Category Archives: digital advertising

A Fool and Their Data are Soon Parted

In the post Fear & Loathing in the Ad Technology Stack (3/8/11), TOTSB opined about the latent dangers of having a tag management platform provided by the same vendor as the site analytics solution. Since then, IBM CoreMetrics joined the fray with their Digital Data Exchange solution. Earlier this week, the other and much bigger shoe dropped as Google announced their new and free Tag Manager.

With this latest development, it seemed like a good time to take a look at digital marketers often foolish handling of their customer’s behavioral data. These days such foolishness is like leaving the safe open with money in plain view. Now, let’s take a closer look at what is being offered by Google.

How Does It Work?

The appeal of Google Tag Manager is understandable: “Google Tag Manager is easy, free, and reliable. It gives marketers greater flexibility, and it lets webmasters relax and focus on other important tasks.” Signing-up is easy enough and takes just a few minutes like many other Google tools. Digital marketers can even “opt-out” of anonymously sharing their data for benchmarking purposes. However, this is a faux bone being thrown out by Google that is revealed on a subsequent screen.

Later, users learn that are actually agreeing to share their data with DoubleClick, Google’s advertising business and signing-up for AdWords, too. It is odd that users must explicitly agree to this to use a Tag Management System. On the final screen you can add then add some 3rd party tags. Conveniently this screen is pre-populated with Google’s Ad Words, DoubleClick Floodlight and Google Analytics tags. Supposedly other tracking tags will be coming soon with such drag-and-drop simplicity. Until then you can add custom code.

Google Tag Manager is:

  • Asynchronous itself and calls 3rd party tags asynchronously which means that slow-loading tags (including itself) won’t slow down page download time.
  • Not server-server…at least that is not yet clear. Meaning tags are literally firing on all requests which is technically a worse engineered solution when simultaneously using other Google products and services. When GTM does go S2S, certainly it will be positioned as a speed benefit…just ignore the looming centralized consolidated Google master cookie.
  • Using a Data Layer. Handy, as it means that there is a way to manage standardized data elements from user behavior on a page or other integrated systems.
  • No SLA. That is what free means; as a result this makes GTM less appropriate for enterprise-sized clients. Perhaps this will be included in Google Analytics Premium.

The Trojan Horse
Now for the rub. Considering the success of Google’s model of free analytics, this move by Google should not be a big surprise. If you weren’t already sharing your data with the Google data-mining machine, now there is one more way for them to get even more breadth of data capture.


Combined with their the search, free email, social and display media business, Google continues to steadily touch more and more of the entire digital stack. That means they also have maximum user depth, i.e. the full end-to-end view of cause and effect. It is this rich, vast global data set that Google’s engineers have trained their sights on analyzing. The reality is that most digital marketer’s already aren’t technically savvy enough to realize the free Google stack is a digital data Trojan Horse much less do anything about it. When you are used to getting the milk for free why would you want to pay for the cow? Let’s face it – it is a brilliant strategy.

Even if digital marketers decide to forgo Google Analytics and upgrade to a pure-play enterprise analytics solution (not a fake one like Google Analytics Premium), they still have a hole in the data bucket…now thanks to Google Tag Manager. Let’s just call it Google’s little data collection hedge.
At the same time, for most Tag Management System vendors this is going to be a really big problem. Google will now commence to eat many TMS’ lunch by putting tremendous price pressure on the market..kind of like dumping. Many digital marketers have already invested in what we can refer to as TMS 1.0 where its all about putting tags in containers albeit through non-server-to-server solutions. Interestingly, many of them are using their paid TMS to deliver their free Google Analytics. Arguably, these clients are the most at risk to Google’s freebies.

Think about it: these TMS 1.0 providers cannot compete any time soon with what will soon be a cloud-based (S2S) architecture. It will be difficult, expensive and risky to change their platforms with many clients and very tedious implementations already behind them. Expect to see more consolidation as a result.

