Q&AAF: Jeff Sutton, Vice President of Audience Targeting, Programmatic and Data Strategies at Advance Digital

jeff's square headshotAAF-Cleveland asked our featured May speaker, Jeff Sutton, to shine a light on some of today’s most talked-about (and fear-inducing) digital issues, including ad blockers and viewability.

Q: We see article after article about ad blockers with varying opinions about the effect that they have on the publisher/advertiser ecosystem. Just how afraid should we all be?

A: Just like newspapers have been in the past, most content published today is ad-supported.  The challenge is that while publishers know that, most consumers don’t.  And a lot of the ones who do, especially millennial males, don’t care — they think it should be free.

And if we look at our industry with a critical eye, we’ve helped to bring this on ourselves.  Many of us loaded up our pages with a plethora of ad units, some quite invasive, that obscure content and cause unacceptably long page-load times.  It’s not coincidental that ad blockers are much more common in Europe and Africa where mobile adoption is high and bandwidth is more expensive — it’s a practical response to a real problem.

It’s an issue that we, as publishers and advertisers, need to respond to in a smart and compassionate manner.  Smart content that readers want to consume is always the foundation, but as always it’s on us to create a user experience that we’d want for ourselves.  Smarter, less invasive, higher value advertising will get us part of the way there, but that’s not all — we can fight back.

Some of us are deploying tools that counter ad blocking in ways both gentle and otherwise.  There is a trend among publishers to identify visitors with ad blockers enabled and respond with a message that politely makes the case for ad-supported websites and asks readers to disable them.  Others block readers with ad blockers from visiting the site until readers provide equally valuable information like an email address, and yet others are blocking access completely in lieu of payment for content.   No one model works for all publishers — it really depends on the value of the content to the individual reader – but we’re learning.

The last, and most controversial, response to ad blocking is sometimes called “ad recovery” — in this case readers with ad blockers installed are served ads from a proxy address that doesn’t appear to be advertising from the publisher.  It’s controversial and not widely adopted, but as ad blockers becomes more aggressive the methods of countering them do as well.

At the end of the day, we believe that it’s about adapting to consumer demand through a combination of smart content and smart strategy — if the value is there we believe readers will allow us to monetize their interaction with our content and advertisers will benefit as a result.

Q: Is there any going back? Will ad blockers eventually go out of style or is it up to advertisers and publishers to find a new way to leverage digital?

A: We’re seeing a big move towards light, fast mobile pages with very carefully structured advertising that are optimized for page load and device efficiency, and importantly, deliver a predictable advertising experience. Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and Facebook Instant Articles point the way to a future where ad blockers are less useful, and therefore less valuable — and that puts the business model of ad blocker companies at risk.  As a publisher we’re active participants in both platforms, and what we’re learning is informing our approach to optimizing our own mobile pages to provide a more pleasing user experience.  It’s a win-win; it’s less expensive for us to serve lighter pages, and user testing clearly shows that readers prefer a less cluttered viewing experience.

Q: How are you seeing digital strategies shift in order to ensure viewability?

A: For a while it seemed like questions about viewabilty were more about monetization strategies — the notion that publishers could deliver predictably, reliable in-view campaigns wasn’t supported by ad server technology, so all we could do was to agree on viewability metrics and compare actual delivery to agreed-upon baselines (70% in-view, for example) and adjust billing based on results.   

The good news is that ad server technology is rapidly improving around viewability and it’s becoming possible to optimize delivery towards “in-view” impressions — it’s not perfected yet, but is getting there.  Additionally, we’re beginning to see ad units that only load when they’re in-view — for example, some new outstream video units only serve when 50% of the video will be in-view on the reader’s screen. It’s an inherently in-view ad unit.

Meeting defined viewability metrics has been a real challenge for publishers largely due to ad server limitations, but we see that quickly changing — 2016 will be a good year for viewablity for both publishers and advertisers.

Jeff Sutton, Vice President of Audience Targeting, Programmatic and Data Strategies at Advance Digital.  Jeff  is a veteran digital marketer who has utilized a variety of data, platforms and strategies to reach, engage and persuade audiences at all levels of the buying funnel, particularly around politics and travel and tourism.  With a rich background in traditional marketing and hands-on experience with cutting edge data and delivery strategies, Mr. Sutton is known for delivering detailed presentations that are both easy to follow and full of actionable information. AAF-Cleveland is thrilled to have Jeff as our May Professional Development Luncheon speaker.

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