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Feb 28 / Nathan Levi

What media and measurement technology should I be using?

10 years ago things were a lot simpler. We had analytics tools which measured site performance, we had ad servers which measured online media activity, and we had a few bid management tools to pick from to help us manage bids for paid search. Each of these tools was limited to its function: analytics tools were great for looking at page views, bounce rates and unique visitors, ad-servers were essentially used to track click and view activity of media campaigns and linking these metrics to sales, bid management tools made ad words more efficient to manage (in some cases). These technologies found it difficult to adapt. Analytics tools could never measure view data simply, ad servers proved to be useless at bid management and dynamic pricing. Bid management tools were not good at managing display media. Many vendors tried in vain to adapt, I’m deliberately not naming names but I can’t recall one technology vendor which successfully crossed over to provide a more complete solution (feel free to disagree).

One result of this fragmentation hampered the way we were able to measure digital campaign activity. This was especially true of SEO efforts which were largely measured using analytics tools and not in conjunction with online media activity. From this we saw media KPIs being duplicated across channels, when a lot of affiliates made a lot of money claiming for sales they never caused. Ad servers proved invaluable in de-duping sale activity and preventing fraud, and I think one of the main reasons they are still around today. Another result was the rise in tag management solutions. These technologies promised to bridge the gap between analytics and ad-server data, reporting on all channel activity holistically, the holy grail of digital media measurement. Had we not seen the advent of social media and ad exchanges it might have sufficed to use a technology set of analytics, bid management, ad serving and tag management. Unfortunately what we’re now seeing is further fragmentation of an already complex landscape. There is now a requirement for specific technologies to manage both these channels separately, hence the rise of companies like BuddyMedia and Adaptly and DSPs including Invite and MediaMath. This added complexity has made it extremely difficult for traditional marketeers to get their heads around.

You might ask why we need so many different technology sets. Why can’t we have one system to manage all digital activity: site, display, PPC, paid social, biddable display, affiliates, email and the rest? If only it were that simple. I think one of the main problems is that of algorithmic differentiation. The optimisation logic for display, PPC and paid social needs to be different to work as each will have different KPIs. I think another reason is that some technology sets are good for some businesses and not for others. For example, when it comes paid search to bid management, those that use a portfolio bid logic will work better for larger spending accounts. Brands which use shopping feed technology or have extremely granular campaign structures might do better with something like Marin or Kenshoo. When we look at biddable media outside of paid search, some DSPs are much better at managing video formats, so your selection will be based on the type of advertising you’re doing. There is no one size fits all.

We may start to see a convergence of technology sets in paid media. DSPs might get better at managing PPC so we can have one technology set for all paid campaigns. Social media technologies will need to get better at being able to aggregate and push to all social networks at once to make paid social management more efficient. There will still therefore be a requirement for tag management to bring site and campaign data together. Brands will need to evaluate which technology set works for them. They will need to be guided by how each technology works with the other (some plug more seamlessly into others’ APIs). They will also need to consider cost as tracking can be expensive. Finally they will need to accept that as the landscape shifts, they may need to uproot their existing technology sets and replace them, technologies date quickly in this ever changing landscape.



What media and measurement technology should I be using? tag management Digital media digital marketing bid management tools bid management technology analytics ad servers
Feb 21 / Nathan Levi

Why ‘pay for performance’ media can be a false economy

I recently read the following article, Agencies must embrace performance pricing or else, by Jason Wadler and it got me thinking about how many companies are now insisting on pay for performance media deals with their agencies.

The ‘measurability’ of digital media has for a long time been both a blessing and a curse for specialists in this space. There is now an overwhelming requirement from CMOs to attribute ‘value’ to everything and to hold agencies ‘accountable’ for performance like never before. Now that digital budgets have grown significantly this level of accountability has stretched beyond the traditional reach and frequency measures of old. Will we get to a place where all agencies must succumb to pay for performance deals or risk going out of business?

Let’s first take a look at the digital channel which is held more accountable than any other – affiliate marketing. I have on numerous occasions worked with clients who have been unaware that the affiliates they’re paying a flat cost per acquisition for sales, are building pages to own branded search real estate on Google, be it organic or paid. I’ve seen this happen so often it’s dumbfounding. And then we have cash-back sites, which whilst offer some incremental revenue value, don’t really help grow a brand’s customer base. As a customer, if I’m looking for an electrical item, I’ll do my research and then look for the discount voucher, and whichever brand has one will get my sale. It’s a catch 22 for many brands. They have to be in this space to fend off competitors but this strategy doesn’t really help their bottom line. If affiliates can come under scrutiny for rogue tactics and offering little in the way of real value under a pay for performance model, can we not examine agencies in the same light?

