We are wired to ignore others and listen to our own gut. Then we make an active choice to act on what we “hear” -- or actively ignore our own instincts and live with, and learn from, getting burned.
The advice I have dispensed in this column to premium publishers these past 10 years has been fulfilling for me to give -- and generally ignored. That’s not surprising. What I do find perplexing is how so many people in this business of premium publishing ignore their own guts.
Each time a C-suite executive at a premium publisher visits her own site and sees another low-priced, cheaply produced ad running on her professionally produced pages of content, she ignores her own gut. That executive knows these discounted ads bring down the value of her site, the way a trailer home parked between million-dollar houses would bring down the property value of a neighborhood. Still, publishers actively choose to ignore this feeling in return for open RTB revenue.
The arguments that “some revenue is better than none” and “users benefit from highly targeted [shitty-looking] ads” are old and tired and not worth taking on anymore. Instead, I will offer more meaningless advice that could help premium publishers -- and will be universally ignored again:
Premium publishers should abandon the IAB. The IAB is driven by the agendas of companies that devalue premium publishing. Your dollars are funding your own funeral.
Premium publishers should join Jason Kint’s organization Digital Content Next (formerly the Online Publishers Association). Kint appears to care genuinely about the prosperity of premium publishers, and understands how to achieve it.
Jason Kint should then change the name of his organization again. I hate that new name. It should be changed to The Association for Premium Publishers (TAPP).
TAPP should create a set of guidelines that members must embrace. These guidelines should include a universal agreement by all members not to serve any ads that expand beyond their designated space, any ads that pop over or under content, and any ads that auto-play. All TAPP members must agree to serve one single display advertiser per page view (multiple units are OK). These guidelines should also include a universal agreement not to run any pre-roll video ads longer than 10 seconds.
TAPP members must turn off all open RTB advertising. This rule will keep membership low, and the value high. Now it’s up to Kint and the premier membership of premium publishers to flood the market with valuable research that shows that branding occurs online when premium sites are restructured to deliver it.
I am not anti-programmatic. I am anti-cheap, shitty ads running at dirt-cheap prices on content pages that professional editors, designers and journalists create.
I am not anti-private marketplaces. I am anti-carving up premium inventory into complex targeting buckets, because the math doesn’t add up to greater revenue. This extreme targeting overshadows the inherent branding value premium sites “can” deliver.
I am not anti-premium publishers. I am just not going to sit quietly by and watch this industry ignore its collective gut and burn to the ground.
Publisher: USA Today (app) -- and then the landing page for this "ad"
Ari's suggestions are OK as far as they go, although they do benefit from properly applied programmatic methods, as long as those reduce cost while attracting only the desired advertisers to the targeted premium audience segments.
It's still hard to get well known premium publishers - I am sure we can all put together lists without much thought - to focus on the value they've built up over decades and work on driving that home. The current crop of hot properties are likely to be fads, devoted more to quick cash than lasting value. The latest example is Gawker admitting they killed stories so as not to lose much needed ad revenue; finally proving that Gawker shouldn't be considered in the same league the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.
But the valuable properties will still need another revenue source. If it's that good, it's good enough to pay for. Give up on totally free online access. The readers you lose weren't devoted in the first place.
You can hear Ari's frustration and exasperation clearly. He spends so much time advising premium publishers in how to shape their ad sales strategy only to have it fall on deaf ears (that happens too often I'm afraid).
I grew up with the phrase “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” We all know that it makes no sense to get a piece of cake and then not to eat it – unless you’re on a special diet. But, for me, that’s the crux of this issue.
Publishers often tolerate bad ads because it brings in good revenue. It’s not that people want to ignore Ari’s (and the industry’s) sound advice about running clean ad campaigns, it’s just that they want it all.
The industry needs to offer a solution where publishers can “have their cake and eat it too.”
I believe there are solutions out there that can help publishers get everything they want: the ability to sell of all their inventory (yes, with RTB) but also to maintain their brand reputation and ensure a clean user experience. I am referring to Ad Security & Verification tools. These tools can pre-scan and scan in real time to see whether ads coming through are compliant to brand policies.
Every guideline Ari mentioned, from preroll ads not exceeding a certain amount of time to pop-up ads being banned, can be enforced through a solution that allows publishers to monitor and block noncompliant ads.
So I’m amending the rules that Ari wrote – for his version of Klint’s Digital Content Next, what he calls TAPP – to "Every premium publisher out there needs to get an Ad Security & Verification solution", to ensure that they can continue to work with RTB as well as ensure their brand reputation and clean user experience.
DISCLAIMER: I work for an ad security and verification solution who does just what I wrote above and I believe we are helping keep a cleaner, more trustworthy ecosysyem.
Eliana, thank you for such an insightful response -- I am sure all of those reading it just got smarter and I appreciate you being upfront about the fact you work for a verification solution company and yet your words don't sound jaded -- you should submit a guest column on the topic as a whole -- reach out to Phyllis Fine at Mediapost (you can email me difectly at Ari@ipcpricing.com and I will give you more details). That said, "black lists" have been around since the advent of ad networks and they don't work as promised but more than that Eliana, open RTB and even Private Market Places deliver lower prices for ad impressions which allow lower quality advertisers who do not invest in creative to buy and run ads -- so the fundamental problem remains -- when you sell off unsold inventory to those channels, your value as a site will continue to go down -- not in the short terms so quarter by quarter execs will see revenue from RTB and think things are great when it fact everything is going in the wrong direction and time will play that out. Thanks again I really enjoyed reading you.