European news sites are among the worst offenders when it comes to third-party cookies and content

The forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation on May 25 is pushing publishers to take a hard look at just how dependent their outlets have become on cookies third-party trackers they load on their own sites in order to collect data from their visitors.

News sites actually load more third-party content and set more third-party cookies than other top websites, according to a new study of websites across seven European countries from the Reuters Institute. Continue reading “European news sites are among the worst offenders when it comes to third-party cookies and content”

Viewpoint: Platforms are the new context that matter

Barry Lowenthal is president of The Media Kitchen.

I’ve always believed context counts. It helps consumers understand why one brand is different from another. When a brand chooses a particular environment, it’s an indication of the brand’s values and beliefs. If a brand advertises in Vogue, it says the brand is very fashionable. It says a lot about a brand if they decide to run on Rush Limbaugh’s show, et cetera. But context is changing, partly because where we consume media and the media format most brands use has changed, namely, to video on platforms like Facebook. Continue reading “Viewpoint: Platforms are the new context that matter”

Everyone’s doing it: Paid Distribution for Branded Content [Part 1]

The branded content market is exploding. Some estimates peg the market size for branded content at $20 billion over the next five years. When a brand partners with a publisher for a branded content campaign, the brand is buying a few things: the publisher’s storytelling expertise, its influence and thought leadership, and access to an engaged, relevant audience. Unfortunately, getting this audience to interact with branded content articles is becoming increasingly hard. Organic traffic isn’t what it used to be, and branded content specifically doesn’t get much SEO love. To combat this trend, it’s common for publishers to acquire audiences when there is a positive ROI. For editorial content, this means buying traffic for profitable audience development and subscriptions. For Branded Content, it means buying traffic as part of a bundled offering that may include acquisition as part of the cost, or may break it out as a separate line item.


Continue reading “Everyone’s doing it: Paid Distribution for Branded Content [Part 1]”

Facebook’s charm offensive for AR advertisers gains speed

Facebook is trying to drum up early support among advertisers for its push into augmented reality. The recruitment pitch started three months ago, when a group of 30 advertisers and agencies, including Nike, StudioCanal and TSB, were given access to a closed beta program to create AR campaigns. Now, around 700 advertisers and agencies, including British retailer John Lewis and digital production agency Stink Studios, are creating interactive photo and video effects for the new Facebook camera feature. Other agencies like Possible, We Are Social and Ralph are waiting to use the feature, as it seems Facebook is being selective about which partners it involves early on. Continue reading “Facebook’s charm offensive for AR advertisers gains speed”

Facebook Messenger will soon let all businesses send sponsored messages

Facebook today announced that sponsored messages are being rolled out to more businesses. The Messenger ads were initially made available to a small number of businesses but will become available to all businesses in the coming months, the company said in a blog post.

Unlike other Messenger ads, sponsored messages that pop up on your Messenger home screen will not be marked as such. In fact, they look like all other conversations on Facebook Messenger.

As previously defined rules for advertising and marketing on Facebook Messenger state, promotional messages like the kind being rolled out now may only be sent once in a 24-hour period, and they can only be sent to a person who previously chatted with that business’ Facebook Messenger bot or account.

During the company’s third quarter earnings report on Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told investors that more than 20 million businesses use Facebook monthly to communicate with customers.

Advertisers interested in sending sponsored messages must create a Custom Audience, which can be used for retargeting ads at people who have done things like clicked a Messenger bot call to action or deleted a Messenger bot, or simply to target new Messenger bot users.

Advertising and business services through Facebook’s messaging apps have grown steadily in the second half of 2017 following questions about monetization this summer. In July, while onstage at MobileBeat, Facebook Messenger head of product Stan Chudnovsky announced the company will gradually bring ads to the Messenger home screen worldwide. In recent weeks, Facebook opened the Messenger objective for ad campaigns.

At the same time, verified WhatsApp business accounts and a paid WhatsApp customer service app have also opened up.

In August 2016, after initial restrictions on promotional material, Facebook Messenger opened to promotional and marketing material. Ads that appear in the Facebook News Feed and lead to a chat experience with a human or automated bot on Messenger have been available since the launch of Messenger Platform 1.3 in November 2016. Since then, those same ads have expanded to Instagram.

Both WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger garner more than 1 billion monthly active users around the world. They compete in the same space to connect businesses with customers as other chat apps with hundreds of millions of users, such as Skype, Apple’s iMessage, and Twitter.

Silicon Valley may have just began to come around to this form of conversational commerce, but it’s been a big part of business in Asia for a while now.