I’m going to describe two scenarios, one which highlights the dark side of pay for performance and the other that shows how it should work:

Scenario 1

Let’s assume the agency has an existing pay for performance agreement with the client. The agency will be self motivated to make money, and whatever people might think, agencies need to make money to survive. The agency may decide to play a game called ‘capture the last click at whatever cost’ or another one called ‘spray and pray’, cookie dumping everywhere to capture the post view conversion. They may spend all their display budget on re-targeting, gaming the system by claiming sales that would have happened anyway. They may engage in some dodgier tactics, increasing the cookie length window to track more sales (even though it’s far longer than the average time to convert). They may decide to mark up tracking fees, thereby hiding their profit so it looks like the client is ‘only pay for sales’. They may create branded web pages themselves and become an affiliate to own branded search real estate. They may charge clients CPM rates on media they have purchased on a CPC model. The agency is now doing whatever it can to make a margin. The agency will not innovate by trialling new technologies, identifying and targeting new audiences, because this will risk them not making a profit. On the flip side the client accepts no responsibility for its sales funnel and expects to pay for performance even if it has a poor conversion rate, or when products are out of stock, or if the brand the agency is driving sales for has no awareness, or if the website crashes one day, or if the agency needs to help launch a new product or channel where media entry costs might be a lot higher. The client is happy to turn a blind eye to the agency”s tactics because he or she will be making their bonus if they hit the targets that have been set. The CMO will be none the wiser as the numbers will seemingly speak for themselves.

Scenario 2

The client assumes responsibility for conversion metrics and agrees a baseline conversion rate for the agency to hits its targets. Both the client and the agency agree which media channels should be measured on performance before starting. This will include a discussion about branded search real estate, true cookie window lengths and impression metrics. The agency will not hide any media costs in technology fees or kick backs and be transparent about what it keeps for itself and gives back to the client. Client B will set clauses which exclude the pay for performance model including site down time. The client will also agree that not all media should be part of the pay for performance deal, and that separate prospecting/awareness budgets which should have different performance metrics, because the client knows that investing in the top of the funnel will produce a longer term growth of the brand’s customer base. The Agency and client have a fully transparent relationship.

I don’t need to state the obvious. Pay for performance can work but only if it’s truly collaborative and not one way. Agencies have a duty to educate clients about the pitfalls of pay for performance and be transparent. Clients in turn have a duty to take some accountability for performance and think more longer term.




Why pay for performance media can be a false economy pay for performance media pay for performance Digital media digital marketing Brand Awareness Advertising
Feb 14 / Nathan Levi

How to approach display re-targeting without bombarding your potential customers

A couple of weeks ago I was browsing the web looking for a suitable holiday destination and decided upon Miami. Whilst I was in research mode I visited a couple of websites which told me what the weather would be like, I looked at a couple of dodgy ‘things to do in Miami’ information sites, and then I dealt with the hell of trawling through every travel aggregator that exists, and that includes Google, which now with its acquisition of the ITA and its partnership deals with the likes of Expedia and, gives you pricing information in its search results. I won’t bore you with why I think the travel sector above all others, presents the most complex and convoluted purchase cycle for the user, that distinguishing whether or not you are getting a good deal is almost impossible, and that every aggregator seems to be an affiliate of the other to the point that there is no dissimilation between any of them. Travel rant over.

Now back to my Miami trip. I decided upon a particular hotel, made the booking and all was well again. To my amusement and eventual frustration the hotel I’d booked decided to advertise to me on every website I visited for the next two weeks, I’m still getting them now! I thought this might be a one off, but a week ago I needed to buy a new fridge – Appliances Online have been targeting me ever since, with banners full of fridges. It’s like every brand has decided to jump on the re-targeting bandwagon and are now pestering us users without even questioning that we might have found a cheaper deal elsewhere – “and that’s why I didn’t buy your bloody fridge Appliances Online” (I must sort my rage out, perhaps my trip to Miami might make me feel better). It seems ridiculous that in the era of the social web there is no way for me to tell Appliances Online to stop pestering me because they’re not as cheap as they think they are. Or to tell the Miami resort I’m due to stay at that I’m a customer, not a prospect. Frequency capping and segmenting prospect groups should be considered display re-targeting 101. Allowing your prospects to engage with you in-banner should also be pre-requisite. Surely the feedback would be extremely valuable to any advertiser. (Facebook is the only platform where you can feedback that you find an advertiser irritating, and whilst I think Facebook could improve the feedback categorization they provide, how many advertisers actually question how many people find their advertising repetitive and stop doing it. Facebook don’t allow you to frequency cap so I’m constantly feeding back that I find the advertising repetitive, but that’s another story).