The High Cost of “Free
Most digital marketers have been blissfully unaware of the actual game that they have been playing with Google for years – all under the auspices of free and easy-to-use. Perpetuated by self-appointed experts, there is a popular notion that espouses that analytics technology should be cheap and that it is more valuable to have a well-funded well-paid analytics people…not an expensive tool. The above meme is so Google. It is self-serving and self-reinforcing; it works especially well for the cottage industry of certified implementers and analysts. Unfortunately, it usually also means weak display media measurement, gaping holes in data security/intellectual property control and potentially deep privacy concerns. More tangibly, it could also mean inadvertently feeding your competition through a de facto data co-op while Google makes a buck.

The layers of Google’s conflicts of interest are deep and include:

  • Google Remarketing –  conveniently baked into Google Analytics these days; the Google advertising cookie and the Google Analytics site cookie have been one and the same for some time now
  • Google Analytics – known to overstates Paid Search performance
  • Google Search – recently changed how referral data is passed on  landing pages, thus obfuscating search performance
  • Google Analytics Premium – a thrown bone on fractional attribution and now via DoubleClick Analytics, yet their credibility as an independent arbiter of their own performance is rarely considered

On Being Ethically Challenged About Others’ Intellectual Property
Google’s history is riddled with questionable attitudes towards ownership of other’s data. If your IP attorneys are not paying attention to this – you might need new ones:

Digital Marketer’s Fasutian Bargain
The fact of the matter is that Google is really an advertising company not a technology company. The big question for today’s digital marketers that are considering Tag Manager has not changed. It is the same as the Google Analytics question, i.e. is your company’s most valuable asset (customer’s behavioral data) worth more than the cost of not sharing it with the best data-mining conglomerate in the world? For many smaller companies the answer could be no, but for many largeradvertisers the answer should be – thanks, but no thanks.

Google’s latest self-serving, 3-for-me and 1-for-you offering should really motivate digital marketers to start to think differently about their value of their data, how much they trust others with it and what they need to do next to securely and exclusively control their data. Smart advertisers need to really start paying attention to how much data they are really sharing with a company that Sir Martin Sorrel best referred to as a “frenemy“…and that was way back in 2007. So much for do no evil.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

How to Remove Google from your Ad Stack
Others are also noticing Google’s move and that digital marketers do have other alternatives…they are just not free. Back to using common-sense and ROI/TCO analysis to justify technology investments…or risk sharing your data with Google and the competition.

Here are some thought-starters:

  • Tag Management. Best choice at this point: BrightTag. Yes, I am an advisor. However, the reason I am is because only BrightTag has looked beyond tags on pages to the underlying problem of the data transport layer. Unlike the other TMS 1.0 platforms, BT has already a few years into developing a powerful TMS 2.0 tool; it is based on a highly scalable cloud-based infrastructure that offers digital marketer’s a real alternative to Google’s encroaching data glom. The good news is that most everyone that matters is already server-server integrated with BT…except of course (wait for it…)…Google’s products (Google Analytics, Floodlights, AdWords).
  • Analytics: Adobe, ComScore’s Digital Analytix and if you must IBM CoreMetrics
  • Ad Server: MediaMind, Pointroll, MediaPlex and if you must Atlas……not Google Analytics
  • Search Management: Kenshoo, Adobe, Marin…anything but DART Search
  • Attribution: Adometry, Visual IQ have better methodologies…C3, Convertro, Clearsaling…not Google Analytics or DFA.
  • Demand Side Platform: MediaMath, Turn, DataXu…not Bid Manager (formerly Invite Media).

The truth of the matter should be getting clearer to savvy digital marketers. If not, bring in independent viewpoints that are not invested in this madness. Good luck!

For publishers this is a much more complex proposition and the subject of a future post.


Control your Ad Preferences (and Cookies) 2011!

What a difference a year makes! New posts are brewing but in a continuing effort to help ease the privacy data paranoia and highlight progress, this popular Tip of the Spear Blog post has been updated for 2011. Can’t wait for the 2012 election fueled update…

With all the hub-ub from the New York Times, WSJ, gubment (including former Black Panther and Chicago’s very own Bobby Rush) and consumer privacy fanatics you must be growing VERY concerned. For your handy reference below is a list of major consumer settings panels where you can adjust your advertising preferences that is actually much easier than correcting information on your credit report.

