Tag Archives: advertising

Ad-blocking: new ideas in the unwinnable war of our time

The great online war of our times, ad-blocking is an escalating battle which can never be concluded to the satisfaction of both sides, even as both are seeing increased and unexpected damage. So the only logical way forward is to take an entirely new path, one that changes the priorities and qualities of the precious data at the heart of the struggle, to re-center it back around the individual.

Certainly, the numbers involved in this battle speak for themselves – over 250 million consumers are estimated to be blocking ads on webpages they visit, in response both to being constantly tracked by advertisers and ads they don’t want slowing down their viewing experience and costing them money in bandwidth use.

But businesses are suffering too – many, such as news platforms and video games sites, are important and well-loved content sources that rely on advertising to fund their free output. Even the advertisers themselves are being affected as reach plummets – and what has been dubbed the biggest consumer boycott in history shows no signs of slowing.

Gaming, in fact, is being particularly hard hit – the fourth biggest entertainment industry in the world is feeling the brunt of adblocking more than most. It was top of the PageFair and Adobe Cost of Ad-blocking Report last year, which put global accumulated losses at $21.8bn. Among gamers, 26.5 per cent block ads – and young men, the most committed and thus core gamers, do it more than most – a double blow for the indie publishers in particular.

In an article on MCV, Venatus Media co-founder Rob Gay spelled out the stark reality of the state of the gaming industry: “It’s publishers who’re haemorrhaging revenue because gamers who ad-block are killing the thing they love. 

“…It’s a warning flag – players want free content without realising the impact of their actions, not just on publishers and advertisers but the entire games industry.”

So people using, and presumably enjoying, these services are the very ones threatening their whole existence, simply because of their unwillingness to be tracked, combined with a limited view of the bigger picture.

Of course gaming companies are experimenting with options to get around this – but that is often only possible for the bigger companies, or by those who are prepared to serve controversial whitelist ads, a process which Gay bills as “tantamount to extortion and counterintuitive to next-generation tech – taking online advertising back to the 1990s while the rest of the internet moves forward.”

No-one sheds many tears for it, but the media too is suffering from this same paradox – that those who value and inform themselves daily through the free content pushed out by news platforms are once again those threatening the funding mechanism through which whole organisations operate.

The great Emily Bell, formerly of The Guardian, gets to the heart of the matter when she says that “adblocking thrives because of a failure towards consumers” and “the right of consumers not to look at advertising has run straight into the right of companies to advertise, and publishers to make money.”

And of course it’s true, that’s what it does. But the current system is broken – completely and irredeemably broken, and starting afresh is the only hope of finding a solution that fits all.

At the heart of this great battle is data – it is the essence of each of us and we create more of it daily but are unable to control it who accesses it, while advertisers and businesses are just desperate to get hold of it in any way they can.

So let’s take a step back – how can we make this work for everyone? The obvious starting point is that each of us should be in control of our own data. Own it and use it as we wish and with who we wish, entirely on our terms.

In this Internet of Me, as we call it here at digi.me, the consumer is in control – but businesses can still benefit. It’s not a switch from business control to consumer control, but rather to a model in which both benefit.

Businesses need extensive and good quality data to innovate and continually grow – but what they get from the desperate measures of ad tracking is poor quality, thin data – often stale, often wrong. If they can go direct to consumers for their data, they will access 100 per cent accurate, rich data, which is countless times more valuable to them, and comes with user consent.

No-one needs to get data around the sides, the whole process is open and war ceases.

Platforms such as digi.me have already recognised the need to re-invent the permission circle, to put consumers at the heart of their own connected worlds. In fact, we think it’s so important that we’re supporting and sponsoring an independent industry forum aimed at helping companies do just that – do come and join the conversation aimed at finding a new and better world.

ad-blockers, apple, ios9, data, advertising

Why ad-blockers really aren’t the data privacy win you might think

Ad-blockers shot straight to the top of the paid-for apps list in the App Store when Apple’s iOS9 update that allowed users to block mobile advertising was released.