That’s not my only beef. It appears that certain re-targeting technologies (you know who you two are) are intent on capturing the ‘last click’ regardless of how invasive it might come across to the user. With privacy coming under greater scrutiny it seems bizarre that advertisers would want to bombard prospects and customers this way. Even more bizarre is that they don’t actually want to tell people who have visited their site anything new. Spray and pray methodology is alive and well in most behavioural targeting strategies, and what a shame that is.

Don’t get me wrong, re-targeting is a great strategy, but it’s so often tracked in a way that excludes prior media channel interactions. If we look at my Miami example above, the dodgy information site I visited which told me all about the great beaches I could see would get no credit for driving my purchase decision at all. With more and more brands using tag management as an all encompassing measurement tool, what rules are being set to give credit to re-targeted ads, if any? Display re-targeting is a false economy if it’s not measured correctly and its poor execution is in my opinion contributing to a huge amount of distrust with web users. Re-targeting should also be a very small component of a larger media strategy, prospecting is where the real smarts sit and where planners should be focussing more of their attention.

I’ll leave you with my top tips on best practice for display re-targeting:

1. If you have a CPA deal with a re-targeting technology stop now, you’re more than likely paying double what you should, if not more

2. Insist your re-targeted ads are frequency capped and have an end date

3. Segment your prospects into those that have purchased and those that have not and set exclusion rules for customers, especially loyal ones who don’t need selling to

4. Segment your prospects into different ‘lapsed’ groups and have a different messaging strategy for each

5. If you are using tag management technology set appropriate rules for re-targeted ads, they should be given the least credit (in my opinion). If you want to work out how much credit they should be given work out the overall incremental uplift from re-targeted activity, this will give you a truer reflection of what you should be paying

Miami here I come. And yes, I will be speaking with the hotel owner about their online media tactics.



Feb 8 / Nathan Levi

What are the next media technology companies that will make a lot of money?

If there’s one thing you should know about me is that I never normally do ‘trends’. Every year we get the obligatory ’10 digital media trends for 2010/11/12…” and all the digital experts lay their stakes in the ground to tell the world that this will be the year of mobile, or the tablet, or multi-channel, or ‘big data’ (cue yawning). So it comes as a surprise to my schizoid self that I want to go about predicting which companies are going to make lots of money in the next few years. However, with the advent of Facebook’s IPO I thought I might make some stabs in the dark about the types of media technology companies that are set to make it big and rake in the dollars.

Second screen technologies

Nothing new here, second screen apps have been a trend throughout 2011*. However, the trend of two screen viewing** has yet to be capitalised on from a media perspective. Being able to monetise TV eyeballs digitally is surely the moonshot for many media companies. But how? Is there a way to create synergy between a TV viewing experience and a mobile/laptop or tablet device? Television is a naturally social experience, it makes sense that we should ‘socialise’ advertising to make the experience richer. Getting the viewer’s attention is becoming more important now that TV has become background noise for many.  Second Screen*** is a company which has found a way to serve rich media ads concurrent to a TV commercial. Genius you might say. Well there’s probably some way to go before this becomes a more engaging user experience. I do see a time when television will talk to your laptop in real time, enabling the user to respond, this will surely be the next evolution of ‘engagement’ advertising. We will see ‘second screen formats’ in which the television tells us part of the story and the online experience tells us the rest. We may also see live offers transported to our mobiles when watching a certain TV ad. The opportunities are abundant. I may be wrong but I wouldn’t bet against the likes of SecondScreen and other similar technologies doing well and getting bought, not just by the technology giants, but the TV companies who desperately want a share of digital ad revenues.