Global Opt-in Cookie Managers
These services have emerged as a one-stop shop for consumers.
  1. PrivacyChoice – Very easy to use and includes Yahoo, Bizo, BlueKai & Exelate. Individual publishers can skin this with their ad partners.
  2. PreferenceCentral – Not sure what control this really provides just yet but it looks interesting.
  3. TrustE – a recent effort and competitive to NAI; it has more non-participatns provided seemingly to get them off the fence. Not a bad approach.
  4. NAI opt-out – The industry choice. If you really don’t want ANY advertising tailored to you, set your opt-out centrally and then get lots of irelavant ads – enjoy…also, don’t change computers or delete the cookie! 
The Consumer Portals
You get your email 24×7 and store your personal life’s electronic communiques in there for free – somebody has to pay for this!
  1. Google – comprehensive and interest-based; no observed behavior included (yet). There is also the Google Dashboard for general privacy.
  2. Microsoft – another comprehensive list of interests; no observed behavior.
  3. Yahoo – fairly deep interest profile; no observed behavior. Their Ad Interest Manager currently only allows 7 catagory opt-outs – seems like an odd limit on something that makes the advertising more valuable.
  4. AOL – not much control here yet.
Specific Advertising Provider Preference Managers
The data providers of the world mostly work behind the scenes but have a variety of services for consumers to control their advertising.
  1. Blue Kai – by far the most interesting with a new interface. Plenty of behavioral ad targeting fodder in here. Also, you can really see the presence of offline credit ratings companies busily creating a whole new revenue stream off of you; interesting that because it is just as creepy yet harder to see. Still, Blue Kai stands out as offering a benefit to charities.
  2. Exelate – they changed the URL! No worries, we found the new one for you. Exelate is not as behavior dominated but has many interest categories. Also, it doesn’t seem to update in real-time.
  3. Lotame – fairly innocuous interest and sub-interest categories with observed behavior.
  4. Bizo – known as the B2B player in the digital advertising data business. Nice approach actually.
  5. Safecount –  from the DynamicLogic (WPP) family comes a totally different approach; with no behavioral segments but plenty of ad creative and sites you’ve been to; no interest preferences here. Actually shows you the creative units.
  6. Amazon – pretty simplistic control over personalization of Amazon ads.
  7. Blue Cava – mobile targeting manager. 
  8. RapLeaf – Opt-out and preference manager; associates to an email address.

If anyone has any other suggestions for the above list, please drop me a line!

Also, in case you were looking for a Flash cookie control panel to view and/remove such locally stored objects:

Last, don’t be evil and enjoy your new Google Toilet ™!

Digital Media Lesson II – Saying No to Free-riders

In the last post, Shooting One’s Foot, the perfect storm of looming regulation, technology change and  growing acceptance of tech-savvy freeloading in the US was considered. We also saw how kowtowing to mindless traffic growth has all too often warped common sense business management.

The focus of this post is on what leading digital media companies can do about it before it’s too late. Considering that browser cookies today are used for most measurement and targeting technologies, any drastic changes from the government could mean an effective collapse of today’s digital ad ecosystem as we now know it. For digital marketers, the cookiepocalypse would be the end of cookie-based ad targeting and site measurement as we know it today.

Regulatory Threat Looms Large

With 2012 elections rapidly approaching, new regulatory threats are appearing almost daily. It seems that
US Web site users are essentially preparing to make a Coasean entitlement bargain similar to what Professor Steven A. Hetcher described in Norm Proselytizers Create a Privacy Entitlement in Cyberspace. Published by UC-Berkeley in 2001, it is a seminal but prescient study that provides remarkable clarity on digital media’s current predicament.

In short, years of social entrepreneurs moralizing data collection have made self-regulation attempts by Chief Privacy Officers (although always good for PR) and industry trade groups (IAB, OPA, NAI, WAA) vulnerable against a paternalist federal administration, power-seeking bureaucrats and high-minded lawmakers in need of a quick win. Industry group strategies break down as follows:

1.   Education. Teach consumers about the benefits of more relevant advertising while explaining just how cookie-based ad targeting works; ultimately to empower consumers with tangible options to manage their online data trail.