So far, so not unusual – ads are pesky little things, right? Popping-up unexpectedly when you least expect them and generally bloating pages, crucifying page load times and eating up data allowances. Not to mention their tracking qualities as well as the past searches and purchases that stalk you round the web, site after site, day after day. Nope, no redeeming features at all – let’s block them all.

Then something unexpected happened – Marco Arment, creator of the no1 paid ad-blocker Peace, pulled it from the store after just two days, saying that “success didn’t feel good”.

What exactly the problem is remains unclear, altrhough comments on the Instapaper’s founder’s blog where he talked of needing to find a “more nuanced, complex approach” offer some clues.

He added: “Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.”

What Arment seems to be alluding to is what Seth Godin termed the shared understanding that websites offer free content in return for attention. For most sites, advertising is what quite literally pays the content creation bills.

Of course, pages have become increasingly riddled with evermore intrusive ads over the past few years, and it’s hard not to see that the reader has been assailed from all sides. So the appearance of ad-blockers was only going to end one way. Or, as Godin put it: “In the face of a relentless race to the bottom, users are taking control, using a sledgehammer to block them all.”

But still the fact remains that readers and sites have been in a mutually-beneficial relationship where advertising has played a key role in funding content for which there is demand but no serious suggestion that users would pay the full creation cost. And that remains the case even as ad-blocking apps proliferate.

So if ad blocking is not the answer, what is? There is clearly change needed on both sides – advertisers needs to show self-restraint and not machine gun content over every page we open, while users need to understand that on the internet, as with so many things, we can’t simply have the good for free without giving something back.

But there also needs to be a fundamental shift in how we think about data. We don’t like these ads that follow us around, or trackers, because they feel like an assault on our privacy. Yet it is the information gained through this that allows businesses to begin to better target our wants and interests.

I say begin, as the data available to date is so thin and incomplete that it is estimated to be up to 30-50 per cent wrong, to the obvious detriment of both the business and user.

Imagine how much more beneficial for both sides a rich data set would be – useful data 100 per cent certified and licensed at source, used to target appealing ads back to that same user.

A vision for the future to be sure, but a vision that comes ever closer as the Internet of Me follows close on the heels of the Internet of Things, with companies like digi.me at the forefront of this digital revolution.

Toshiba partners digi.me in new distribution deal

Toshiba has joined forces with digi.me to distribute our unique market-leading personal data software across Europe, North and Latin America.

This global distribution deal, which will see the electronics giant partnering and promoting digi.me through their marketing and social media channels, as well as pre-installing it in a number of laptops and tablets in the Latin America marketplace, comes as our app’s downloads and reputation continue to grow exponentially in an increasingly personal information aware and privacy-savvy marketplace.

It is a significant partner-signing that follows a particularly strong start to 2015 so far for digi.me (formerly SocialSafe), which has included graduating from the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator program in Paris and being chosen to showcase at Digital Catapult in London.

Digi.me founder Julian Ranger said: “Being selected by such a well-known brand as Toshiba shows that the digi.me vision of a world where we own and control our own personal information is coming ever closer.”

With further exciting developments coming, as well as a new iOS app being released imminently, this partnership with Toshiba sees digi.me taking yet another step forward on the global stage as we push to revolutionise the world of personal information.

Already familiar to French users where it is distributed as part of the Fnac security pack, this new deal with Toshiba will make digi.me and its role as your digital librarian, organising and securing your information for whatever need you wish, highly visible and desirable to a global marketplace.

If you want to join the online personal information revolution and haven’t already tried digi.me, you can download a free version here http://digi.me/ that allows you to back up, view and search content from four of your social network accounts. It also gives you 30 days’ free trial to the premium version which includes features such as personal collections, PDF export and stats.

Facebook Expands Relationship Status Options For Ad-Targeting

Facebook has recently made a number of changes to the way businesses can utilise advertising on the social network, increasing the specificity of ad campaigns. One such area that has been tinkered with of late is relationship status types, which has now been expanded to include all of these different options:

  • Single
  • In a relationship
  • Married
  • Engaged
  • Not specified
  • In a civil union
  • In a domestic partnership
  • In an open relationship
  • It’s complicated
  • Separated
  • Divorced
  • Widowed

This was first hinted at back in January when the social network announced that it would sunset Facebook sponsored stories in April, and last month the arrival of ‘core audiences’ within ad-targeting heralded a new level of detail for marketers to apply. This particular level of granularity in terms of relationship status types won’t be helpful for everyone, but for some businesses it could make a real difference to their ad targeting.

