First Impressions Count, But Ad Impressions May Not

Written by Andrew Edwards. Posted in Paid Search

Artist impression of a GPS satellite model viewed from the gallery sweeping elevated walkway. C. 2013 Science Museum Universal Design StudioRecently, a customer suffered a costly setback in a CPM campaign — and I suspect they’re not the only ones with the problem. In fact, I think there’s ample evidence to suggest the CPM and PPC world is rife with opacity and strange artifacts.

Here’s what happened: the advertiser runs a professional services firm and wanted their ads to appear at certain sites where they believed customers might be found. That sounds simple enough. They contacted a relatively small ad network that claimed to specialize. The CPM program (which charges per impression, not per click-through) ran for several months and cost nearly twenty thousand dollars. It was canceled due to non-performance.

Why did this happen?

Analytics Review

A review of the firm’s Google Analytics revealed the traffic sources from the campaign and the amount of impressions from each venue. It turned out that over twenty per cent of the impressions delivered came from a site owned by the ad network itself. This seemed an anomaly. Upon further investigation, the site proved to be a page full of videos for a variety of brands. It had no other content besides the videos and there seemed little reason for anyone to actually visit the site. So where did all the impressions come from?

It’s really anyone’s guess. But one might conclude this URL was used simply to generate impressions with no actual visitors or at least, no visitors relevant to the campaign. When the facts were presented to the network, they credited the customer for all the impressions from that site.

Score a win for analytics!

But what if you’re running multiple campaigns and don’t have time to run down each and every bad batch of impressions? How would you know where your impressions were coming from, whether they were actually visible, and whether the site was of any real quality relative to your goals?

comScore, the well known media measurement firm, may have some answers. While they recently came out with a product called Validated Media Essentials (vME) designed to help media sellers increase advertising inventory and revenue, they also have a product called Validated Campaign Essentials (vCE) that is designed to help buyers fight opacity in networked advertising.

Here are some of the things it can do:

  • Enables in-flight campaign management and optimization.
  • Evaluates audience delivery, viewability, brand safety, geographic delivery, engagement and non-human traffic.
  • Reports data by publisher, placement and creative.

The net result of these kinds of insights is that the buyer can increase campaign effectiveness and, just as importantly, they play an important role in decreasing wasted impressions (and dollars).

In the newest version of vCE, you can gain access to important data based on an accounting of impressions delivered across a variety of dimensions, such as ads delivered in-view, in the right geography, in a brand safe environment and absent of non-human traffic. It also evaluates the degree to which validated impressions reached the campaign target audience.

Why does this matter?


Geographic data is key because ad networks use a wide variety of sites to deliver impressions. But if you have an interest in generating traffic within a specific region, your ad network won’t necessarily target geography, or at least not with sufficient accuracy. Tools like vCE 2.0 will help you understand where the traffic is coming from. This is accomplished by comScore because they rely in part on a panel of known users. By extrapolating data from these users (there are over a million in the US), they can give you a good idea of what the geographic profile looks like for your impressions.


Viewability is also a key metric, yet your typical analytics tool will not provide any insight into this. The term refers to whether or not your ad, even if served, actually showed up in the screen seen by the user. Think of it this way: many pages are longer than a single screen, and often you have to scroll to see the entire page. What if your ad was served, but was too far down the page? And what if the user left the page without ever seeing it? vCE lets you know whether or not the ad was actually capable of being seen, or if it was instead hidden “below the fold” (to use an old newspaper phrase) and never actually viewed by a person. You should not have to pay for ads never capable of being seen.

Brand Safety

Brand safety is often overlooked, but it’s the equivalent of insisting that your billboard for milk does not appear on top of a slaughterhouse. How can you know that the sites where your ad is seen don’t in fact make your ad reflect poorly on your company? What is the quality of that site? Does it have lots of negative comments in its forums? Is it badly formatted, possessed only of thin, irrelevant content? Does it seem to present an unsavory image for your brand? Make sure your ads are appearing only in places that make you seem both relevant and elegant.

Non-human Traffic

Non-human traffic is also a major problem, as pointed out in my example above. There’s no single reason why a particular ad network might generate impressions to non-human traffic, and we’re not here to determine whether this is ever done on purpose to inflate impressions. But it’s not an insignificant number of impressions in many cases. And without a way to track it down, you’ll pay for ads that somehow got served, but in a manner not associated with human activity. Unfortunately, bots today do not buy things. Perhaps one day they shall (as we enter the Age of Drones) but right now they are not very good prospects. There is no reason to pay for these impressions.

Piercing the Veil

Many buyers believe, mistakenly, that CPM campaigns are a set-it-and-forget it proposition, and that they are getting a clean deal from their ad network. But there are too many variables involved, and ad networks sometimes prefer opacity to accountability.

You may not need a specialized tool like vCE — as indicated above, you can certainly learn much just from reviewing your standard analytics with care. But vCE and tools like it go beyond what analytics alone can provide. Especially if you’re managing high-volume campaigns, it would be a mistake to rely simply on reporting from the ad network. Self-reporting is too one-sided. You need a way to arbitrate your buy. Using third party tools to measure ad buys is just as important as using third party analytics to understand traffic patterns.

