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One ad ecosystem – helping us live the simple life

Life was simpler in the olden days. Roads weren’t as busy, jobs finished at five, you probably didn’t always lock the front door and people were nicer to each other. For advertisers it was simple too. There were really only four questions: print, outdoor, radio or TV? The decision was often determined by the size of the ad-reps’ expense account.

Fast-forward to today and the digital realm has complicated all that. Real-time bidding has pushed aside the persuasive lunch. Planners, instead, are too busy developing increasingly complex campaigns, across multiple media and a variety of ad formats, trying to create cohesion in an environment where media is booked through a multitude of platforms. Advertisers have to compare metrics that are seemingly unrelated, use data that is only a subset of what we’d really like and learn processes that are different for each system.

Throwing mobile into the media mix makes life even more complicated. Consumers mobile consumption habits bring new and compelling behavioural and locational data to the marketer’s table, but there’s a steep learning curve on how best to use it. And every month seems to bring a new device with its own screen size, requiring different ad formats.

Mobile simply adds to the hard work, but in Asia, in particular, it can’t be ignored. In many countries it accounts for more than a third of all web traffic – in Indonesia, it’s close to half.

To add to the confusion, advertisers are not content to be kept in boxes. Because standard display advertising often cannot adapt to mobile devices’ screen size, advertisers are looking for native formats that convincingly blend paid advertising with editorial content that builds on the strength of a publisher’s brand. They’re also the most effective way of advertising on mobile, often improving click through rates by more than half.

Then there’s video. Neilsen research shows that a third of Singaporeans are watching less TV because they are watching more video on their mobile phone. It’ll be a similar story through much of Asia. Globally, by 2017, two thirds of mobile data traffic will be video. Advertisers have to find ways of capitalising on this opportunity without appearing too invasive.

A land of confusion
No wonder advertisers are struggling to keep up with digital advertising. There’s just so much going on.

So, how do we make life simple again? How can we embrace the benefits of mobility and still get home at a decent time? Or, let’s be honest, to our favourite drinking hole before last call?

The answer is simple. We need to say goodbye to closed, single-purpose, walled garden platforms. They will quickly become a thing of the past. Consumers will lose their patience and investors will see them as a liability. Instead, planners will be able to share data and book campaigns across multiple media, using platforms that work synergistically together.

This opens the opportunity for more automation. We are now starting to gather so much data that it’s ridiculous to assume that all planning decisions will require human involvement. Just as Google doesn’t employ people to respond to your search requests, marketing systems will use algorithms to determine advertisers’ media buying decisions.

The good news is, this wave of automation will free up more time for the expensed lunch. Premium content will exist outside the price and data driven ecosystem, and it’s here where creativity will help generate cut through. It could be immersive experiences, live events, bespoke apps or something as old fashioned as a campaign website. Whatever it is, the price and form it takes won’t be dreamt up by a machine. Humans are still needed and they have to eat, so why wouldn’t these negotiations take place at a fancy restaurant where lunch finishes late?

Welcome to Utopia
This vision of an open ecosystem, where shared data helps drive decisions across all platforms, isn’t a utopian fantasy. It simply has to happen. You only need to look at the broader technology space to see how siloed approaches rarely work. Governments that once bought all encompassing software from major vendors are quickly moving to open standard interoperable technologies from specialist providers. Google gave the world Android. More specifically, they gave the world the Android source code, so developers could add to it and integrate with it. Apple, even though it maintains a closed operating system, still allows millions of providers to run apps on it.

The greatest example, though, is that thing called the Internet. It’s a series of networks that work together because of a shared protocol. Imagine how annoyed we’d all be if it was a series of a dozen or so unconnected mini-webs.

If that is the conventional wisdom for technology, why are ad-platforms expected to behave otherwise?

This will be the big shift over the next year or two, when machines start talking to each other. Thankfully they are planning nothing more sinister than advertising campaigns. Leaving humans to do all the fun stuff – like thinking up different ways to get attention on the small screen – we’ll finally be pretty much where we started out and life will seem simple again.

Michael Sturm

Michael Sturm is the Commercial Director of EMEA at AOL Platforms in Asia Pacific.
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