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IAB Gold Standard: Supporting digital growth with digital responsibility

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UK digital ad spend fell 5% YoY between Jan -June 2020, a reflection of the impact that the global Covid-19 pandemic has had – however, digital consumption has surged in the wake of shifting behaviours, with video ad spend rising 5.7% in H1 2020. This drop-in ad spend is not representative of time spent online, which hit record levels as people turn to digital sources for news, social contact and entertainment. 

Supporting the growth of ad spend continues to be paramount for those in digital media, but there are mounting concerns that, while spend increases, the quality of digital buying practice is being neglected. As such, the7stars has a keen focus in 2021 and beyond on maintaining operational excellence and supporting initiatives like IAB Gold Standard.

IAB’s Gold Standard Certification aims to improve the digital advertising experience for all users, by combating ad fraud and safeguarding brands through safety protocols. With IAB reporting increased digital consumption, it is ever more important to minimise risk to brands and ensure quality is maintained. 

Accordingly, the IAB has published its Gold Standard 2.0 for digital media planning, a series of best-practice initiatives that will keep digital growing in the years to come. Guidance ranges from supplier-side tech implementations to guides for creatives to ensuring brand safety. The steps include:  

Reducing fraud through the ads.txt and app-ads.txt initiatives: Ads.txt is a mechanism on websites that allows the owners of content to declare who is allowed to sell inventory, with app-ads.txt the extension of this mechanism to support app inventory. It means that when we see ads for sale programmatically, we can be sure that the ad we are buying is legitimate, which in turn goes some way to stopping rogue traders profiting from counterfeit inventory.  

Encouraging suppliers to implement Sellers.json and OpenRTB Supply Chain Object: The Sellers.json file will effectively enable SSPs and exchanges to list their authorised reseller partners, along with seller ID. The SupplyChainObject lets buyers view what sellers and resellers have been involved in during a bid request. This will build confidence for buyers and DSPs to use the open exchange having validated each reseller involved in the process.  

LEAN Principles from the Coalition for Better Advertising: LEAN is an acronym used to represent best practice in terms of digital ad specs: Light file sizes and strict controls on data; Encrypted; Ad Choices logo; and Non-intrusive. Together, this adds up to a better user experience: ads load faster, users know why the ad has been served to them and ads are non-invasive.  

Never use the 15 bad ads: There are 15 ad formats (formerly 12 with the addition of 3 new short-form video formats) that shouldn’t be on any media plan – these include pop-ups and auto-play sound-on video.  

Working with TAG (Trustworthy Accountability Group): This is a series of principles to follow that will secure a safer environment for online advertising placements by certifying vendors and content.  

All in all, these steps work towards making digital ads safer for brands to buy and better for the users they are being served to. Essentially, the key messages are around due diligence – being sure of the ads you are buying – and perspective – considering whether, as a user, you would be happy if you were served this ad in this manner. 

Measurement That Mirrors Human Processing

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When looking at creating a successful media campaign, there are four essentials that need to combine together for it to be successful. Success means driving business goals and sustaining brand health. The four essentials are: delivering the right message, at the right time, to the right person, in the right place. Whilst all four elements are important, when the message is on point, the other three elements can fall into place more easily. 

However, achieving a message that resonates is often easier said than done. Our the7stars neutral planning research found that the default consumer response to advertising is one of apathy, with 2 in 3 more inclined to dislike or feel indifferent to a piece of advertising. 

Paired with this, consumers are presented with advertising anywhere that the eye can see. It was estimated by Yankelovich, a marketing research firm in the US, that we see around 5,000 ads every 24 hours – and that was in 2007. Some believe this number could have so much as doubled by now. This makes the task of creating a piece of advertising that cuts through the clutter and drives consumer engagement even harder. 

Consequently, if we want to create advertising that delivers impact then we need a method to determine consumer engagement with it before publication, in order to afford it the greatest chance of success.  

Traditionally, research methodologies have relied upon rational approaches such as focus groups and questionnaires. If we ask consumers their opinion on a piece of advertising, they apply post rationalisation to formulating their answers, and this doesn’t reflect the full picture of how people make decisions. 

Humans aren’t rational, logical creatures. Often decisions we make are born of an instinctive, emotional reaction to experience which is then rationalised and processed. So, whilst rational approaches have their benefits (the opportunity to collect a robust sample, to probe into the ‘why’ and to turnaround data at speed) they don’t present the opportunity to tap into the emotional side of the brain. 