Comment: Most people just don’t care all that much about it.

2.   Choice. Require advertisers (interestingly, not site publishers though) insert the cute ad icon via an overlay within their ad units. Clicking on it brings users to a Web page that then allows them to opt-out from any or all of dozens of participating ad networks. Another albeit special, opt-out cookie is being placed in the user’s browser; it instructs the associated network/ad server to not target advertising to that particular browser.

      Comment: Aside from being a complex technical concept, the critical assumption is that consumers won’t later deliberately or inadvertently delete the NAI opt-out cookie itself thus defeating the purpose. Also this does not effect users with multiple computing devices. Also, cluttering advertisers’ very limited on-screen real estate while publishers have no skin in the game is very telling.

3.   Politicking. Unfortunately but realistically, playing obeisant to politicians and bureaucrats probably has the best chance of action. For many industries, the ROI on lobbying is better than R&D.

      Comment: Hiring a squad of well-connected Washington lawyers to wine and dine politicians is not cheap. Worse, lobbying will have the usual perverse and unintended consequences due to the requisite back-room horse-trading/crony capitalism side-effects. Any deals will be near impossible to later undo as the government tends to have a heavy hand that ignores the signals from an ever-changing economy. As Hizzoner Richard J. Daley, was known to say, “to the victors, go the spoils.”

Altogether, the above strategies just might not be enough for privacy activists or digital advertisers. It’s too little, too late. Arguably, the biggest digital media industry fail is that the digital media industry trade groups have failed to properly frame the privacy battle. They have been mostly reactive and not proactive about this; nor have they put the honus on their digital media membership to change the way they do business in any meaningful way.

Clearly, the prevailing ostrich technique has not worked out for digital media although the usual suspects are doing well. While fear may have boosted trade group membership, it has not helped advertisers at all. Quite the contrary, it seems like Web site publishers are ducking yet again, clearly passing the buck to ad networks and advertisers, e.g. ad icon. Yet, targeted ads are delivered to their users by their ad servers because of the tags on their sites generating them ad revenue. Let’s not forget: people visits Web sites not ad networks

Although the time for digital media to take responsibility is long overdue, most digital media companies still appear to be hoping that somebody else fixes this mess for them. Pinning hopes on premium iPad content and/or labyrinthine pay walls are indirect solutions with limited potential. Unless something drastic changes, digital media are going to continue to be held-up by loud activists, populist politicians, opportunistic trial lawyers and government bureaucrats. 

Meanwhile, digital marketers and their agencies expect digital media partners to aggregate and deliver audiences as billed. It is painfully clear to advertisers that they are left to fend for themselves – caveat emptor applies.

Just Say No

Ironically, it is the digital media themselves that are actually in the best position to fix this issue for once and for all. Professor Hetcher explained this as the “filling the privacy norm gap” – a job that apparently nobody wants except the government. To heal this self-inflicted wound, digital media must first learn to just say no to traffic at all costs and the rampant user free-riding that it requires.

Such a strategy requires an analytical approach to audience measurement and ongoing inventory yield management. The fact is that users that block 3rd party ad server/targeting cookies or routinely delete their cookies effectively rob digital media companies. Content and services provided to the consumer by them are done so with the implicit expectation of a particular financial benefit (advertising revenue) to the digital media company.

A Simple Plan
While fair-minded consumers might not like being tracked, most will acknowledge that they personally and directly benefit from the vast free digital media that is subsidized by ad targeting. At the same time, digital media companies know full well that most users didn’t read their respective terms of service agreements that legally allow them to track for advertising purposes.