Social media optimisation tools

We’re just getting to grips with how we can measure social media activity differently and understand its value. But what we really need is a real time bid management tool which can drive  engagement. Not old hat technologies which drive up ‘fans’ or ‘likes’ but tools that make people come back and engage with brands on an ongoing basis. There is talk in the social media space about ‘good fans’ and ‘bad fans’. Good fans are those that are likely to engage on an ongoing basis, bad fans are those that ‘like’ brands for the hell of it. Being able to reach true brand evangelists and harness their advocacy online is where we as marketers want to play. The last thing we want to do is replicate display metrics and treat ‘fans’ and ‘likes’ as if they were impressions. This is where companies like Adaptly**** are getting it right. I still feel we have a long way to go in this space, but social media bid management solutions which respect the metrics of the channel should do very well and be of immense value to PR and media companies. I can imagine the most successful of these tools will be able to plug in seamlessly to all social communities and establish tangible value from social media campaigns.

F-commerce applications

Every time I visit Amazon and turn on my recommendations I can’t help but buy a new book, it never fails me. Now whatever people might say about Facebook commerce (or F-commerce) I’m sure we’ll see the advent of an application which makes the recommendation engine and the purchase process as seamless as the one on Amazon. The ‘buy it now because all my friends have one’ button is only a hop and skip away. And before I hear – “Facebook is a place for engagement, it’s not meant for buying stuff” – this is only true because buying stuff on Facebook isn’t fun, and Facebook is supposed to be a ‘fun’ place. Imagine an ad for the National Lottery allowing you to purchase a lucky dip 30 minutes before the quadruple rollover on a Friday night. Imagine a restaurant, which has been recommended by your friends,  giving you the opportunity to make a last minute reservation on a Saturday night at the touch of a button. Imagine an ad which lets you make a payment for concert tickets the day they are released, because you are a ‘fan’ (a real fan this time). I could go on and on. F-commerce can work if the purchase is ‘fun’, frictionless and serendipitous, Zynga has proven this. This is where companies like Payvment***** might prosper, but I think they have some way to go before they can provide a truly integrated experience.

So these are 3 categories of media technology companies I think will prosper, as long as they put the customer at the heart of what they do.

The companies I remain sceptical about are the social influence tools (if the only reason to visit them is to see what free stuff you can get they might as well give up now), Privacy control technologies (surely there’s not that much involved in providing opt in/opt out solutions for web users?) and social media monitoring tools (face it guys, all the data’s in Facebook and you can’t access it, so why bother?).

Now if only my crystal ball could give me a hint on the lottery numbers on Friday.










Jan 30 / Nathan Levi

How to ‘insure’ your digital media activity

One of the the things I hate paying for is insurance. Having never made a claim in my life I’ve never really got the benefit from the large monthly payments I make every month to protect my house, my car, my life, my travel, my bottom (oh no, thats J-Lo!). It’s just one of those things you have to do. As I lament my monthly outgoings my thoughts turn to digital media (naturally). It appears one’s media activity requires insurance payments as much as Ms Lopez.

The first ‘insurance’ to discuss is ad verification. This technology scrapes content on a page display advertising appears with and checks for the context and quality of the ad placement. This means advertisers get visibility on what types of websites and the type of content they are appearing on. The world of exchanges and blind networks require ad verification as a must to provide more transparency on what you’re buying. From experience I’ve found that many networks have some very dubious web properties in their portfolio. DoubleVerify and AdExpose are two of the better ad verification technologies out there, sending you detailed reports on the sites you appear on and the geo-targeting of your ads. Even though you think your UK media buy will mean your ads won’t be shown in Peru, ad verification might tell you otherwise.  It’s amazing how much money you can save for clients by gaining this visibility, but you’ve got to do something with the data you get, and this might require going back to publisher networks and having some difficult conversations.

The next insurance to discuss is that which allows you to protect your clients from the law. Serious stuff. As I’ve discussed in a previous post, the EU cookie directive is looming. Advertisers remain unsure whether they will need to provide opt in or opt out icons on their banners. Each EU country may respond to the directive differently. For media planners of pan-European activity this might present a logistical nightmare. Companies like Evidon help to provide an option icon in the corner of every banner you serve, giving the user the right information about what is being tracked by them. So not only will you need ad verification to make sure you don’t appear on illegal downloading websites, but also investment in privacy regulation compliance.