Facebook also recently added new gender identity options for individuals, allowing users to give more details about themselves over to Facebook. For the vast majority of us this changed nothing whatsoever on our profiles, but for some people it would have been a significant and welcomed update.

Adding further categories and increasing the options for advertisers does suggest that social networks and ad-targeting in general are getting better and more accurate, but at the same time it’s tacit acknowledgement that each and every one of us is an individual in our own right. There is a whole lot more that make us us than just selecting a series of limited, preset options for a kaleidoscope of criteria…

How Carl Sagan And Facebook’s Q4 Profits Can Highlight The Value Of Your Data

This week Facebook has reported Q4 profits in excess of $500m, as well as a 63% increase in revenue, exceeding expectations. The main source of this growth is mobile advertising sales, with overall advertising revenue being up 76% from the same period last year. Not bad for a company that doesn’t charge its users.

No matter how much we might like to think that we use Facebook ‘for free’, the truth is our online content is being bought and sold more than we may wish to think. Let’s be realistic here – when Facebook first floated on the stock market in May 2012, people weren’t buying shares in a tech company or a novel website.  Instead, they were investing in a treasure trove of personal data from almost a billion people, betting on the fact that other companies would pay lots of money to access it, and the value of that data would increase over time.

But that’s just Facebook. There are a multitude of other networks out there that we might create or share content on. Many of these will be selling advertising space or opportunities to third-parties, based upon the information about you that the networks hold. They don’t necessarily share the specific data with the third-parties, but they are able to offer them the chance to get in front of Xty-X thousand people aged between XX and XY, who have at some point implied they have an interest in fields A, B and C…

This makes a lot of companies a lot of money. But it’s staggering to think how inaccurate big data can be. I’ve written before about how what you ‘like’ on social networks can often be very far from the truth. Every social network we are connected on, every account we hold with a utilities provider, every fitness app use – they all have a segment of information pertaining to who we really are. However, segments do not necessarily give an accurate representation of the whole, as anyone familiar with the apple example from Carl Sagan’s explanation of Edwin Abbott’s concept of ‘Flatland’ will appreciate:

But what on earth has this got to do with Facebook’s Q4 revenue report? Well, Facebook’s handsome bottom line demonstrates that your fragmented data can make a lot of money for other people, without it being totally accurate. Think for a moment about how valuable a complete, contextual and accurate image of you would be to advertisers and service providers. Then think about how you might be able to benefit from sharing the necessary information with these businesses – better deals on insurance, personalised recommendations and offers, even monetary remuneration for granting temporary access to your library of data.

Big data might work for the larger companies with a scatter-gun approach to ‘targeted’ advertising, but for the individual it often manifests itself as irritating adverts appearing on the websites they frequent. Lots of perfect little data makes up and individual, and it is our belief that you should be the single biggest owner of your own data. With SocialSafe, our vision is to put individuals back in control of all their data – not just the content from social networks – so that they can temporarily permission others access to this data only if it benefits them directly.

Find Out How Twitter’s TV Ad Targeting System Works

Twitter has just raised the bar in terms of cross-platform marketing, by giving US advertisers the opportunity to target people who will have just seen their television spots. After beta trials in May, Twitter’s TV Ad Targeting is available to all US advertisers as of today.

The re-marketing mechanism is pretty clever, and combines the ad schedules of TV programmes with sentiment tracking on Twitter. Say a company runs ads for their product or service across several shows and networks. Twitter then identifies people who are either naming or mentioning the show in their tweets, or people who are using appropriate hashtags. It’s reasonable to assume that if someone is tweeting about it then they are watching it, and as a result will have probably seen the company’s ad during the break.

