meet your larger mobile campaign objectives?

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Now that we’ve covered the substitute computer/cross mobile portion of my post, I’m going to throw you another curve ball. It won’t be that bad, but it is another piece of the consumer puzzle that will shape your strategy. Smartphones are the new phone; we’ve all seen the projections that by a certain date, they will have taken over the world. What these projections fail to highlight is that as more people use smartphones, the demographic and psychographic profile of these users becomes less homogenous. This shift leads to what I call the rise of the Pleasantly Confused Mobile Consumer.

In January of this year, we found that 25% of the people who own a smartphone based on the model of phone they report having, actually tell us that it is a “regular phone”, despite being given specific definitions of each type of device. In other words, they don’t call it a smartphone. I labeled these consumers Pleasantly Confused because they aren’t upset or frustrated by the phones, but they are definitely unaware of all that the device they own can do. When we look at people who know they have smartphones, those who know they have regular phones, and our Pleasantly Confused consumers, an interesting finding comes out. Pleasantly Confused consumers look more like regular phone users in their use of mobile features than they do smartphone owners (see below).

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The rise of the Pleasantly Confused Consumer means that we cannot assume that because someone has a specific device, they will be using specific features or content. Instead, we need to back away from focusing on the device defining our strategy and return our attention to the consumer. How will consumers want to interact with our brand on mobile? What information, content, or help can we provide them to drive them to purchase? Take advantage of the device capabilities (location aware, camera, etc.) but don’t get lost in developing a strategy that requires a consumer to have intimate device knowledge to succeed.

As I said before, the mobile world is changing every day, every week. It’s surprising, complicated, fun, hard to read at times, and it keeps me on my toes…sort of like a teenager. That said, I hope you found these thoughts helpful, and would love to continue the conversation if you have any questions.

Joy Liuzzo is Senior Director of InsightExpress, and a member of the IAB Mobile Advertising Committee. You can reach her via email, the InsightExpress blog, or follow her on Twitter @jliuzzo.

Here at the IAB, we truly enjoy working with our member-driven committees and councils. There are some incredible companies out there, and we are proud to call them industry leaders.

If you’re an avid IABlog reader, you may have noticed lately there are more IAB members voicing their thoughts in this space, such as Kristen Fergason (Share This), Colin O’Malley (Evidon), Chris Cunningham (appssavvy), Lana McGilvrary (Datran Media), and Rob Rasko (CPX Interactive). That is by design. One of our 2011 goals is to open up the IABlog to leading voices on our eighteen committees and councils—allowing them to speak directly about the great work they do. Keep an eye on the blog for more coming soon.

Our Committees & Councils take their pivotal roles in growing the interactive advertising marketplace very seriously. They volunteer their time to developing guidelines and best practices, providing educational outreach, evangelizing IAB initiatives and more. And they are very passionate about it. As the Arthur Buddhold quote goes, “Follow your passion, and success will follow you.”

As those attending the upcoming IAB Digital Video Marketplace can attest to, online video ad serving can be a complicated, serious business. So when Tim Avila from BrightRoll, member of the IAB Digital Video Committee, sent us this video, we just had to share it as a good example of an IAB member company clearly enjoying what they do. BrightRoll made the fun “VAST Forever” Drake rap spoof as a salute to the VAST/VPAID video standards. The tongue-in-cheek tune was performed at their company all-hands-on-deck meeting to a standing ovation.

For your listening pleasure:

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Click here to get the latest flash player.

This video can also be found on the BrightRoll Exchange Blog at blog.brx.com.

Jeff Fryer is Interactive Marketing Manager for the IAB. You can reach him on Twitter @jfryer2000.

Rising Stars are FREE

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On February 28th, the IAB unveiled six new brand-friendly display ad units at the Annual Leadership Meeting in Palm Springs, CA. Immediately after unveiling the Portrait, Filmstrip, Billboard, Sidekick, Slider, and Pushdown, Peter Minnium and I started receiving adoption questions: how do I get my hands on them? Is there a waitlist? Are there auditions? How much do they cost to adopt? What’s the IAB usage fee?

