Digital Advertising

The Pendulum Swings Toward Pubs

Admonster's Gavin DunawayThis column was written by Gavin Dunaway, U.S. Editor at AdMonsters, the global community of ad operations and technology leaders. 

Considering all the drama circling this space – think colorful tech trade prose, fiery accusations of fraud, salty whispers of idea theft, conference panel shouting matches – it’s not hard to think about digital media as a soap opera. I even propose a title: “As the Pendulum Swings.”

The pendulum marks who has the power in digital advertising – between the buy and sell side, who is driving progress and ultimately revenue? For years it’s been the buy side behind the wheel, pushing the envelope on data and audience targeting, real-time bidding and other technologies. Publishers have long been playing catch up, with their revenue (or at least revenue growth) hurting all the while. Once proud print publishers that touted premium audiences were reduced to desperately packaging cookie segments.

But, lo, the pendulum is swinging once again in the sell side’s direction. Agencies are suddenly feeling a squeeze all over – brands are experimenting with programmatic buying and working directly with publishers on native campaigns while ad tech companies hail their products over agency solutions directly to the advertisers. Publishers are now the ones forging new ground.

At AdMonsters’ Publisher Forums in Sonoma and Boulder this year, I’ve noticed a change in attitude among the attendees. Where frustration and anxiety once reigned, a new confidence spreads across the group. Within the three days of peer-led discussion and development of best practices, I sense a boldness that makes me proud to be a part of this group. Indeed, several of our keynote speakers this year are used to addressing audiences of brands, marketers and agencies, but they’re increasingly intrigued by the action on the sell side – and especially the people that helm the revenue operations.

At our Scottsdale Publisher Forum from Nov. 10-13, Keynote Shelley Zalis, CEO of the Ipsos Open Thinking Exchange, will paint a detailed landscape of this power shift, but I wanted to add my own two cents – ones I believe she’ll further illuminate.

First off, we can point to the rise of native advertising, or really the next generation of content marketing. I say next generation because native suggests publishers building content that’s truly integrated within their content stream. Advertorial is a form of content marketing, but native is sponsored content that is designed to be treated by readers the same as editorial content.StumbleUpon has pushing this idea for a long time – when is an ad not an ad? When it’s something that you would consume anyway.

Publishers like BuzzFeed, Gawker, Tumblr and Forbes have lead the charge in building advertising that is an extension of their content. They’ve inspired brands to work directly with them, and even forward their own digital publishing efforts. Take a look at GE’s intriguing content, which regularly highlights a knack for storytelling. It’s the agencies playing catch-up here. (However, forward thinkers like Deep Focus have developed impressive strategies – as Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson explained, “History has always been a series of pendulum swings, but the individual doesn’t have to get caught in that.”)

Another big stimulant is a little surprising: programmatic. DealID has seriously leveled the playing field between buyers and sellers (Is there such a thing as too many DealIDs? AdMonsters is investigating.), but the scourge of botnets are making private exchanges and working directly with premium pubs much more attractive.

There’s a telling quote from Alan Silverberg, media platforms director at Moxie Interactive, in AdWeek’s recent exposés about botnet traffic: “It’s really the media planners’ fault.” In their ongoing hunt for the cheapest inventory possible, the media buyers have strongly assisted the rise of botnets roaming from bogus website to website, drawing impressions seen by no one. It’s long been theorized that real-time bidding is a race to the bottom – on open exchanges filled with suspect sites, traffic and impressions, that seems truer than ever.

They lied to ya when they told you only cookies matter, not context. Now that premium publishers have the tools to meet audience-crazed buyers on a programmatic plane, context’s importance is rapidly rising – especially if media buyers would like to have their ads seen by actual consumers. Private exchanges and programmatic direct allow buyers to contract easily and transparently on proven properties.

However, that doesn’t mean premium publishers don’t have to worry about fraudulent traffic (I’m working on a guide to preventive measures), and this leads to the always contentious issue of viewability. But as segments of the industry fight over a viewability standard and providers offer widely divergent products, publishers like USA Today, Washington Post, the New York Times and NPR are taking the lead by building viewability into their units or the serving process.

Don’t think the pendulum’s shift has publishers’ lives any easier. To paraphrase Biggie: mo’ power, mo’ problems. That’s why the agenda for the upcoming AdMonsters Publisher Forum in Scottsdale stretches wide, examining management and training issues, challenges in yield management, multiscreen strategy, working in tandem with analytics, building workflow efficiencies and even staking an active position in billing and reconciliation.

Yup, it’s going to be an intense three days, but I look forward to welcoming emboldened publisher revenue specialists who are ready to build the future of media. Think you’re one of the elite?

Publisher Forum Scottsdale, Nov.10-13, is a can’t-miss event where 100 of the top senior leaders in online ad tech and ad operations converge. Join an elite group of digital professionals as they discuss, debate and shape the future of digital media. No other conference comes close to offering the same opportunity for exposure, exchange of ideas and feedback. 

Register Today and save with a special The-Makegood discount: http://bit.ly/1eDYdqO  

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