Twitter then lets the advertisers target these people by appearing in their streams via Promoted Tweets. This sort of re-marketing opportunity allows the advertisers to offer their potential customers different things, depending on the product. The tweet could simply be plain text reinforcing the message from the advert, a video or image that further explains or entices, or just straight up link to a page where the Twitter user can immediately purchase the product.

The technology behind Twitter TV Ad Targeting is based on BlueFin Labs, a TV analytics service that was acquired by Twitter earlier this year. Michael Fleischman, co-founder of BlueFin, explained that due to video fingerprinting technology Twitter is able to automatically detect when the TV commercials have aired, so the brands don’t have to give Twitter the heads-up each time.

This all seems like a logical step forward in terms of coherent multi-platform marketing, and if Twitter’s Nielsen studies are anything to go by, it seems to be working. By combining Promoted Tweets with TV ads, the combo deliver 95% stronger message association and 58% higher purchase intent than TV ads alone.

Do you tweet while you watch TV? Perhaps you’ve even seen a Promoted Tweet and thought that it seemed familiar? Maybe it was a beta trial of Twitter’s TV Ad Targeting. If you do tweet along with your favourite shows, maybe it’s worth taking a bit more notice of the adverts to see if your Twitter stream correlates.

Biz Stone: ‘Facebook Should Go Freemium’ – Would You Ever Pay?

Biz Stone, one of Twitter’s co-founders, has recently offered his opinion on how Facebook should run its business. Writing on Medium, Stone revealed that he had taken a lengthy break from Facebook, for the most part due to the fact he had become “overwhelmed” by the “thousands of settings, features and choices” continually being added.

On the topic of what he’d recommend Facebook do, the former Twitter man suggested that a paid, premium version for the Facebook die-hards who can afford it, would enrich their user experience by removing the ads and sponsored content.

“In general, the ads on Facebook don’t seem particularly useful or engaging. However, ads on the service are universally tolerated because that’s what makes Facebook free and free is nice.”

You can see his point, although I’m not sure how many people would pay $10 a month (the arbitrary figure Stone attached to paid Facebook usage in his blog  post) just to save some scrolling time.

There comes a point in every consumer/vendor relationship where both parties must agree to a mutually acceptable exchange currency, or the transaction will cease. At the moment, users are happy (although some may not like to admit it – if they’re not, then they wouldn’t still be on Facebook) to pay for their usage of Facebook with their own private information. In turn, Facebook is happy enough to be paid in data by its users, and to then market that fertile selling environment to advertisers who will willingly pay good old-fashioned money for the opportunity to show their products to a mass audience.

Perhaps Biz Stone is looking to the no-so-distant future when users will be happier to pay money for a better experience, with the added kickback of not surrendering their personal data to a third-party. Our data may have been anonymised and only ever viewed by clever algorithms, but accidents happen with databases, and so do orchestrated attacks.

The question then becomes two-fold: are you happy with someone else holding all your personal data to ransom for the advertisers?; and what price would you put on taking control of your content again?

Are you happy to carry on trading your personal data for a free Facebook or if not how much would you pay for the service?

How To Remove Facebook Adware From Your Profile

Facebook users should be aware that there is something called ‘Adware’ that might set up camp on their profiles. One Mashable writer discovered the big ad banner at the top of her profile, just beneath her information and profile picture.

Initially they thought the huge ad (measuring approximately 730 x 90 pixels) on Christine Erickson’s profile was the sign of things to come, fearing that Facebook was testing a new ad display unit. However, another writer for the tech site was more familiar with the situation and recognised the banner for what it was – Adware.

Facebook even have a dedicated page explaining what Adware is and how you can go about removing Adware from your profile if you discover a banner on there. The page also reiterates the social network’s policy on ad positions:

“Facebook ads will never appear as banners in the center, top or left column of Facebook web pages.”

But how would one of these Adware banners wind up on your profile in the first place? In the case of Mashable’s Christine Erickson, she believes it may have happened while uninstalling another extension on her desktop.

If you find that your profile has been the victim of Adware, then it’s best to follow Facebook’s instructions and remove it – chances are that leaving it there will cause Facebook pages to load more slowly and it may also compromise your security.