Don’t rely on first impressions when it comes to ad impressions. Dig deeper and you’ll uncover more value.



The Stateless Internet Convergence of Things

Written by Rand Schulman. Posted in Convergence Analytics

As wearable technology goes mainstream, and as your car and home report on your behavior, the lines between analog and digital worlds blur, and we now have analytics for the real world, merging stateless Meta data and content marketing into the Internet Convergence of Things.

Chicago’s venerable Merchandise Mart, once the largest building in the world, is now at the leading edge of what I call the “Internet Convergence of Things;” it will serve as a good metaphor for this column where we see the joining of old and new.

Convergence is not located where you might imagine — in the tech hubs of Silicon Valley, Boston, or New York City — rather, in the big-shouldered magic kingdom where brands, advertising, and technology converge, and in the simplest form where content meets data.

At Efectyv Digital, we’ve done a fair amount of research about the convergence of new technologies in Convergence Analytics and I was asked to lead a discussion and present our findings to a combined group of agency executives and one of their big brand clients — whom they’ve represented since the earliest days of the Mart — to hear our vision for the future of the digital convergence, where a users’ “state” is meant to transcend and represent environments consisting of device, time, and place as the user moves about.

We can think of this state as context for our content marketing. This state may or may not be real-time, omni channel, mobile, and social or web, but rather is a convergence of all of these, and is organized around a clear objective or purpose. Of course it has to be measureable and thus optimizeable. I’ve written about this in “Marketing’s New Rules.”

I was taken to the corner conference room after a brief tour of the block-long agency designed by some famous Chicago architect, exposing color-coded tubes, blue-tinted glass, and steel beams dividing space with the view just outside the window of the iconoclastic gothic Tribune building, Chicago skyline, and lake. It was a physical convergence of old and new.

There were about 20 people gathered in the room, some from the consumer packaged goods [CPG] brand headquarters 100 miles away, and others from the agency. And like the building design, their roles converged — art and creative directors who measured and data base analysts who could write. Stan, one of the top creative directors, uses Omniture to test and optimize his team’s digital creative and share with the brand on a regular basis, while Karen, once a response marketer on the client side, now writes killer copy for the brand and still flies the BI application.

They gathered there to see my presentation and have a discussion about the utilization of transformative and converging technologies to help their CPG brands create more engagement, and how this engagement can help drive both in-store purchase and greater lifetime value [LTV], and which technologies and applications to use and to consider.

Why now? Over the last year, this brand had cracked the code on their customer loyalty base by matching opt-in customer ID, and profile information, with purchase data and was able to calculate the LTV of a cohort, (age, weight, gender) by segment.

They segmented their customer profile and digital behavior — mobile and web with social sharing, and their in-store behavior (duration, time, and location) with purchase history. Their goal was to both grow the customer base and purchase frequency, to understand the most valuable segments, and to understand online and offline behaviors measured by purchase history.

After this explanation, the conversation got interesting. They had known it was right time to optimize since a benchmark was established. To achieve that, the agency and brand wanted to create a way for the customer to engage more with the product during the in-store experience, and were experimenting with Augmented Reality [AR].


As marketers, they wanted to understand their most valuable customers and how they shopped. AR enables a kind of real-world tracking of humans, what they see and where they walk hyper-locally (within a foot). It can show us how they engage and help us to understand intent. While in its infancy, a good AR app can recognize objects, capture color, motion, angle, and sound and overlay or augment the reality of many things. The change in any of these dimensions can signal more or less engagement, or in other words, intent. I’ve written about this subject in “Augmented Reality Meets Artificial Intelligence.” The AR app functions like a page tag for the real world.

This is their convergence concept.

Remember, this is all opt-in, so we don’t have to deal with privacy issues and the mobile device (phone, Glass, or other wearable) is used for both GPS tracking and radio frequency [RF] in-store tracking, while the camera captures AR images. Why does the user opt in to something so personal? For this product, the brand promise is health and weight loss and the brand app allowed the user to track calories and activities (phone signals based on movement), log weight loss, and to share the success with their social network. In this case the phone acts like a Fitbit or other wearable device recording data.

The retailer’s application mashes up the user purchase history with other interesting bits of data, including real-world and in-store behavioral data, AR engagement data, and offers discounts and premiums for loyalty at checkout. The brand uses this information, with their opt-in profile data about the user, to trigger content marketing actions based on user preferences and attitudes to keep the user with the brand over time.

Additionally, they are exploring merging econometric data, like local weather conditions, mapped to user locations and actions, creating the fullest picture of the user for brand targeting, which can all be personalized in real-time campaigns for the stateless environment. As we collect more data in the future, we will be able to extrapolate large volumes of information from mobile and AR use and combine it with profile and purchase history. This is transformative.

The result: this brand is experiencing much longer app engagement with higher purchase conversions in the 40 test stores. It is being repeated all over the country, with equally stunning conversion results by other brands and agencies.