Now I know what you’re thinking, how much is all this going to cost? Well before I get to that, I wanted introduce another type of ‘insurance’, that which can tell you where your ads appear on a page. Over 68% of display ads* appear below the fold, where your customers can’t see them. This betrays the impression metric completely, I’ve always felt a ‘view’ should be seen and fully support the movement to have a ‘viewable impression’ metric. Companies like Adometry tell you exactly where your ad appears and whether it has contributed to the success of your media campaign. As advertisers get smarter, it will only be a matter of time that all ads will be served above the fold. The trend seems to be pointing to less ads on a page overall, as Google is now penalising sites on which there are too many ads above the fold**. So not only am I having to ensure my ads are legally compliant but also that they are visible! We’re always so quick to criticize above the line media for not being measurable, digital media requires equal if not greater scrutiny.

So now that you’re not appearing next to any profane content, complying with the law, and appearing where customers can actually see you you’re covered right? Well not entirely, ad verification can’t tell you what videos you’ve appeared against, and it’s still not known exactly what each EU country will decide upon as best practice after the cookie directive comes into play. Regardless, the cost of all this ‘insurance’ can really add up. You now not only have to pay for ad serving, but all these other incremental cost per impression micro-payments which add a significant %age to your media buy. It’s sad that the leading ad servers themselves (you know who you are) haven’t been able to offer these as value add services. I feel they have missed a trick here and allowed more nimble technology companies to muscle in and take a share of this growth in ad serving revenue. This coupled with the industry trend towards container tagging, means you may end up spending more money on the technology serving your ads than the inventory itself.





Related companies

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Jan 23 / Nathan Levi

The day Wikipedia went dark – Will SOPA take the internet back to the dark ages?

As a former English student I can’t help but think back to the times of Shakespeare (yes, Shakespeare!). Arguably the greatest writer ever born, he was a man who plagiarized more literature than I’ve had hot dinners, but was allowed free reign to craft beautifully written plays from some rather dull Roman and Greek poetry. The plays of the Elizabethan period were creative, expressive and ‘open’ because of plagiarism. Literature became a lot duller because of copyright. Will a similar fate befall the web?

In the old days (I’m talking circa 1995, not Shakespearian times) the internet’s biggest player was AOL, the largest ISP (internet service provider) in the US. AOL provided content to subscribers only, we call this a ‘walled garden’. Once Google came along and decided to ‘organize the world’s information’, the concept of a walled garden on the web became passée, as websites saw the benefit of gaining traffic from Google to drive advertising revenues, the main profit vehicle for web publishers online.  Since then the web has been a free and open space, for the most part, for people to share information. This was great for technology start ups like Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and indeed Google. These brands facilitate the sharing of content without actually producing content themselves. They profit  from other people’s content by selling digital advertising space. It was the traditional publishers that suffered as a consequence. Newspapers were the first to take a battering as written content is so easily shared and distributed online. We then saw Napster and the like eat the profits of large corporate recording companies and the music industry had to find other ways to make money. We’re now seeing Hollywood get bitten as DVD sales see a sharp decline and broadband speeds improve; you can now watch a film on YouTube for £3. Book publishers have been taking a similar beating from Amazon*.  It’s only a matter of time that television and radio production companies and networks suffer at the hand of the open web.

That is, until SOPA came along. SOPA stands for Stop Online Piracy. It’s a proposed US legislation which aims to protect copyright material on the web. What this means is that if Google links to a website which allows you to watch an illegally downloaded film, Google can be prosecuted and shut down. It also means that if I post a copyrighted image on this blog, I can be prosecuted and shut down (don’t say anything!). To confuse matters, there’s another legislation, PIPA (the sister legislation of SOPA, (the senate version for those of you who know a lot about US politics) which is less severe in that it doesn’t penalise owners of copyright material which wrongly accuse** websites of hosting copyright material without permission. Both proposed legislations come from the same place, it’s the traditional Hollywood execs who don’t have a clue how the internet actually works, who are fighting for SOPA to be passed. This is why the legislation is so severe, and why the likes of Wikipedia went dark last week.

Traditional media companies have not taken their demise well. Rupert “I knew nothing of the hacking scandal” Murdoch has spoken out against Google, “a company that creates no content of its own, and makes money solely on the backs of other people’s content, raking in billions through advertising and IPOs”***. This is true. Google is making a hell of a lot of money by ranking other people’s content, as does Wikipedia,, Twitter, Facebook and any other web property which allows the sharing of content. I’m loathe to say it, but Murdoch has a point. But can we envisage a web which doesn’t allow the sharing of content freely and openly? I certainly can’t.