This is where methodologies such as eye-tracking, implicit response and biometrics work, because they observe rather than ask. However, these approaches often rely on smaller sample sizes, are more costly and have longer lead times. 

Therefore, if we are going to measure a piece of advertising, we need to mirror the human brain. This means bringing together methodologies that tap into both the emotional and the rational processing that humans undertake. Doing this will enable us to generate a far stronger piece of messaging with a greater chance of breaking out of the background to capture a consumers’ attention. This is precisely why we have created Lightbox Sense – our new proprietary creative measurement tool, which collects data from both the emotional and rational parts of our brains. 

Touchpoints 2021: How Lockdown Has Shifted Our Consumption

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This month we saw the latest Touchpoints data released, looking at behaviour across Jan-Mar, and giving the industry a fresh look at media consumption post (yet another) lockdown. In September, we saw initial changes to the landscape with OOH seeing particularly steep decreases; its time being replaced with traditional broadcast platforms such as TV and Radio which saw increases of 14% and 10% respectively. The latest edition observes whether initial behavioural changes have stayed the same or altered even further. 

During the first lockdown, consumers spent 2hrs 37m out of the home. This has gradually increased over the latest lockdown to 3hrs 55m with consumers feeling slightly more confident with regulations. This was driven by changes in both work and school as well as social activities such as cycling and visiting parks which all saw higher increases in 2021 versus lockdown one. Conversely, we saw acts of mindfulness decrease over lockdown 3; further corroborating consumers’ feeling more confident and potentially less anxious after adjusting to the new reality over the past year. This increased confidence and time outdoors has, ultimately, influenced OOH consumption too. Time spent consuming OOH has increased versus the first lockdown and returned to a 90% weekly reach against all adults, although the volume of time remains less than an hour, compared with nearly 3 hours per day spent on the mainstay TV. 

With AV leading the charge for media consumption during lockdown, it’s no surprise that we saw time per day increase across all platforms. Commercial linear TV saw an increase of 23 minutes a day whilst BVOD saw the highest percentage growth and now accounts for 10% of all viewing. Online video and SVOD together see nearly 30% of all AV consumption; the latter increasing a total of 16 minutes per day from pre-lockdown to lockdown 2021. It will be interesting to observe how AV consumption continues as we start returning to normal; the expectation being that on-demand viewing will only increase as our time in-home decreases. 

We also saw increases in audio; whilst live radio remains the core platform for consumption, overall time spent with audio was augmented by podcasts, which saw a 50% increase. This was potentially due to consumers switching from music streaming platforms, with Spotify and Apple Music seeing a decrease in the number of minutes’ listening per day. Audio habits also shifted across periods of the day with lower commuting numbers tending to move listening slots for consumers to later in the day. 

Finally, with Touchpoints’ time diary data, the7stars have been able to launch a new visualisation tool – JoyDex – giving us a clear view of how consumers are feeling throughout the day when exposed to different media, activities, people and locations. Combined with indicating where consumers are most likely to turn for trustworthy content, this gives us an effective perspective to tailor our comms and messaging to the right consumer mood, increasing relevance and opportunity to resonate. 

Google Launches The Shopping Graph

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Google last week launched its new Shopping Graph – the real-time dataset that connects shoppers with billions of product listings from merchants all across the internet. They also announced an expanded Shopify integration and several other features designed to facilitate e-commerce for users. 

Built using the same principle as Google’s Knowledge Graph, Shopping Graph brings together information from websites, prices, reviews, videos and retailer product data, and calculates how those attributes relate to one another. 

The Shopping Graph is a dynamic, AI-enhanced model that understands a constantly changing set of products, sellers, brands, reviews and most importantly, the product information and inventory data we receive from brands and retailers directly. 

With people shopping across Google more than a billion times a day, the Shopping Graph makes those sessions more helpful by connecting people with over 24 billion listings from millions of merchants across the web. It works in real-time so people can discover and shop for products that are available right now. 

Another notable Google Shopping announcement is the ability for Google Lens to detect searchable items in screenshots saved to Google Photos. When you view any screenshot in Google Photos, there will be a suggestion to search the photo with Lens, allowing you to see search results that can help you find that pair of shoes or wallpaper pattern that caught your eye. 