As wearable technology goes mainstream, and as your car and home report on your behavior, the lines between analog and digital worlds blur, and we now have analytics for the real world, merging stateless Meta data and content marketing into the Internet Convergence of Things. The only thing holding us back is the skill set of our converged workforce.

Seems like the old Merchandise Mart is still merchandising, but now its occupants are using a brawny form of 21st-century technology to get the heavy lifting done.


Digital Analytics in an Age of Spying

Written by Andrew Edwards. Posted in Privacy

snooping Q: How many NSA spies does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A: At least a hundred thousand; one to twist the bulb and the rest to monitor everything that person and everyone they know have done online since 2004.

Gone are the days when the worst a privacy zealot could shout (petulantly) about was the fact that ad targeting was like “Microsoft putting a billboard on your front lawn,” to paraphrase the soon-to-retire Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal. It was easy to put the kibosh on this kind of argument.

Privacy, yes. Invisibility, no.

The refutation went something like this:

When you’re cruising the good old Information Superhighway (the one “Al Gore invented”), you’re traveling outside the confines of your own front yard. You’re going to places owned by other people or other businesses. You’re pulling stuff off their servers. No one forced you to go there. You went there on your own. And just as if you were visiting a shop and the shopkeeper got to know whether you liked Bufferin or Excedrin, in the more sophisticated digital environment, the behavior you exhibited began to create a “persona” that reflected your apparent tastes and affinities. So it should come as no surprise at all when marketers, who think they have something you might be interested in, start putting ads before you (in your browser) that might entice you to buy. The horror!

Dark Lords

Of course, the most advanced digital marketers have known all along that Bed Bath & Beyond wasn’t the only outfit interested in what you did in the privacy of your own home (no knock on BB&B). But for nearly everyone else, the Age of Innocence was shattered when a certain Snowden individual (perhaps it’s fitting he shares a name with a character in Catch-22) revealed that the NSA was tapping into the internet to penetrate the privacy of pretty much everyone, pretty much all the time.

The fact he was a low-level contractor (one of thousands) working at a private company — and that he had enough security clearance to be able to type in random stuff on his computer and come up with random data about pretty much anyone — made it only more chilling for those who understand the mechanisms of police states. It’s bad enough that someone very qualified and very scrupulous might be scanning your emails and phone calls. It’s far worse to know that any of a horde of back-benchers might decide to mine your data and do who-knows-what with it.

This news can have few fans outside of the security state. They will claim it’s all done to thwart terrorism. Ben Franklin would have disagreed: “Those who give up liberty in pursuit of security deserve neither.” Publishers can’t stand it, because it impinges on their freedom of speech. Internet Service Providers hate it because it makes them into compliant conduits of private data they had previously promised never to reveal to anyone.

The Business of America Used to be Business, But Now It’s Security

Now, apparently, Cisco hates it too. They just had a no good, terrible, very bad quarter because of a serious drop-off in orders from abroad, according to an article in qz.com. Cisco had projected to grow its overseas orders by 6 percent. Instead, in Brazil for instance, they dropped 25 percent. Cisco has made statements that seem to attribute this either to fear amongst foreign corporations that American companies are too much of a security risk for them to buy products and services from (because, ostensibly, they’re not sure if the American pipes won’t lead right to Langley), or simply in retaliation, based on the sheer anger at having been swindled about America’s commitment to freedom.

Either way, it’s a bad scenario, thanks very much. American companies are getting hurt. Does this mean the terrorists are winning? Isn’t this exactly what they’d have wanted?

Hating on Digital

Digital marketers need to be concerned, as well.

In a recent Piedmont marketing class, the professor showed young marketers how they could use Google, YouTube and Facebook to help market businesses. He might have been surprised when his students told him they really didn’t like the idea, and that social media generally seemed at best a bother and at worst kind of creepy.

Clueless newbies in a backwater? Or is there a backlash in the works?

It could be either of the above.

What’s more important is that if there is a backlash, it’s not just because people may be tiring of tweeting. It’s that the underlying perception of digital analytics has, amongst the polity, taken a nosedive. Even as marketers begin to find Big Data and Hyper Data and microtargeting and campaign attribution and sophisticated modeling and even real actionability now within their grasp, they are coming up against the fear of tracking in general.

Nevermind that there’s no connection between Zappos remembering what height of heel you bought last time and the NSA recording the conversation you had the other night with you-know-who. The perception grows that it’s all just one big bucket of nasty fish and they’d rather someone chucked it back into the drink.

It’s not fair, but in a digital world where perception is reality more than ever, how much does fairness really matter?

Marketers should take a look at what happened to Cisco. They should be worried that the revelations about spying—spying for which both Republicans and Democrats are responsible—are creating an atmosphere of mistrust not only for digital analytics, but for American companies in general.

Perhaps the NSA can set up a superfund to clean up this toxic mess before it swallows the whole neighborhood.

Convergence Analytics 3.0

Convergence Analytics 3.0

Written by industry insiders Andrew Edwards and Rand Schulman, Convergence Analytics 3.0 is a Free Guide written for Digital Marketers interested in understanding the most important trends, technologies and practices in analytics today.


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