As such, there are some simple steps that digital media can take in a matter of days or weeks to take active control of their businesses and tenuous audience relationships, i.e. fill the Hetcherian privacy norm gap. It is based on the simple premise of re-establishing the intrinsic quid-pro-quo about user data-sharing in exchange for free media. Some though-starters:

  1. Block free-riders. Yes, that’s right. This means severely limiting or altogether blocking the ad targeting cookie rejectors, likely cookie-deleters and those using ad-blockers. While this may anger the fringe activists and total traffic may even suffer, the real question digital media need to ask themselves is so what?
  2. Require registration or paid access. Surprisingly, this is still an anomaly today. Instead of hoping people read the TOS, greet users pleasantly and offer them a clear choice, to either:
    1. Share anonymous information about their interests and/or behavior with advertisers and get free unfettered access; provide a plain English explanation of what is tracked and how (use a colorful diagram) with clear acceptance of the Terms of Service. Thank them for their continued support and find ways to make it worth their while
    2. OR, ask for them to pay a nominal subscription instead and receive no/un-targeted ads
  3. Monitor the results and adjust
Overall, this strategy has several major benefits to both digital media companies and consumers, including:

  • Digital Media Benefits
    • Yield management. In the emerging audience-driven media buying model, free-riders are worth less revenue than users that are known or at least better defined. While free-riders consume digital media content as artificially “new” users (from the ad server standpoint) either through 3rd party cookie blockers or regular cookie deletion they are enjoying the same resources. At the same time, their value is much less and possibly negative. In the aggregate, this obscured but often effectively undifferentiated audience represents zero or very low CPM ad inventory. Common sense yield management suggests optimizing away this audience and perhaps creating some scarcity in the process.
    • Subscription revenue for those that prefer no advertising/targeting and opt-out of ad targeting or advertising altogether. According to the McKinsey study, digital media can potentially generate incremental revenue from subscriptions. Again, removing this inventory has the effect of making total ad impressions more scarce likely raising average CPM yield. 
    • Competitive advantage. With so few digital media doing this now, early-movers may have the potential to make this into a competitive advantage with advertisers.
  • Consumer Benefits
    • Sustainable transparency. With the implicit value exchange made more explicit and easier to understand than ever, most users probably wouldn’t like all the tracking involved but most probably won’t really care enough to pay for the content either. Consumers better understanding that supporting free-riders is financially unsustainable might also gain digital media some much-needed respect. Without the strong arm of the government, a rising tide could lift all ships.
    • Better privacy. With more buy-in from users, most privacy policies will probably be improved along the way; consumers will take more responsibility for what they are actively agreeing to share with a digital media business. Again, this could become a competitive advantage.
    • More relevant advertising. That is the ultimate purpose of targeted advertising which,  provides consumers with a better site experience. Think how Amazon’s recommendations can be trained or how some sites already let the user select ad preferences.
Taking A Stand
The good news is that some of the above are already being done – in places. Pulling it all together will require getting multiple stakeholders aligned and executing: legal, ad sales, engineering, marketing, technology, finance and certainly ad ops. The stakes are high and there is no guarantee of success. However, the days of traffic at all cost are coming to an end. All traffic is not created equal.

Savvy marketers are watching closely and aren’t waiting around while Rome burns. Data-driven media buying trends and improvements in measurement technologies are arming astute digital marketers and media companies with more options than ever.

Yet, until they muster the intestinal fortitude to just say no to free-riders, the vocal and technical activist minority will continue frame the debate and eventually prod the government into regulation and with it the end to digital advertising as we know it today.

Digital Media Lesson in Shooting One’s Foot (Part I)

Ah tax season…with the greedy hand reaching for more tax money around the country (especially in Illinois), digital media today is arguably one of the few areas of Internet commerce that is unmolested by government regulation. It is amazing that so many consumers have benefited from the abundance of free information and innovative services provided by private industry. Management consulting firm, McKinsey recently estimated that consumers enjoy about $145MM  per year worth of free content across the US and Europe alone.

Like most major media today – this free content is subsidized by advertising. Going forward, McKinsey expects this to nearly double in just 4 years due to broadband adoption. An interesting implication of McKinsey’s study for digital media companies in particular, is that it suggests that consumers may be willing to tolerate both advertising and more pay services.

Good news! For digital media companies they have a great opportunity if they can find the right balance for them and their audience – but are they up for it? With the hoopla about privacy, threats of “Do Not Track” regulation and developments in browser cookie blocking, it has become painfully apparent that individual digital media companies may not only have shot themselves in the foot but need to take action.