The short answer is they are FREE. Many are available now, while a few are under construction and will be ready by the end of May. The Rising Stars competition was born from the IAB’s “Reimagining Interactive Advertising” initiative. Interactive advertising is at risk of staying a direct response mechanism and forever alienating brand marketers. The six Rising Stars are meant to drive branding dollars online by not only providing a larger canvas but also including rich media functionality in standard display ad units.

The IAB brought together publishers, agencies, and rich media vendors to find the Rising Stars, and now it’s up to you to transform the star dust into interactive gold. We need you to be part of a mini-ecosystem of publishers, agencies, rich media vendors, and marketers who are building and testing these units. All six ad units are open source with detailed specs available at www.iab.net/risingstars. We will add tools to this site, such as test ad tags, as they become available over the coming weeks. If you’ve read the specs and you’re still scratching your head, drop us a line and we’ll come visit you and your team.

But wait, there’s more. If brand-friendly ad units that provide a creative canvas for marketers weren’t reason enough, we’ve added extra incentive. Create an innovative interactive advertising campaign using one or more Rising Stars Ad Units and submit it as an entry to this year’s MIXX awards. We are adding a Rising Stars category to the awards and will recognizethe winners during Advertising Week in New York in October.

It’s the best deal in interactive display advertising or your money back.

Gina Kim is Senior Director of Industry Initiatives for the IAB.

Peter Minnium is Consulting Director for the IAB.

It’s been pretty clear for some time now that the Web analytics world and the online audience reach measurement/media planning worlds were on a collision course. In the early days of online media, the two fields were distinct, and so the fact that some key terms, like “unique visitor,” meant different things in the different spheres was not an issue. However, as the line between them continues to blur, we run the risk of compounding the measurement confusion already in the marketplace, and giving buyers yet another excuse to throw up their hands and keep their wallets closed due to conflicting data.

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I’m therefore encouraged by comScore’s announcement that their new Digital Analytix product (a rebranding of the Nedstat analytics product), changes the name of a key metric from “unique visitor” to “unique browser,” aligning with the audience research terminology as formalized in the IAB Audience Reach Measurement Guidelines. ComScore didn’t make this move lightly or frivolously, and they’ve got a good blog post explaining the thinking that went into the decision. Using unique browsers for the analytics metric and unique visitors for the audience metric eliminates a potential point of confusion within comScore’s product family, and becomes an even bigger win if it restarts a conversation within the web analytics community about terminology with an eye toward consistency with the IAB guidelines definitions.

If these two vital parts of the online research world can establish a common lexicon, I’m hopeful that will facilitate new and better ways to leverage the insights that both site analytics and audience measurement deliver. It will also remove the unneeded distractions created by metrics that to an outsider seem the same but that don’t, and won’t ever, align.

Joe Laszlo is Deputy Director of the Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence, at the IAB.

A ton of great news and ideas came out of the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting, to the extent that both the IAB staff and the industry as a whole will be absorbing and following up on things for weeks to come. Among many other things, I was really pleased that Blake Irving, Yahoo!’s Chief Product Officer, mentioned one of the major priorities of the IAB Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence for the year in his keynote—helping smooth the process of doing rich media ad serving on mobile and tablet devices.

Mobile rich media ads are exploding in popularity with the rise of ever more powerful connected devices. Both in apps and in browsers, these expandable, contractible, interactable, richer ad experiences have taken off even more quickly in mobile than they did on the Web. However, if the rich media ads themselves are well liked, the same can’t necessarily be said for the serving of those ads. Ad servers and publishers currently have a host of different rich media Application Programming Interfaces (or APIs—the technical “language” for how one piece of software communicates with another, in this case how an ad communicates its behaviors to an application or site). This cacophony requires a great deal of specialized work to make a rich media campaign work across multiple publishers, apps, or devices. Last year, a coalition including Crisp Media, Weather.com, TringApps, JumpTap, and Pointroll took on the challenge of trying to simplify rich media ad serving through an initiative called Open Rich Media for Mobile Ads—or ORMMA.

