10 weeks. 70 days. 1680 hours. Far too many Netflix binges to mention. Meaningless stats at any other time, but in the context of the coronavirus, it’s a stark reminder of our time in lockdown. It’s strange to think that we’ve spent over two months in self-isolation, practising social distancing and learning how to re-interact with everyone around us.
Businesses have moved online, companies have shifted their models, employees have become tech evangelists quicker than anyone would have anticipated. In essence, we’ve been living a do or die mentality during this pandemic, so now that economies around the globe are beginning to open up, what comes next?
I could put my Nostradamus hat on again and make a load of predictions, but really, what’s the point in that? No-one knows what lies ahead, the situation is changing too quickly, with multiple factors at play and an unpredictable virus that doesn’t want to play by society’s rules. The only thing we can be certain of right now is uncertainty, as annoying as that is to admit. We can’t control the environment in which we operate, but we can look at what’s happening to use as a barometer for the trends currently shaping our industry.
The Golden Ecommerce Opportunity
“While the world falls apart, the stock market – and especially Ad Tech – keeps on pumping”. Considering the ripple effect that has been felt throughout every sector, at first glance, this may seem like a stretch, however, the sentiment on Wall Street surrounding digital media, and by extension, Ad Tech is undeniably positive.
Facebook reported flat revenue year over year in April, not usually a cause for celebration, but amid nationwide lockdowns, investors are confident in the platform’s ability to rebound. Similarly, Google and Snapchat beat analysts’ expectations, however, a tougher Q2 is expected. It’s a realistic snapshot of the peaks and troughs that have become commonplace during the pandemic, and as consumer behavior patterns continue to change, the major walled gardens will find new and more innovative ways to gain market share.
You only need to look at how the duopoly has applied itself during the crisis. Gold stars all around. Announcements from Facebook have come thick and fast over the past few weeks, with everything from their Giphy acquisition to the launch of Messenger Rooms and its sister app, CatchUp for video calls, creating a buzz. And amid the fluff – their Bitmoji-inspired Avatar app is a prime example – came what we were all waiting for: a real and very viable move into online commerce.
Facebook ‘Shops’ will allow small businesses to build online stores on both Facebook and Instagram, and in the future, will extend this feature to its Instagram Direct, WhatsApp, and Messenger platforms. Products can also be tagged during live broadcasts, and if Zuckerberg’s estimations are accurate, with some 800 million people already engaging in live video sessions daily across Facebook and Instagram, the opportunity here is huge.
According to Deutsche Bank’s Lloyd Walmsley, Shops has the potential to drive as much as $30 billion in incremental revenue – the bulk coming through further advertising opportunities. This makes sense when you consider Facebook’s rationale in enabling eCommerce across all of its platforms in this way; the closer the consumers are to checkout, the more willing advertisers are to spend. That’s probably why Bezos is laughing all the way to the bank as Amazon’s ad business continues to skyrocket. Of course, Amazon isn’t immune to the fallout either. Investors were told in no uncertain terms to ‘take a seat’ during the Q1 earnings report, amid challenging trading conditions, a pullback from some advertisers, and pressure on price. Still, with a reported 44% growth in Q1 and continuing strong traffic to the site, Amazon will be a thorn in the duopoly’s side for a long time yet. Google, much like Facebook, is looking to guard against this Amazonian invasion. The platform recently added organic listings to its Shopping site, offering retailers exposure to millions of daily shopping searches, while users will have access to a wider range of purchase options. On the surface, it’s likely to gain Google’s market share and advertising dollars over time and has the added bonus of taking aim at Amazon’s convenience model by competing on variety.
Even ‘smaller’ companies are looking to get into the retail game. Criteo continued its move away from retargeting, launching a self-serve ad platform for its retail media network. It’s particularly shrewd given how valuable retail media is right now. As eCommerce continues to surge in lockdown, traditional media budgets are being funneled this way to capitalize on the opportunity in real-time. The ‘Always On’ Mentality at the outset of the coronavirus, programmatic was one of the first to be hit. Brands paused their online campaigns; the default ‘easy’ option, as opposed to reviewing their other marketing channels. However, programmatic has proved to be adaptable, resilient, and flexible in the wake of continued challenges and pressures. It is already rebounding, and I believe digital and eCommerce will take an even larger share of overall advertising in the long run.
