Brand Advertisers Will Drive Efficiency With Rich Media To The Exchange Says Unicast SVP Caleb Hill

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UnicastCaleb Hill is SVP of Product at Unicast.

AdExchanger.com: Given the competitive marketplace in rich media ad serving, where do you see Unicast fitting and how do you differentiate?

CH: Unicast is an established interactive advertising and marketing technology company serving more than 120 top online publishers and advertising agencies around the globe. We have more than 100 talented employees across our New York headquarters and offices in Austin, Chicago, Hamburg, Los Angeles and London. We also have a history of innovation having created the first Superstitial rich media ad launched in 1999, the first interactive pre-roll ad in 2001 and the first interactive 3D ad in 2004.

That being said, we feel that we've only scratched the surface with our ability to compete in the rich media ad serving marketplace. We're nimble, flexible and hungry. We look forward to expanding our focus from leading in the publisher services space to gain market share and grow with agencies and advertisers.

In addition to our technological focus, one of our biggest differentiators is the level of service that we provide for our customers – our client service and support sets us apart from our competition. At Unicast, the difference is personal. We offer 24/7 support and some of the fastest turnaround times in the industry. We align with our client's workflows and offer direct phone, email and IM access to dedicated campaign managers, creative producers, developers and support teams in locations all over the world.

Describe momentum for Unicast in 2009. Also, any insights you can provide regarding client tactics given the economic climate?

2009 is shaping up to be a big year for Unicast, one focused on growth, evolution and investment – on a global scale.

In a 2008 acquisition, Unicast became a proud member of the DG FastChannel family of companies. DG FastChannel (NASDAQ: DGIT) has a workforce of more than 800 and a multichannel distribution network of thousands of advertisers and media publishers worldwide. Within our new corporate structure, we've been exposed to a new level of support, resources and desire for continued growth and expansion.

As with any acquisition, it took us a few months for us to adjust and optimize our staffing, our objectives and our strategic goals. We recently launched the first phase of our new website (www.unicast.com), we're stepping up our PR and communication efforts, we've hired new operations, sales and technology resources to help meet aggressive global growth forecasts. Despite the economic climate, Unicast is poised for a breakthrough year in 2009 and beyond.

What is your view on ad exchanges? Do you see rich media and Unicast playing an important role in the evolving ad exchange model? Why or why not?

There is no doubt that ad exchanges can be efficient platforms for buying and selling online advertising inventory. Media buyers have the ability to buy a target audience which can limit the amount of waste that they would see if they bought based on reach and frequency and content alignment alone. Not only that, but they're able to adjust their budget to allocate based on what makes sense for their ROI. As more brand advertisers look to lower their CPMs and drive more efficiency by utilizing more performance based pricing, rich media will begin to be an integral part of ad exchanges.

As within the general online ad industry, rich media will continue to grow and play an important part in growing the ad exchange model, driving new standards for reporting and analytics that go beyond standard direct response. Advertisers will require that brand awareness, and perception metrics in order to justify spends within the ad exchanges.

We also see ad exchanges continuing to push companies to focus on the integration of search and display advertising competencies. Advertisers want to be able to see the macro view of all of their online media spending and the integration of these two platforms will allow them to see the direct effect that display advertising has on search performance and vice versa.

As a leading service provider for online publishers, we suspect that the publisher market will have challenges extracting the same value for their premium display and video inventory through exchanges as they do through direct sales.

Post campaign, beyond CTR, time spent, etc., does Unicast provide clients insight about its viewing audience?

As with any interactive business, Unicast focuses a lot of time and energy on providing analytics toolsets and services to our customers. We follow the popular motto of having to measure it to be able to manage it – and we work closely with our clients to provide them more insight into how their specific campaigns are performing against business objectives.

Unicast has developed an intelligence product, called the User Engagement Index (UEI), which measures a user's interaction with a rich media ad and provides a score made up of key engagement metrics. This Engagement Index enables advertisers to truly measure and benchmark their advertising, which allows them to have a much deeper understanding of where they need to improve their messaging and creative in order to drive a better ROI for their marketing spend.