ORMMA’s made great progress developing a reference SDK and tools for verifying that ads work under their framework. However, they also realize that to be a truly industry-wide standard would require a broader effort than ORMMA alone could mobilize. That’s why the IAB has gotten involved. With the support of both the ORMMA pioneers and other key players in the industry, including Yahoo!, we’re going to be driving the effort to create a harmonized set of APIs for mobile and tablet rich media. I don’t envision this being an easy project to take on, but it’s one that everyone in the industry agrees is vital, and with the input and assistance the IAB’s Mobile Committee members, I’m confident we can help streamline the creation and delivery of rich media ads early in the evolution of connected devices, thus paving the way for long term growth.

Joe Laszlo is Deputy Director of the Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence, at the IAB.

Last week at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) Annual Leadership Meeting, “The People vs. Data,” the IAB made announcements on two very important issues for their members.

  • First, the IAB board of directors adopted a Code of Conduct, furthering its member’s commitment to the self-regulation initiative for online behavior advertising that has become a national topic of interest. This comes in conjunction with the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) announcement of their goal to ensure that all people in the industry are compliant with current behavioral guidelines.

  • Second, they announced the formation of the Data Council, which will be dedicated to bringing transparency to the methods in which the industry gathers and uses data for the purpose of interactive advertising.

iStock_000009038683XSmall.jpgAs an industry marketer and member of the group who helped shape the new IAB Code of Conduct, I am thrilled and proud to see this all put into action.

Personally, I find it helpful when an advertiser selects me for a campaign that enhances my daily life or saves me time or money. For instance, deals on baby diapers, tips for new moms and ideas for great foods for toddlers are all things that have come my way from my investment in registering and visiting sites before I had my daughter a little more than a year ago. It’s the same for my in-store purchases where I receive a coupon at checkout, or receive a physical piece of mail for those same items once I have registered for their keycard program. I believe in sharing information on my terms for the purpose of making my life easier, and generally speaking, to have a more relevant life experience, both online and offline.

Recently I joined ShareThis, a company who helps people share information across the Web by providing sharing tools for publishers. We provide information to our partners about what people are sharing in order to help them make better editorial and marketing decisions. This makes the experience for their customers more relevant, useful and social.

As an avid Web user and a marketer, I believe that it is extremely important that the practices behind collecting and utilizing data are consistent and transparent across the industry, and self-regulated. The rich, relevant and targeted experiences that can be delivered across the Web today are a function of what we see as part of the desire for an evolving conversation between consumers and brands. As a consumer myself, I am thoroughly enjoying the amazing experiences being developed every day, especially in the mobile space. They make my life more interesting and easy. The self-regulation initiatives such as the ones by the BBB and IAB that are supported by our industry will help us to continue that evolution, and, I believe, create even more compelling and useful experiences over time.

That’s why I’m happy to announce that as CMO of ShareThis and a member of the IAB’s Data Council, I will be leading one of three tracks that the IAB established as 2011 priorities for the council: Marketer & Agency Education. I will work with the IAB and their members to create a compelling education membership within the industry. With so much attention on the issues around privacy and control—now more than ever—it’s crucial that the industry helps educate users, as well as clarify the process of data collection and usage. I am excited to help the IAB and its members continue making the case for a more transparent and self-regulated digital life.

How do you feel about the self-regulation program? What steps are you or your business taking to make your data collection practices compliant with industry goals and more transparent to your customers? Would you like to be involved in our education initiative? Send me your comments.

Kristen Fergason is CMO of ShareThis and member of IAB’s newly-formed Data Council. You can reach her via email ([email protected]) or on Twitter @sharekris and @ShareThis.