WeChat and Line have offered advertising in one form or another since 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Advertising has become the highest grossing sector of Line Corp, the company behind the Line app. According to earnings announced in late October, 47 percent of the $371 million in Line revenue in the past quarter came from advertising, up 40 percent compared to the same quarter last year.

Has our attention been commodified?

If you’re not paying for it, you might be the product

Photo by Maurizio Pesce

When media is free to read, watch or listen to, does that make you the product?

According to Professor Tim Wu, author of “The Attention Merchants: How Our Time and Attention Are Gathered and Sold”, our eyes and ears have been commodified by newspapers, TV channels, search engines and social media platforms at the expense of our public sphere and our individual efficiency. We interviewed Mr Wu on our Babbage podcast, where his segment starts at 7.35:


Mr Wu bemoans that a major obstacle getting in the way of our productivity and our ambition is that we often sit down at a computer with a particular task in mind only to find that 2 hours, 12 articles and 20 YouTube videos later, it’s suddenly midnight. By wasting time, we’ve generated a little bit of revenue for so-called attention merchants like Alphabet and Facebook, who have an incentive to keep you glued to their platforms. Such a phenomenon involves thousands of content creators, developers and programmers working out how to best colonise our free time by creating content and platforms that are intentionally addictive. In doing so, they are making it easier for the rest of us to procrastinate. The content is free because the currency of this economy is your attention. Moreover, humans are fickle and tend to get bored, the attention merchants have to innovate and proliferate to survive.

(If you’re reading this, you may have noticed that there’s no paywall and that annoying adverts don’t surround the text. Mr Wu would argue that I’ve already commodified your time and attention and that what you’re actually reading is an advert for a podcast. I’m doing my best not to conform to his expectations.)

“The Attention Merchants” traces 180 years of the relationship between the media and the advertising industry, which he reckons began in 1833 when “The New York Sun” became the first cheap newspaper by using adverts to subsidise their reportage and in doing turned the attention of its readers into a commidity which it could sell on to those who wished to buy it. The book then takes us through the evolution of journalism, propaganda, entertainment, and clickbait. The final destination is Google and Facebook, who offer their services for free, only asking that we look at some advertising and provide our personal data, which is then sold on at a premium to people who want to sell things to us. Mr Wu argues that the attention economy, be it in print, in broadcasts or online, will always incentivise a race to the bottom because that’s where the money is. Enduring quality, he argues, can only exist at a price to the consumer where the creator’s motivation is to garner your appreciation as opposed to just your attention. Such ‘quality’ mass communication already exists in the form of paid for streaming services (Netflix), paid for literature (books) and as some may even argue, in the form of paid for magazine subscriptions. But as successful as these endeavours are, we’re still going to spend a huge chunks of lives staring into our phones because that’s where the news is and it’s also where our most of our friends are.

On the final page of “The Attention Merchants”, Mr Wu considers the idea put forward by the philosopher William James, that our experience of being alive “would ultimately amount to whatever we had paid attention to” during our limited time on earth. There is now a worldwide industry devoted to gaining that attention and lurking within that industry are the greatest artists, authors, filmmakers, musicians and journalists of our time. To truly be a part of our shared culture, most of us feel compelled to engage with the modern public sphere, and so somehow we must strike a balance.

The attention merchants profoundly value every last moment of your day. To get the most out of our lives, whether we’re trying to be productive or just trying to enjoy ourselves, should we all be valuing our spare time as seriously as they are? How should we feel about the race to gain and sell our attention? And what’s going to happen to the attention economy when virtual reality allows programmers to completely immerse us?

Please post your comments below so we can share your thoughts and questions in an upcoming episode of Babbage. Or, if you don’t have a Medium account, you can e-mail them to

Nicholas Barrett is a social media writer at The Economist.

Has our attention been commodified? was originally published in The Economist on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meredith increased revenue per visit 20 percent by getting ads to load faster

Cutting down the amount of code on its webpages has helped Meredith make more revenue per visitor.

Meredith, which publishes women’s lifestyle titles including Better Homes and Gardens and Family Circle, began an audit of its code a year ago. This led it to remove several vendors and shift code from browsers to servers. The code audit helped Meredith speed up its ad-rendering times by 15 to 20 percent across desktop and mobile, which, along with an increase in native advertising, contributed to a 20 percent increase in revenue per visit, said Matt Minoff, Meredith’s chief digital officer.

The results were especially dramatic on mobile, where Meredith gets about 60 percent of its traffic and where speed is especially important: There, getting ads to load faster helped drive a 74 percent increase in revenue per visit. Meredith wouldn’t share raw numbers.