We're constantly looking for ways to provide more analytical value to our clients, and do so according to the needs of their individual workflows. The available tracking within the ads that we serve is becoming more and more advanced. The data that we're able to provide can be customized and wrapped up in an executive summary, or given in an exportable format that can be easily managed by clients directly. We use our experience and expertise to help assess the data and make recommendations and suggestions that are actionable.

Through product enhancements, partnerships and creation of new ad formats and features – reporting and analytics is an area that will be receiving particular focus on in 2009 and beyond.

How would you like to see industry standards evolve for in-stream video ad inventory? And in-page video ad inventory?

For in-stream video, standards must continue to focus on counting measurements and to ensure interoperability between all of the different players in the ad and content delivery ecosystem - but never at the cost of undifferentiated ad display. Not only do advertisers demand new ways to communicate to consumers, but publishers also need the ability to stand out from a competitive playing field. The same can be said of in-page video ad inventory - let the technologists, publishers, and advertisers drive innovation within a very open framework that can be tracked and audited for compliance to regulations.

What is your view on demand-side buying platforms such as those announced by the major agency holding companies? Good for the marketplace and Unicast?

Marketers want transparency into where their ads display, and these platforms deliver it. Using the platforms to buy and control premium inventory solves a core issue marketers have with networks and exchanges while guaranteeing efficient pricing and access to desired audiences. We believe that indeed these new plays by the agencies will be good for the industry as a whole as long as more money flows online as a result. Additionally, buying a target audience vs. programming is very attractive to advertisers because it allows them to stretch their media dollars further.

How do you see display advertising evolving in the future? Will it all be rich media - as in video?

Continued advances in technology, bandwidth and the proliferation of video content across the web and mobile devices will cause increases in video based display advertising, especially HD. That doesn't meant that in 5 years it will all be video or rich media, but the spendwill continue to shift in that direction.

At Unicast, we have what we feel is a unique perspective on the future of display advertising. As a member of the DG FastChannel family of companies, we work in a world where our overarching business model is content delivery. Broadcast, radio content, online, HD Video, mobile, digital signage… it's all made up of content that is created, delivered, served, measured and optimized. As this content is increasingly shared across all vehicles and mediums, we see marketers moving towards partners that can provide a unified platform to manage all of their advertising in one place. With a wide breadth of content delivery services, we see Unicast and DG FastChannel well-positioned to help evolve the way companies approach taking their campaigns to the masses, across traditional and digital delivery platforms.

What do you think creative agencies need to do to prepare for the increasingly automated world of online advertising?

Creative agencies need to demand better authoring and related workflow tools from technology providers. Close collaboration between the agency and vendor can translate to efficient campaign executions without sacrificing quality in creative design. The economic conditions and resulting reduction of staff levels in the agency world have made efficiencies and scalability even more of a critical element in the creative workflow process.

Additionally, we're seeing more and more agencies look to partners who can bring them solutions to help manage constraints that they are feeling from a headcount and operating expense perspective. In a marketplace that is as competitive as ours is, Unicast has honed our creative and ad-operations processes to allow us to execute ad production services very quickly and efficiently. We're now being asked more and more to extend our service model and assume production relationships within creative agencies that find that it's more cost effective to partner with us than it is to staff and execute creative production in-house. This model is especially relevant with traditional agencies that don't have as much of a focus on the interactive space.

How does Unicast help its clients with attribution? Is an understanding of cross-channel initiatives important to Unicast? Or is that a client issue?

With all of the reporting and analytics advancements made over the past decade, the models and reporting systems have been based on last click activity, both across channels and within. The systems haven't been in place to look beyond the last click, but even if they were – agencies, advertisers, publishers and ad-servers alike were not fully prepared to handle the data and take action. These limitations are now fully exposed and attribution has become a hot button item for everyone involved.

From the Unicast perspective, data is the key in attempting to solve for attribution. Our primary focus with clients is to provide data that can assist with attribution within the rich media display channel itself; however we are also starting to push forward with integration of data across channels. Not only does this include other digital channels, but as we touched on earlier with our relationship with DG FastChannel, we are well-positioned to help evolve the way companies attribute effectiveness of their campaigns across traditional channels as well. They way we see this model extending, we see an opportunity to introduce measurement models that can attempt to assess true attribution across all mediums within a campaign – across all traditional and digital delivery vehicles.

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