You Only Get One Chance To Make Seven Trillion Impressions

This year, publishers worldwide will serve more than seven trillion display ads

Those ads will be sold by hundreds of thousands of publishers, more than 400 ad networks, and a growing number of DSPs.  To make matters worse, the amount of online advertising inventory is  growing at rates of more than 50% year over year as mobile devices and 4G help skyrocket the number of Web-connected devices.

 2012 alone could add three trillion impressions to the pile of inventory that has to be sold.

It shows no sign of slowing down. In 2010, we passed five billion Web-connected devices. By 2017, that number is expected to be 17 billion.

If you are a publisher or salesperson in media today, you are faced with the most strategic question of all: How on earth can you possibly differentiate yourself in a world of nearly unlimited inventory?

If inventory is created equal, then creating professionally produced content against the backwash of auto-generated content farms is a losing proposition

So what’s a lonely publisher to do? I believe the answer lies with publishers overhauling their strategies in three key areas:

1.     Targeting

2.     Application-Rich Ads

3.     Site Design

Targeting: The Silver Bullet that Always Misses
The real renaissance around targeting has yet to begin, despite the fact that most publishers would prefer to talk about colonoscopies than their targeting technology.

Targeting has always been a dirty word because of three issues: privacy, data overload, and regulatory concerns. These challenges have served to obfuscate the real problem: Most advertisers don’t know how to take full advantage of targeting.

If publishers ever get serious about solving the privacy issue, they could shift their focus to how to responsibly use targeting to transform user experience (Welcome back, Mr. Rothenberg. I’m still waiting to debate the issue with you).

The real magic in targeting will come when the Ph.D.s and designers come together to solve two problems:

1.     How do you sift through the Petabytes of data, and focus on the few data points that really move the needle? (Hint: we need less data, not more.)

2.     How do we create ads that dynamically leverage the targeting? (Tumri and Teracent — now part of Google — made a good leap forward here, but there is much more still to be done.)

Application-Rich Ads: Creating Immersive Experiences
Publishers also need to start building not just unique content, but unique experiences.

These experiences would offer advertisers a set of capabilities that are deeply integrated with their websites, and differentiate their inventory. (Full disclosure: I am an investor in and board member of Adventive, which is pursuing this idea.)

Here are a few examples of how I think app-rich ads and publisher sites could combine to create great experiences:

·       Nike and Men’s Fitness could partner to offer ads that let you select a workout while at the gym, and then expands into a 20 or 30 minute interactive workout video. It could give you a beat, some encouragement, and most importantly, help overcome how incredibly boring the gym really is.

·       Elle magazine and Prada could partner to take you on a virtual tour of the sfashion show, and even let you upload your photo to show how the haute couture  would look on you (spoiler alert: really, really, really tight)

The combination of broadband, HTML5/Flash, two-way interactivity, and new mobile devices could enable a set of ads that put even the best TV ads to shame.

Re-thinking Site Design:
Sadly, the new iPad-centric newspaper The Daily represents the first major innovation in content presentation in nearly a decade.

Publishers have taken for granted how their consumers want to consume their content.

The rise of tablets and mobile computing means not only rethinking the format, but rethinking the content creation itself.

An Unholy Partnership With Holy Results
Publishers and their online advertising technology partners are forever inextricably linked. Their futures both rest on a single goal: figuring out how to use technology, to fight technology.

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