Meredith used the analytics tools Krux SuperTag and Google Tag Manager to analyze which pieces of code were no longer necessary. The changes have been incremental and carried out on a site-by-site basis. Meredith’s ad products and ad platforms team, which has between 20 and 30 people, oversaw the project.

The audit led Meredith to remove third-party data collectors and heat map products that visualize where users click since Meredith has gotten better at gathering that data itself. Meredith also built its own ad-blocking measurement tool to replace third-party providers. Meredith declined to name the vendors that were scrapped.

Meredith has a multifaceted header bidding approach, which uses waterfalling, on-page header bidding and server-to-server connections to sell its display inventory, and it’s used this to fight latency as well. Meredith built its own wrapper to host its two server-to-server partners, Index Exchange and Amazon. This makes it easier for Meredith to move supply-side platforms across various channels, depending on how they’re affecting revenue and latency.

Meredith also mitigated the perils of header-bidding latency by shortening the timeouts that SSPs have to respond to ad calls. SSPs used to have about a full second to respond to ad calls, but now they only have 0.5 seconds on desktop and 0.8 seconds on mobile to respond before the auction moves on without them, said Nicole Lesko, Meredith’s vp of digital ad product and operations. Two SSPs were removed for not being fast enough, and Meredith is looking into moving a few more SSPs to server-to-server connections to further speed up bids.

While Meredith has cleaned up its code to speed up ad loads, it can’t control for the weight of incoming ad units. Since the demand for verification and viewability has increased, it isn’t unusual for Meredith to receive ads that have tags for several viewability and measurement vendors, even if the vendor products overlap.

“We’ve done as much as we can on our side,” Lesko said. “But there is an element outside of our control, and this goes for any publisher.”

The post Meredith increased revenue per visit 20 percent by getting ads to load faster appeared first on Digiday.

The Coming War: Browsers Against Advertising Pollution

by Frederic Filloux

An internet user testing an advertising flow at a secret Google facility in Mountain View (Photo: Nasa Commons)

Next year, will see a major offensive from Google and Apple against the worse parts of the advertising world. It will be tricky for Google, bound to appear as judge and jury. Expect many casualties. But the entire ecosystem will benefit from these initiatives.

To put it bluntly, the ad community has less than a year to clean up its mess before browsers take matters in their own hands.

Early 2018, Chrome and Safari, which together achieve a 68% worldwide market share for browsers, will deploy major features aimed at restoring a decent user experience.

Last week at its WWDC 17′ Developer Conference, Apple announced that the next version of Safari will let users block auto-play video (technical details from Apple here). The move will eliminate a major annoyance: you scroll through a page and suddenly a promotional video starts at full volume. We all hate this, but intermediaries continue to sell the feature, extolling maximum visibility — and monetization. Always hungry for short-term revenue, and indifferent to user frustration, many publishers jumped at the autoplay opportunity.

The other big announcement last week is Apple’s plan to block advertisers’ ability to track users from one site to another (details here). Called retargeting, the tracking feature is a powerful booster for advertisers. As an example, you search the web for a pair of running shoes, spending time on various e-tailer sites. This creates a kind of footprint, no pun, and, for several weeks, almost anywhere you go, you’re bombarded by ads for sneakers — even if you actually did buy a pair — because the system has no way to know if and when you completed the transaction. This is one of the most potent boost for ad blockers.

As for Google, leveraging its dominant ad market position, the company is beefing up its efforts to clean up the ad ecosystem with two initiatives: the integration of an ad filtering system, and the deployment of a new system called Funding Choices, which is an iteration of the Contributors program. Both are experimental ways to compensate publishers for the loss of ad revenue stemming from the deployment of ad blockers — a great idea that suffered from a shaky implementation (I will detail these features in a coming Monday Note).

Google’s determination to clean up the advertising ecosystem is of critical importance for the future of the company and, consequently, for the revenue stream of publishers.

Let’s consider this stunning figure:

80% of ad networks applying to join Google’s advertising platform DFP are rejected because they present a risk of fraud.

To put it differently, if tomorrow Google removed all the safeguards that protect the 30 billion ads it serves daily, its giant ad network would be swamped by a flood of fraudulent ads, literally in a matter of minutes.

Users (and regulators) tend to forget that Google monitors everything on the internet and strives to protect its integrity. I remember a few years ago, a large website I was supervising in France was cut-off from the web by Google for several hours. Its anti-fraud system had detected one suspicious file, located in a remote sub-directory of a server operated by a third party ad-supplier we had never heard off.

Google knows better than anyone else the true state of the internet. And it’s ugly.