Well, How Did We Get Here?
It wasn’t always this way, during the 90s Internet boom, times were great for digital media – they were the darlings of Wall Street. Hockey stick ad revenues came with leveraging offline brands. Astronomical valuations thanks to investor’s fervor made it all seem so easy. Attempt to pay wall digital media continued to fail. Why charge for access when the advertising model realized growth from more users and from increased interest from advertisers?

Then, the 2001 crash came and money got tight. Scarce capital and advertising sales forced a more prudent, often direct-response approach to digital advertising. Paid search with its manufactured precision boomed while display media floundered. At the same time, little-noticed improvements in display ad targeting technologies continued to get more powerful…and more complex. Ad networks blossomed to help make markets, bundle sites, audiences and do much of the heavy-lifting of ad targeting.

Meanwhile, the recovering ad business models demanded more traffic: keep hitting the milestones, sales quotas and Internet rankings essentially at all costs. At the same time these promising new targeting technologies were being implemented, digital media legal teams dutifully but quietly continued to revise their Terms of Service agreements to reflect the changing methods. The trouble is that almost nobody read them (except class action lawyer Web bots). More importantly, risking the potential competitive hit in traffic would be a non-starter. The herd mentality that all traffic is sacrosanct created an atmosphere where burying the TOS became the norm.

Fast forward to today and think Terrence Kawakja’s Display Ecosystem, with it’s dynamic players and shifting definitions. It is safe to say that the advances in behavioral, dynamic creative, site retargeting, data-sharing and use of purchased data represent a major part of the industry today. Many of these systems rely entirely, if not in part on their ability to target cookies and identify specific machines. Sure, there are differences between 1st and 3rd party cookies but this is a nuance likely to be lost in the heavy-hand of government regulators. Deleting all your cookies is not practical and can be annoyingly inconvenient for users. One promising alternative, machine fingerprinting methodology raises other privacy issues.

Consumers: Something for Nothing?
Not much is free in life – except it seemed online media it seemed. All-you-can-eat digital media business models made it easy for users to consume content with abandon – seemingly with no strings attached. And by effectively putting the honus on the average user to locate, read and understand the TOS, digital media companies routinely obscured the intrinsic trade-off. This was no accident, but turned out to be colossally short-sighted. Reading the fine print was certainly not encouraged.


At the same time, users probably didn’t care because sites encouraged instant gratification offered by delivering consuming professionally produced branded content and innovative online services for free. With bragging rights added at stake, users became active participants in being there first.

Unfortunately, the proliferation of the above strategy by created a wider phenomenon:

  •  It just about completely obscured the implicit (if not explicit) value exchange across many sites; this resulted in digital media individually and in the aggregate devaluing their own content
  • By not being more transparent about the tracking techniques that are used to subsidize user’s consumption. Despite TOS being there and detailing everything, the perception is that digital media and their corporate advertisers have something nefarious to hide.
  •  Together, both have allowed fringe elements to reframe a private business arrangement

Who’s Content Is It Anyway?
Over the last few years, loud online activists with collectivist agendas have hi-jacked the private relationship between consumers and digital media. The small but vocal and technically sophisticated minority rages on about privacy. Some even take it a step further to prevent ad targeting and ad delivery.
Perhaps to equivocate their latent content theft, these activists routinely delude consumers to believe that information wants to be free are that all are entitled to consume from private hands without paying or giving up anything for it. In essence, the act of consuming commercial content is being positioned as about “privacy” when it is really about something for nothing.

Like anything people have gotten for free for a long-time, its value is now perceived to be effectively zero; a variation on game theory’s tragedy of the commons. Not surprisingly, they have gotten very spoiled and a growing number now feel entitled to an inviolate surfing session.

We’re From the Government, We’re Here to Help You
More disturbing, is that these same fringe activist types are also clamoring for the federal government to step in and regulate tracking and data collection in a way that other media and businesses have never been. Big government now even purports to help citizens manage their data trail better than the private sector; their National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace program is right out of George Orwell. Some are calling this cookiepocalypse, i.e. the end of cookie-based ad targeting and site measurement.