Google is also working to tackle cart abandonment with a new Chrome tool that bundles together open carts across a number of merchants in a separate tab in an effort to encourage people to make a purchase. 

It would seem Googles’ primary focus is on creating the best possible shopping experience for the consumer, whilst ensuring that more people stay within their platform as opposed to finishing their purchasing elsewhere. It’s also in further response to breaking some of Amazon’s dominance. 

The emphasis on pulling in retailer product data puts real priority on having a up to date, real time and detailed product feed, to ensure that when consumers are searching a brands products, their products are more likely to be featured. 

It also puts added importance on making sure product descriptions and titles are accurate and relevant, managing your reviews and creating engaging product content on You Tube. 

HFSS Total Online Ban

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In a 10-minute address to the House of the Lords earlier this month (11th May) The Queen highlighted several laws ministers intend to pass in the coming year, one of which was the Health and Care Bill, aimed at tackling the obesity epidemic. 

One of the key elements of this legislation is the tightening of restrictions on promotion of foods high in fat, salt or sugar expected to take effect from April 2022. So-called junk food advertising will be forbidden prior to the 9pm watershed on TV and banned entirely online. 

Consultations began back in 2019 on this issue but with obesity thought to be a contributory factor to the pandemic death toll it appears there has been a real push for immediate action and a blanket HFSS ad ban. 

Naturally anti-obesity campaigners welcomed the news, but it was met with dismay by many in the advertising industry. Losses in revenue could amount to an estimated £4.6bn for online platforms and a further £66m for advertising agencies. A joint statement from ISBA, IAB UK, IPA and the Advertising Association read, “The advertising sector is a proven engine of the UK economy, and we would urge ministers not to damage the jobs and tax revenue it creates. Beyond these direct benefits, the UK’s world-leading advertising sector also underpins the success of the food and drink industry – itself the UK’s largest manufacturing sector.” 

Fundamentally, will an advertising ban solve the longer-term problem? The Government sees the move as a way of future-proofing their policy against changes in media habits, particularly amongst children. However, we’ve seen regulations imposed within the tobacco industry and more recently in the gambling sector, but the measures are continually having to evolve as issues prevail. Could a HFSS advertising ban mean brands invest more in their point-of-sale activity, for example? Kate Halliwell, chief scientific officer for The Food and Drink Federation claimed, “This Government is interested in headline-chasing policy rather than making serious interventions that will help reduce obesity rates.” 

Right now, there is a lack of clarity in the scope of the online ban and the IAB have been seeking to explore the full ramifications with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. We understand the ASA are pushing the government into looking at alternatives to an advertising ban as they view this as a regulatory issue. Whatever their outcomes we expect a further update on the HFSS restrictions in the coming weeks as the Health & Care Bill will be introduced to Parliament next month.

iOS14.5 & The Challenges It Brings

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Until now, advertisers have been able to rely on Apple’s IDFA (identifier for advertiser) for tracking, targeting and attribution across Facebook. The IDFA is also how advertisers are able to segment iOS users into 1st party audience lists for targeting (e.g. website visitors) and optimise campaigns towards a specific conversion or event goal. 

With the launch of iOS 14.5, users must now give their permission for their data to be tracked. Businesses that advertise mobile apps as well as those that optimise, target and report on web conversion events will be affected. In response, Facebook has created solutions to help combat the impact with the release of Apple’s SKAdNetwork and Facebook’s Aggregated Event Measurement (AEM). 

When Apple enforced its prompt with the release of iOS 14.5 on the 26th April, advertisers initially saw 4% of users in the US and 15% of users globally opt-in. While the roll-out is gradual, as adoption increases, a variety of impacts across the Facebook platform are highly likely, including:

  • Performance fluctuations: advertisers can expect to see the Facebook pixel record fewer conversions causing performance fluctuations and increased CPAs.
  • Less granularity: as well as breakdowns (age, gender, placement) no longer supported in Ads Manager, the limit on custom conversions means advertisers will be unable to report/optimise using every step of the product journey.
  • Audience sizes may decrease: users who opt-out of tracking will automatically be excluded from certain targetable audiences.
  • Less flexibility in attribution windows: longer windows of 28-day click, and 7-day view are no longer supported which will limit analysis when trying to understand the impact of ads, especially for products with a longer decision period e.g. holidays, mortgages etc.
  • All advertisers are now subject to the 8 event per domain limit for optimisation.