The battle between Hollywood and the technology giants has been an issue ever since the early days of the web. Infringing copyright is actually dealt with by the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The problem with it is that in the US it doesn’t stop a ‘foreign’ website from hosting copyrighted material. SOPA can’t make foreign sites take down this content, but it can enforce the likes of not to link to these sites, or face shutting down.

Do I think SOPA will actually happen? Probably not. Do I think there will be more restrictions on the web that will make the ‘open web’ a bit more closed. Absolutely. We might be looking at a two tiered web, one in which a lot of content is behind a walled garden, and a lot of content is still free, hosted in the cloud and out of SOPA and PIPA’s reach. It may even mean the return of AOL (perish the thought), and the decline of sites that can’t or won’t police their content. Great for Murdoch, crapola for us.

The most irksome thing about all of this is that it could so easily be resolved. It’s not inconceivable that traditional content providers and technology companies can share the wealth of the web. It’s just that both are so proud and arrogant they can’t seem to agree on anything. Google has flagrantly ignored piracy issues in the past (ie. when they decided to publish excerpts of in-print books without asking the publishers’ permission in 2005), whilst Murdoch continues to battle the inevitable to spite himself (by fire-walling News International web properties). Nobody wants to share, and what a pity this is.

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. For now I shall quote Mr Albert Einstein:

“I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.”




***Planet Google – Randall Stross (p.104)


The day Wikipedia went dark   Will SOPA take the internet back to the dark ages? wikipedia traditional media stop online piracy sopa rupert murdoch eu cookie directive Digital media digital marketing Advertising
Jan 16 / Nathan Levi

How will the EU cookie directive impact the digital media industry?

What’s the EU cookie directive I hear you ask? And who cares about biscuits (something my mum might ask)? In simple terms this new law which will come into force in May will require all websites to ask their ‘visitors’ if they can store information about them. For those of you whom I might be confusing I’ll play this out in real life. When you’re browsing a website, information will be stored as a text file (a cookie) on your computer so it can remember who you are. This is important for instance if you are filling out a form and make a mistake. The website will remember everything you’ve entered so that when you refresh the browser it doesn’t force you to have to enter all your information again. Cookies make your web experience a lot more practical and seamless. Without them you would find using the internet a pain in the derrière.

So what’s the issue with this I hear you ask? And are the biscuits gluten free I hear my mum echo? (okay okay, I’ll stop with the rabble). Well this isn’t really what people are getting flustered about. Websites also collect data so they can re-target you with advertising. For example, if you happen to be browsing for a flight or a hotel somewhere, the travel website you’re on will store this data and send you advertising when you’re on another website telling you to pay for the bloody trip to Malaga that you’ve been scouting for the last few weeks. This might be annoying to some and very useful to others. And herein lies the conundrum for advertisers. We don’t want to upset those who don’t want to be re-targeted, but we do want to find people who might need reminding that a trip to Malaga is much much cheaper than our competitors (why I’ve chosen Malaga as an example destination I’ll never know, I’ve not been there myself, I hear it’s quite boozy).

Adding to this already complex affair, many media technology companies are collecting data around the web and selling this to advertisers so they can target existing or new consumers (these are often called 3rd party cookies, where a website is allowing another company to collect data on its behalf). What this means in real terms is that when you visit The Sun website for instance, and are reading about Jordan’s new face lift, you might be categorized as somebody who is interested in plastic surgery. This media company will then sell this data so that advertisers can send you advertising telling you that cheek implants would really help sort out your love life (I kid of course). This is called ‘behavioural targeting’ at ‘digital media HQ’.  These same media technology companies are not only collecting online data but also offline data from the likes of Experian. They can therefore match your offline purchasing habits to your online behaviour, and hey presto, you’re seeing gambling adverts based on the fact that you spend a hell of a lot of money on lottery scratch cards (I’ve got to stop buying those pesky ‘Rich for Life’ ones which look so shiny).