Even within the industry ranks, there are some paradoxically misguided and/or very frustrated people that have been bullied into submission. They actually think regulation by the federal government is a good idea to end the uncertainty of it all. Think Stanford prison experiment.

Have we not seen this movie before? Junk mail, Do Not Call List, Terrorist database, pedophiles registries, FEMA and the list goes on. Rest assured that with high-minded politicians looking for a populist cause to latch onto the likelihood of unintended consequences for the digital media industry is alarmingly high. Trusting the federal government to be the potential monitor and arbiter online activity should be chilling to any liberty-minded citizen.

And yet user’s expectation of total privacy and entitlement remains in the wake of digital media’s self-mortgaged future. Armed with new Web browsers (thanks to Microsoft and Mozilla) and nascent black lists, recently emboldened users demand to have their cake and can eat it too. Certainly, over time these targeted ad defeating technologies will become easier to use and more widespread

And that limits the efficacy of a digital media industry that as we’ve seen is largely based on cookies today. If digital media has a plan, advertisers would like to know about it…any day now.

Next Post, Digital Media Lesson Part II – Saying No to Freeloaders

The Moratorium: No, you May Not Place a Tag on the Site…

Digital marketers, the time has come to heed the call and end the rampant chaos and confusion by putting in place page tag moratoriums. Today.


Upon taking a closer look at the confusion and chaos that the industry has come to tolerate clearly illustrates the rationale.

For too many and for too long, digital marketing brings with it page tagging needs that need to be executed by technical teams in other departments. Moreover, there are often precision measurement implications to retargeting and conversion tags. Although some legacy ad networks are making strategic moves, this confusion has definitely been a money-making opportunity. Adding to the confusion, the ad networks are rapidly right-sizing their staff, diversifying their offerings and/or reinventing themselves as exchanges, DMPs, DSPs, data layers and more.

That said, the real confusion can be split into three distinct aspects of communication within the digital marketing process:

1. Opaque Reporting – With the advent of DSP’s, OpenRTB and the IAB’s taxonomy, not sharing more performance information is problematic. From an analytics standpoint, not knowing where your high-performing audience segments are coming from and/or where they are in the conversion funnel becomes a opportuniy cost. If you are focused on conversion this makes your campaigns spray and pray.

2. Unclear Benefit – All too often, ad networks are quick and aggressive about getting their tags placed on pages…why? More details and in plain English are needed beyond anecdotal stories and faux studies of performance success. Agencies too have an oppotunity here to better steward their client’s brands. Exactly what is the specific benefit of retargeting, optimization or incremental conversion. A simple litmus test is: proceed when and only when the level of benefit exceeds the level of effort.

3. Data Leakage Risk – In many cases, it is not clear who owns the cookies and/or the behavioral data  vapor trail that is a byproduct of site traffic/ad campaigns. Without clarity on this important intellectual property it shouldn’t be a surprise when you find that the competitors are benefitting from the campaigns that you just ran. With the growing calls for privacy and consumer control this should not be left to chance.

The reality is that digital media is confusing enough rife with opportunities for swirl. Client-side marketers need to continue leaning in, stepping-up and demanding more clarity about those bells and whistles. Those that are not comfortable dealing with the more technical aspects of digital marketing need to get an agency, consultant and/or in-house staff that  are experienced and have demonstrated success.

To suggest that the technical aspects of today’s page tagging create chaos would be an understatement. Historically, page tags have fallen between the organizational cracks into the cross-functional abyss. Page tags have created serious problems for digital marketers and IT/engineering teams alike. With neither resourced properly to deal with this fast-moving technology that is growing more complex – mayhem and frayed relationships are an all too common result.