While advertisers won’t know the true impact of the update until the roll-out is complete, there is no doubt that personalised advertising and attribution will face some challenges across Facebook in the future. 

The Ridiculous Rise Of NFTs

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In March, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey commemorated the site’s fifteenth anniversary by auctioning off the first ever tweet for $2.9m. Yet, the humble tweet – presumably created in ten seconds back in 2006 – is not even the high watermark for a sale of its kind: a .JPG file recently sold for a jaw-dropping $69.3m, the third highest price ever paid for the work of a living artist. 

These sales were two of the landmark moments which have defined one of 2021’s biggest crazes: the non-fungible token (NFT). A host of brands, from Taco Bell to toilet paper, have hopped on the NFT bandwagon. While most have taken the form of novelty collectibles, such as Pringles’ golden crypto crisps, NFTs may soon serve more practical purposes. Since 2019, Vodafone has hidden NFTs around London, with treasure hunters competing to win tech goodies. Nike, too, was an early pioneer, having acquired a patent for physical, blockchain-compatible trainers. And with designer goods becoming hotbeds for trading among collectors, fashion designers are starting to take note of the potential of NFTs. 

However, brands should proceed with caution. A hot topic of debate in financial circles has been whether the ballooning NFT market could burst as abruptly as the dotcom bubble of the early 2000s. Perhaps more concerningly, the environmental impact of the technology is enormous, with a single NFT created by the musician Grimes producing an estimated 70 tonnes of CO2 emissions. In order to power its always-on network, the blockchain currently requires an energy consumption on par with that of Argentina, and this is only likely to surge as its usage explodes. 

Any brand which opts to dabble in the NFT business must first think seriously about its environmental credentials, as charges of hypocrisy could cause severe damage to brand health – as Sega learned when its entry into the market was met with a backlash from concerned fans. 

Such calculations make the decision to enter the NFT market a challenging one. But with the craze showing no signs of slowing down, having grown by 800% since the turn of the year, one thing is certain: brands who turn a blind eye to the blockchain boom do so at their peril. 

Will The Experience Economy Rebound In 2021?

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The7stars’ latest white paper, The Experience Economy Rebound, details the road to recovery for the travel, hospitality and leisure sectors; industries which were placed on life support in 2020 as restaurants closed their doors and events were cancelled, rescheduled, and cancelled again. The past year has told a tale of two halves when it comes to financial stability. While millions were placed on furlough and faced uncertain job prospects, others built up savings. According to ONS data, between April and June 2020, households saved an average of 29.1% of their income – smashing the record set three decades ago.

However, personal finances are not the only factor likely to impact the rebound of the experience economy. Even as the vaccine rollout progresses, many remain reluctant to indulge in experiences until they are assured of their safety. Following the government’s announcement of the roadmap for de-escalating lockdown, Lightbox Pulse research found the emergence of three distinct groups, each of which will be crucial to an economic rebound in 2021. 

The most lucrative of these groups is the Experience Enthusiasts, comprising 28% of the population. This group is desperate for a big summer and is willing to splash savings to achieve that. Experience Enthusiasts worry less about coronavirus and are comfortable with visiting virtually every location as soon as they reopen, including airports; making it a matter of when, not if, they book their next holiday. With this group so willing to engage in experiences, the time for brands to convert their enthusiasm into sales is now.

Around half (49%) of Brits are Pragmatic Participators. While they are cautiously optimistic of a return to normality, members remain to be convinced. Their summer will initially revolve around domestic trips – though they could be swayed if vaccine passports become the norm. Negotiating with this group will undoubtedly prove challenging for brands; however, they are there for the taking. By boosting confidence through cancellation guarantees and flexible rebooking, this group’s long-term potential can be unlocked.

The Social Sceptics will be the toughest for brands to convert.  Social Sceptics are unconvinced of the safety of travel and are nervous about booking until they are assured their plans will go ahead. This group is keeping it local in 2021 through smaller, family-oriented experiences. This does not mean, however, that brands should simply ignore them: rather, through targeted messaging in trusted sources, they will be persuaded to eventually return to the experience economy. And with many in this group potentially saving up disposable income two years running, the onus is on brands to be at the forefront of their future plans.