People have therefore become weary about how much data is being collected and what is being done with it. The fact of the matter is that the web wouldn’t work without cookies. However, there is a feeling that consumers should be given the choice as to whether their data is collected or not. The EU directive will mean you will be seeing prompts on websites or in online adverts  asking you if you would like to switch off cookie targeting. You can easily delete cookies from your PC now with a few simple clicks. However, this needs to be done on a regular basis. People invariably forget or choose not to do this. There are also many tools out there which you can download (Ghostery being one) which tell you who is collecting your data.

My feeling is that having prompts on all websites and adverts will interfere with our online experience. It should be made easy for us to opt out of targeted advertising without having to do so each time we visit a website or see an ad for plastic surgery (I dread to think what categories I’ve been labelled with).

Agencies have a duty of care to protect their clients from being caught out by the cookie directive. This means firstly auditing the data they are collecting and who is collecting it. It means making sure all the publishers you are negotiating with on behalf of your client are compliant. It means presenting clients with best and worst case scenarios with regards to their marketing efforts and advising them on a best practice approach which is both compliant and consumer friendly. It means helping your client understand exactly what data is being collected on their behalf and its level of ‘intrusion’.

I really don’t believe like other cynics* that this will mean the end for behavioural targeting online. The government has clearly stated that they want a ‘business friendly’** approach. Ultimately consumers want transparency and if we can provide that whilst providing a richer online experience we should all be happy. I shall remain optimistic (for once!)




How will the EU cookie directive impact the digital media industry? online media eu cookie directive Digital media digital marketing
Jan 9 / Nathan Levi

Does online advertising need to be an ‘experience’ to be successful?

I happened to have a conversation yesterday with one of my colleagues about the death of the high street, a new buzz topic amongst many digital and media folk. My colleague’s view was that whilst the tradition of selling goods by local stores on high streets was dead (“because they don’t offer any value” he argued), there is an opportunity for the high street to become an ‘experience’. Well what type of experience I asked? And then our conversation came to a close as we parted ways, I was off to Sainsburys to buy tea.

Swishing around the supermarket I wondered what could possibly be ‘experiential’ about the high street. Was he talking about augmented reality? Was he talking about outdoor touch screen shopping? A high street where the purchase becomes part of a wider more ‘engaging experience’ (there’s that word again!)? Many stores have already embraced digital, where a touch screen store, an interactive vending machine or a QR code is part of the fun of shopping, the purchase itself becomes secondary.

Creating an experience that is useful, entertaining or valuable really is the golden nugget for marketers today. Can the same logic regarding ‘experience’ be the same for online advertising. Isn’t creating an enriching experience for customers on the high street the same challenge that online advertising has. The problem with most digital advertising mediums is that they struggle to entertain, be useful or engage. Instead they interrupt or don’t talk back.

Let’s look first at the most successful online advertising medium; search marketing is part of an experience, it doesn’t intrude or interfere, it ticks the ‘useful’ box perfectly. When you step outside of search, the opportunities to create a similarly useful or entertaining experience are much more difficult. We’ve been trying to shoehorn display advertising into something that it is not for too long. Of the top 10 best rated TV adverts of last year by the general public, 9 of them made people laugh* (the best being this one by Aldi Display ads can’t make you laugh, and however ‘flashy’ the production is, I’ve seldom been entertained by one.

When is online advertising (outside of search) a truly valuable, entertaining and/or useful experience? A really useful display ad would be one that I needed to interact with right there and then, that was truly interactive, one that didn’t just aim to sell me something, one that aimed at entertaining me, giving me information I needed, (or maybe even making me laugh). A very difficult thing to do perhaps, especially with the current formats on offer (no Facebook, there isn’t anything remotely ‘engaging’ about engagement ads). Cynics might argue that display ads will never be an experience other than irritating. I’m starting to ask myself, If advertising isn’t truly engaging, is there a point to even doing it? Are we fooling ourselves by thinking that interrupting people can work online anymore? Shouldn’t online ‘advertising’ be an experience or begone.

And there I was, still in Sainsburys, swishing around with an empty basket.

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Nov 24 / Nathan Levi

Tips for those wanting a job in digital marketing

Having been working in digital media for a number of years I thought I’d write a piece for budding graduates who really want to get into digital marketing. Having found myself in this industry by chance, it happened to deliver everything I could have wanted from a career: creativity, accountability, geekery and such other made up words. I’ve put together a few top tips for those considering a career in this industry, but aren’t quite sure if it’s for them.