Still, even prior to this, publishers were being cautious with their investments and not capitalizing on the programmatic opportunity quickly enough. Of course, change has now been forced at every level. Digitization is a requirement and businesses no longer have the luxury of waiting things out. The nature of operating in 2020 is that you have to be ‘always on’. Adapt. Review. Adapt. Review. There’s no room for complacency.
For my part, I’d say on balance, I’m a pretty optimistic person. Look for the opportunity, acknowledge the risk, but be ready to take action, and that hasn’t changed in the past three months. What we’ll all need to be careful of as things begin to move again is abandoning the ‘critical change’ mindset we have adopted as standard during the pandemic.
Jeff Bezos “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
It’s probably more morbid than I would have put it, but he has a point. No more stasis. Let’s make every day count.
CEO at MMP World Wide – Board Member at IAB MENA
Wassim Mneimneh is a CEO at MMP Worldwide and a board member at IAB MENA. A dedication of a lifetime to career in advertising with a passion for tech, and focus on driving the transformation, implementation, and conversation on the value of programmatic and its ability to rebuild trust and safety for the media industry.
Advertisers around the world are looking for more transparency and data into their programmatic buys from their ad tech vendors. However, one hold out is Google in the negotiation, a dominant player in the ad tech world.
Recently, a US-based retailer decided to not buy ads from the world’s largest online ad Digimarketplace Google Ad Exchange. They wanted granular log-level data about the bids won or lost by them over a festive period last year however Google refused. So, the advertiser spent dollars on the other programmatic platforms who were willing to share data and offer discounts.
As quoted by Digiday, the Head of Display at the U.S based retailer said,
“Google’s ad exchange didn’t make the list primarily because they’re not willing to give us any transparency or data around not only their take rates on our media sped but also anything we could already pull from our demand-side platform.”
Advertisers are unaware of how much money is Google making from the bids. Google shares aggregated information rather than impression-level data CPMs (Cost Per 1000 Impressions). Therefore, many advertisers are now looking for an alternative that gives them better CPMs and complete transparency over the data.
Some of the US-based advertisers are reducing, if not completely, stopping their spending on Google’s platform. Procter and Gamble’s marketers are one of them who are in the process of reducing the amount of money they spend on Google’s Ad Exchange, as explained by ad tech executives to DigiDay. He further expanded on the point, that it is unlikely that P&G will pull of the media dollars from Google’ s Ad Exchange. After all, Google holds power over auctions which means it can keep prices lower for advertisers and can perform better than other marketplaces.
For now, a handful of the larger programmatic advertisers are weighing their options on how much money to pull off from the Google marketplace. However, companies that have achieved better CPMs with other publishers have stopped buying ads completely from Google. On the other hand, some big programmatic spenders are pushing Google to share more granular data or else they will seek other ad exchanges.
“We’re seeing Google’s ad exchange become slightly less of the total pie,” said Jay Friedman, president at programmatic agency Goodway Group to DigiDay.
”I don’t have a percentage but it’s less but not significant.”, he further added.
However, it seems clear that Google would rather loose a few smart programmatic advertisers to protect the share of a multitude of other advertisers that buy Ads regardless of the price that they are paying.
Over the last decade, Google’s auction model has media buyers in a bind as on one hand, Google gave advertisers audience targeting specific data and a better chance of winning the Ads auction on its own platform rather than on the rival platform. Whereas, on the other hand, those benefits were only for those advertisers who used Google’s ad tech products to buy its inventory. Some advertisers stopped short over the setup but many believed that working on Google’s platform has more advantages and limited downsides.
The rival ad tech vendors, also known as Supply-side platforms soon turned the tide in their favor using header bidding to bid every impression. They started the first-price auction where the advertiser could bid exactly what he is willing to pay unlike in Google’s ad exchange where the price an advertiser pay is slightly higher than the bid they made.
Eventually, Google caved in and changed its policy in 2019 and introducing unified auction that would put Google in the level playing field with the rival platforms like Pubmatic and Rubicon Project that give advertisers access to granular data as per their need. Data from rival platforms is helping advertisers to chart the best course for a low-fee route to CPMs in this highly competitive market. In these auctions, there are chances of the same publisher inventory is made available through multiple ad tech vendors at the same time leading to advertisers paying more for inventory. To avoid this, advertisers are using the supply-path optimization technique to broker better programmatic deals, many of which are dependant on the data they receive from the vendors.