Come the end of 2021, the ‘winners’ of the experience economy will be those brands that not only recognise the varying financial challenges facing the nation, but also react to the nuances in how each of these groups is willing to participate in travel and experiences. 

Ready, Steady, Spend!

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The doors of non-essential retail opened again on the 12th April and, with them, crowds of UK consumers queuing up to get back into their favourite stores; an insight into consumer sentiment towards spending money again. With optimism and confidence returning due to the vaccine roll out, consumers are ready to start spending more, the switch in sentiment being immediate, like ‘a light being flicked (on)’.

After being bottled in for over a year, the new taste of freedom that comes with restrictions being lifted could see a spending surge in Q2; a euphoric post-lockdown impact on purchase intentions. Unlike previous recessions, many Brits strengthened their finances and managed to save during lockdown; amassing over £245bn, demonstrating a noteworthy potential for spending power and a likely significant bounce back in the UK post lockdown. A survey from Future illustrated that 45% of respondents had already started to plan their ‘splurge’ purchases, anticipating more than half will be spent as we enter fewer restrictions over April – June.

Britain’s ‘coiled spring’ economy was supported by Radiocentre’s research ‘bounce back and beyond’ where listeners were asked about their spend intentions once restrictions started to lift. Respondents illustrated their strong intent to increase spending across a variety of categories, most significantly against the entertainment and beauty industries. The inverse is also true with decreased spend anticipated against takeaways and online shopping, opting for real life moments and experiences instead. This trend is emerging within fast fashion with searches for online brands starting to soften since non-essential retail returned (Google Trends, 2021).

It’s interesting to note that consumers’ spending habits will likely shift compared with their pre-pandemic behaviours. A study from Bauer showed that consumers want their newfound ‘financial fire power to be a part of positive change’, particularly across sustainability and supporting local. We witnessed a huge increase in local shopping during the pandemic, and despite the return of the city highstreets, experts anticipate the focus on local to continue. 

The next couple of months will be imperative for Britain’s returning economy, whilst some are cautious in the immediacy of the bounce back, if the overflowing stores and queues are anything to go by, we can expect a frivolous Q2 and beyond.  

Fans & Broadcasters vs The European Super League

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In the most rollercoaster period in recent football history, this month saw 12 “founder clubs” launch a European Super League only for it to collapse a mere 56 hours later. It showcased the power that fans still have over the sport they love, but also brings the question of ‘what would have happened’ to broadcasters and advertisers alike, who rely on the Champions League and Premier League for the vast majority of their reach.

Led by the owners of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus, and Liverpool, the 12 founder clubs attempted to break away from the existing UEFA Champions League into a new ‘European Super League’, guaranteeing them a spot year-after-year, and an opportunity to own the commercialisation of the tournament. Fan backlash, 79% of whom opposed, alongside condemnation from Sky SportsBT SportAmazon, and even Boris Johnson, ultimately led to its downfall – but this process showed us the potential fragility of the existing product of football that so many advertisers rely upon. 

Criticism from the lead broadcasters, Sky and BT, was partly born from a concern over their investment in the existing football pyramid. BT Sport secured the TV rights to the Champions League until 2024 in a £1.2bn tender. However, if 12 of the biggest and most marketable clubs in that tournament were to leave then that could have a major impact on where advertisers decide to place their TV budgets. Similarly, with Sky Sports, if the six English teams were expelled from the Premier League, where would that leave the value of the product they’d invested so much in? Industries such as Gambling who invest significant budgets to be front and centre in the big matches on these channels could have shifted large amounts of money easily into the commercialisation of the European Super League if it did indeed reach the global scale of viewership that the founding owners expected.

Advertisers are most likely breathing a sigh of relief this week too. The decision on whether to jump on board with the potential scale of the European Super League is one that some would simply have to do, but that would have come at even more of a premium. Plus, the toxicity of fans, particularly in the UK, would open up a real discussion over the value of global association with the tournament vs the risk of alienating existing customers within this country.

The uprising against the European Super League united fans, clubs, brands, and broadcasters in a way that hasn’t happened before. It remains to be seen whether the ESL comes back under a new guise in a few years’ time and whether the pull of a global platform of elite football clubs proves too tempting for brands and broadcasters alike. However, and most importantly, this month fans proved that whilst their support elevated football to the commercial powerhouse that it is, if you try and take the fundamental nature of competition out the game that they love, then they will stop you.