That’s why one of its top priorities is cleaning up the open web. (Facebook, operating in a walled-garden environment, has to deal with multiple concerns, but not this one.)

To that very purpose, Google joined — some say initiated — the Coalition for Better Ads, a large group of advertisers, media buyers, and publishers, committed to improving the ads ecosystem. Ironically, the CBA also included the Internet Advertising Bureau, whose job was supposed to warrant the integrity of the system (the IAB, created in 1996, had some time to think about the problem…).

Recently, after a couple of years of research (mostly done by Google) the CBA came up with its recommendation: a set of formats deemed to be bad, according to a panel of 25,000 consumers. (Download the gallery here.)

For Google, the logical next step is to enforce this widely accepted recommendation. Hence the deployment of an ad blocker that will be included in Chrome early next year. It will be aimed at blocking ads that don’t abide by the CBA good behavior recommendations.

Even if it has a clear path, Google is walking a thin line here. From a public relation perspective, the move will be tricky to manage as Google will inevitably be seen as judge and jury.

Already, scores of pundits whine that Google is leveraging his position to filter ads in order to reinforce its dominance. They conveniently omit that the Coalition for Better Ads corrals dozen of members, including Facebook, most media buyers as well as scores of large publishers.

My thesis is we are just at the beginning of a massive cleansing of the advertising ecosystem that will have far-reaching consequences:

• Scores of players in the ad-tech business will take a severe hit. Those who built businesses, sometimes large ones, at the expense of the user experience are on a deathwatch. It is definitely time to short some ad-tech stocks. I made my own list (I don’t play the stock market), make yours.

• In the same fashion as users installed ad blockers by the millions, many will vote with their mice. As NYU Stern’s marketing professor Scott Galloway recently said: “Advertising had become a tax that the poor and the technological illiterate pay.” Adding: “Technology is allowing us to opt out of advertising.” Twelve months from now, wether it will be a default setting or a feature activated by a single click, everyone will be able to get rid of ad pollution.

• In the next eighteen months, browsers will compete to include features aimed at delivering better and faster navigation on both desktop and mobile.

• We’ll see scores of publishers finally settling for the most reliable part of the news publishing business model and proposing ad-free subscriptions.

In the next Monday Note, I will look at the impact for publishers of “Funding Choice”, another initiative announced last week by Google as a remedy to the ad pollution.

The Coming War: Browsers Against Advertising Pollution was originally published in Monday Note on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

NBC News is rolling out new custom ads with viewability in mind

NBC News has started to roll out two new kinds of display ads that are designed to meet advertisers’ demands for viewability.

The ads, which NBC developed in-house and are initially visible on two verticals, Mach and Better, are a custom display unit and a “ping pong” unit, which rolls through a sequence of images as a user scrolls down the page. Both remain in reader view for longer than the IAB-required one second, at a time when many publishers are doing the bare minimum when it comes to viewability. The custom units resize themselves for any device and are part of a trend toward custom display units. So far a major automaker has bought some of the ping pong units, though a company spokesman declined to specify which one.

“We were able to think about advertising at inception, rather than as an afterthought,” said Moritz Gimbel, NBC News’s vp of digital product. “When we think of great user experience, it includes advertising,” Gimbel added, saying that the ads were designed to prioritize ratios, rather than pixels, meaning that the ads should occupy a portion of the screen, rather than a fixed piece of space on a page.

The idea is to make the ads more distinct and hence more valuable to advertisers. “Marketers are looking to publishers to help them find interesting ways to tell their stories,” said Nick Ascheim, NBC News’s svp of digital. “And because the new design provides such a visually rich environment, we expect to see higher engagement with both the ads and the content, which is a win for us and for our advertising partners.”

Those new units – see above for a GIF example of the ping pong unit – are part of redesigns meant to get people to engage with both sites for longer periods of time. That meant including features like a video player that allows visitors to watch an unlimited number of videos with just one pre-roll ad and a front page that will let readers see an entire story on the site’s homepage without having to click through on an article page.

Where an early version of the site presented readers with a wall of article options, the newer versions of Mach and Better give editors the flexibility to show visitors a lot of information from one story right away.

The designs, which NBC News did with Code and Theory, were made using a template that will also allow NBC News to roll out additional vertical sites more quickly. A third vertical, Think, is slated for launch in a few weeks, and additional, not-yet-named sites are in the pipes.

“We’ll more quickly be able to add new pages, verticals and more, without having to solve the same design problems multiple times,” Gimbel said. “Certainly, some aesthetics will change, but the core of the design will remain, and it will be less time consuming than reinventing the wheel.”

The post NBC News is rolling out new custom ads with viewability in mind appeared first on Digiday.

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