Be versatile

It can be tempting in an industry where there are so many diverse roles to specialise too quickly. I myself ended up specialising in search, but I spent time in display and ad operations before I settled for a life of keywords. This has been key for my growth. When looking at companies to work for, choose one which encourages career development in more than one vertical. The danger of specialising too early is that you will lack appreciation for the whole digital media mix. All advertising channels should be considered in any media plan, the more practical experience you have with each of them the better.

Numbers, numbers, numbers

We’re all aware that digital media places a huge focus on metrics. You really need to have an interest in data and metrics if you’re thinking about a career in this field. You need to be able to spot trends, QA plans, forecast numbers, sense check results. People that do well in this industry can spot an erroneous click through rate a mile off. Spending time with data is really important in the first few years. If you don’t like numbers, it’s probably best you do something else. I find that the best people in this industry really question the data, interrogate it and never make assumptions without robust metrics to back up their findings.

Think longer term

A pet hate of mine is when people new to their craft suddenly decide that after a few months they want to ‘do strategy’. My first question in this situation is ‘what do you mean by strategy?’. I’m generally presented with a array of responses ranging from ‘doing client presentations’ to ‘managing people’. I never get a ‘strategic’ answer. The truth be told, strategy is a very misused term. To be truly strategic, you really need to be learning your craft for a good few years, especially in an industry which is constantly evolving and at such a rapid pace. If you are considering a career in digital media, be prepared for at least 5 years of honing your tactical skills, the strategy will come in its own time.

Use an ad server

I’ve always found that the best people in this industry really understand the tools of the trade. Getting under the skin of how the technology works, how adverts are trafficked and how ad servers collect data is critical to forging a career in digital media. I started my career in ad operations like a lot of people do, trafficking adverts all day long, thinking I was doing the most boring job in the world. This probably proved to be my most useful learning curve because I really get the metrics and how they work together. From my experience of interviewing people in this industry, I’ve found that far too many times, people who have 3 or even four years experience cannot describe what an ad server is or how an impression is counted. Learn how to use an ad server and you will forever be valuable. Don’t at your peril.

Be a pedant

Whether you’re looking at managing millions of keywords, negotiating with hundreds of publishers or trafficking thousands of banner placements, room for error is enormous. That’s why it’s important to have your eye on the ball at all times. Sense checking your work before you send it to a client is highly recommended. When starting a career in digital media you will be measured on how accurate your work is, and how detailed and thorough you are. If you are not anally retentive and don’t have high concentration levels a different career path might be recommended. This is a geek industry, it doesn’t lend itself well to people who don’t like to get their hands dirty.

Work for a digital specialist

The best grounding you can get for a career in digital media is when you have the opportunity to work in a team of digital specialists. Work for a company where digital is a priority not an afterthought. There are numerous specialist digital agencies, digital publishers or networks and digital native companies where digital sits at the heart of everything they do. Traditional companies are unlikely to give you the grounding you will need to be great at what you do, contentious as this may be.

I hope this has been useful to either reinforce your appetite to get into this field or has made you run a mile. Being in digital media can be very rewarding but to coin an old phrase, patience is a virtue, and like in any career, the more time you spend at the bottom, the better you will be at the top.


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Nov 23 / Nathan Levi

Back from a burst appendix

Some of you may be wondering why I’ve not been posting on my fabulous blog for quite a while (wishful thinking from me as always). I’ve been out of action with a burst appendix. As much as I’ve tried i’ve not been able to link this in any sort of humorous fashion to a piece about digital media. I’ve therefore refrained from writing until I’ve made a full recovery.

The last few weeks have been painful to say the least and I wouldn’t wish my experience on a dog (except for those vicious types that maul people’s faces unexpectedly). The excruciating abdominal pain was bad, but the sampling of NHS cuisine was quite another. I jest of course, but in truth I’ve never seen a risotto have such a likeness to vomit in all my days. Luckily I didn’t have much of an appetite after the operation. I spent my time eavesdropping on nearby patient’s conversations, which was the next best thing to having a television or a Heat magazine. My lowest ebb came after having a catheter insertion followed by a tube up my nose and down my throat. Awake. No amount of morphine relieved that indignity.

Luckily I live to tell the tale. I have a lovely scar forever smiling back up at me, a new found faith in NHS nurses (boy do they have to deal with some crappy people), they bring a new meaning to the word ‘saints’, and a dollop of hypochondria to add to all my other complex but rather marvellous health concerns.

I’m back everyone.