The good news is that technology is now available to help deal with the chaos: universal tag management systems like BrightTag, Tealium, Ensighten and TagMan can help. The technology also offers three different kind of benefits:

1. Tag Management – There is no question that proliferating page tags are the Achilles heel of most digital marketer and site IT/engineering teams. Today page tags are often late being implemented due to resource constraints with seemingly simple requests triggering requirements-level justification. As a result, in order to get any tags in place the real need is often scaled back to avoid the upfront time – that means a less than ideal deployment and less meaningful measurement. If the tags actually do get implemented, they are at certainly risk of randomly disappearing mid-campaign further compromising measurement. Last, once they are live, some page tags are escape notice and are never decommissioned upon campaign end. Don’t expect ad networks to remind you to remove their tags. Phantom cookie pools are probably rampant.

2. Data Sharing – Beyond rendering tags on pages at the right places and the right times, the better tag management systems are being baked into site CMS (content management systems) to enable the routine passing of data attributes. Instead of hot-rodding simplistic 3rd party ad server container tags, the newer platforms are deeply integrated and have Web-based interfaces that marketing, IT and agencies can access. A huge benefit of this is avoiding the software development-QA queue and the subsequent management hassle of dealing with one-off JavaScript code.

3. Tag Latency – Most page tags are “dumb,” meaning that they always fire all the time. So-called “smart” tags now offer conditional tag rendering, which provides marketers with even more precise control. More advanced approaches like BrightTag’s take advantage of super-fast asynchronous server-server connections, i.e. while the page is downloading in the user’s browser. If your page tag functionality can’t be called through their server-side API connection then latency is unavoidable.

The result of this is compromised measurement and unnecessary latency putting digital ad campaigns at risk. It just doesn’t have to be this way with universal tag management technologies that make the entire process easier. For the first-time ever, agency ad ops, analytics, media planning and engineering teams have the chance to collaboratively and proactively manage burgeoning page tags.

A recent article by Joe Marchese of MediaPost, Putting Lipstick On The Banner puts it best. While I vehemently disagree with the assessment of display ad efficacy (there’s more to display than clicks), Mr. Marchese does make a good point about the apparent pretzel logic of digital media.

Already challenged to explain the value of their existing campaigns, by adding more complexity digital marketers are usually not really improving their campaigns. With more retargeting, research and tracking tags on the horizon (bright-shiny objects) – savvy digital marketers and even partners can see why getting their house in order with their own version of The Moratorium makes total sense.

The message of The Moratorium to ad networks, data providers and other meta media purveyors is a simple one: don’t bother asking for page tags unless you’re also bringing solutions to the chaos and confusion that you’re also bringing. Behind it is a more sustainable business relationship built on transparency and success.

Digital marketers will continue to get the results that they deserve, until they demand better from media partners and even digital agencies.

Until then the answer should be: No, you may not place a tag on the site.

CIMA May 2010 Panel on Analytics

Measuring and Monetizing Digital Media ROI

– How has successful marketing ROI been measured?

– What are the standard measurements of ROI and what tools are available to support the standards?

– Should there be different ROI standards for digital media and offline media?

– Branding campaigns and DR campaigns?

– Differences in metrics associated with display and search vs. video, mobile & social.

– Examples of the best emerging tools for measurement.

– Upcoming changes throughout the next 5 years.

Pictured from Left to Right:  Moderator Cary Goss , Brett Mowry of Digitas, Perianne Grignon of x+1, Domenico Tassone and Andy Stein, both of Sears Holdings – 5/19/10.

Photo by Dan Merlo

Tired of Doom & Gloom in the Online Ad Biz?

May want to read on… The IAB announced the 2007 stats. While they are slow in coming, these reports are usually very interesting and full of good insight.

  • For 2007, revenues totaled $21.2 bil, exceeding 2006 performance by 26 %, itself the former record year.
  • Q4 2007 Internet advertising revenues hit $5.9 billion, representing historic revenues for a single quarter and a 24% increase over the same period in 2006.
  • This is the fourth consecutive year and 13th consecutive quarter of record results.
FY 2007
FY 2006
CPM or Impression
45% ($9,492)
48% ($8,102)
Performance Deals
51% ($10,817)
47% ($7,933)
4% ($897)
5% ($844)

Sure is interesting to see performance deals exceeding CPM-based advertising…

Full IAB-PWC Report