Amazon’s Ads Boss On Scaling Custom Off-Site ‘Experiences,’ Ecommerce Ad Relevancy

AmazonAt the outset of Advertising Week in New York City, WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell turned his attention to Amazon’s VP of global ad sales Lisa Utzschneider on the stage they shared with Live Nation, CBSi and ESPN.

“Your job, I guess, is to demonstrate the value of Amazon’s data for off-platform advertising,” he quipped. “Your revenues are, what? $700 million? A billion?” Where, he implored, does “visa” come from?

Though at times he grilled Utzschneider over profit pressures like something of a Wall Street flack, what he seemingly itched for was a discussion of data – the kind that comes with 250 million member accounts and a plethora of product searches.

He called Amazon’s extensive data and off-network opportunity “the elephant in the room.” Would Amazon, he wondered, seek to rival Google’s $50 billion ad business with its own intent-rich platform?

“I can’t comment on that,” Utzschneider said.

“Yes, but these are the issues debated amongst the agency and client community,” Sorrell said. “Google’s market position is something we all think about…what Amazon has done in the last six months [could provide] a number of alternatives. “

He went on: “You have the strongest source of data, like we’ve seen with Tesco and Dunnhumby and Kroger…you have the opportunity to drive that.”

“The only thing I will add is there is plenty of third party data out there that shows consumers begin their search for products on Amazon,” Utzschneider acknowledged.

Despite Amazon’s undeniable presence in ecommerce, its larger advertising story has largely gone untold. In recent months, however, Amazon has diversified access to data-rich supply  through a new self-serve platform developed with Publicis Groupe’s VivaKi. Separately, developments in emerging media pose obvious new monetization opportunities for Amazon in live gaming and smartphones.

Utzschneider spoke with AdExchanger at the conclusion of the Advertising Week panel. Portions of this interview have been edited for clarity.

AdExchanger: As more brick and mortar retailers, like Walmart, tap shopper data to help suppliers target audiences, how will Amazon differentiate?

LISA UTZSCHNEIDER: From day one of establishing our ad program and over the last 7-8 years, we’ve been so focused on maintaining customer trust, which is paramount to us. We would never infringe on that trust and we are focused on maintaining privacy and creating relevancy in the advertising experience through relevancy. To this day, we are as neurotic as we have been over the last eight years because we’re so focused on maintaining that customer trust and creating relevant ads.

Is Amazon developing something analogous to Facebook’s relaunch of the Atlas ad server, which identifies its users across devices?

Cross device continues to be an important area of focus for us. We’re looking for ways to connect with consumers anywhere they are, on any device. As we see more customers reaching for mobile devices, whether it’s tablet, Kindle Fire, etc., we want to make effective, relevant advertising experiences for them across devices. We have loads of examples of how we’re working with marketers, whether it’s two-screen, three-screen, with the purpose of creating a relative experience for them. … When you take a look at mobile adoption globally both from a mobile shopping perspective and general consumption, it continues to increase every single year. Our advertising business [is] heads down investing in mobile and coming up with innovative ways to connect with customers on mobile devices and doing it at scale.

What about video? Amazon just spent $1 billion on Twitch, which streams live video game events.

I can’t speak to Twitch because that’s still fresh, and we’re still under transition with them. But [with] video in general, it’s still day one for us. We see a huge opportunity in video because it’s another great way to connect with customers and help them in their shopping journey, and help them make better shopping decisions and doing it via video advertising. We will continue to test and learn both short form and long form video. There’s some cool stuff we’re doing where right within the ad, you can run a video ad. [Or you can add] learn-more functionality [or] buy-now functionality, so you can create a call to action to purchase a product right within the ad.

How does this tie into Amazon’s $100 million investment in original content?

The way we view original content is another opportunity to innovate on behalf of our customers. We mentioned GEICO and the work we’ve done with [the brand] and Horizon Media. GEICO has been thrilled to be the sponsor of [Amazon] originals and it’s been a great experience for our customers, too. We’re internally brainstorming and innovating ways we can create new experiences that delight our customers and also push the envelope in terms of how we’re thinking about advertising [more broadly].

Sir Martin Sorrell asked you to weigh the pros and cons of your services relationships. What’s Amazon’s view on the agency model?

We’ve had partnerships with advertisers [who have been selling on Amazon] for many years and we’ve leveraged those partnerships to be able to build out and expand how they’re selling their product, promoting their product and how they’re thinking about advertising. Because of the shift and rate of adoption of ecommerce, agencies are much more interested in how to think about ecommerce: What should their clients’ ecommerce strategy be? How should they think about shopper marketing? I intentionally made that point on the panel and I see it as opportunity.

I meet with a lot of agencies, we work with agencies everyday. But many agency meetings I’ve been in with teams who work with some of the major marketers – and you can imagine who some of them are – [aren’t] even buying their products on Amazon. They haven’t experienced it, downloaded the Amazon app on their mobile phone. That’s the first step to get educated on how ecommerce works: being a user of the product and experience.

Are you being brought into more brand advertiser discussions?

We are seeing more advertisers – like [a campaign we ran with] Nissan – where an advertiser wants to raise awareness about their brand by driving offline foot traffic. Another great example… is PepsiCo Naked Juice, where Naked Juice wanted to do something that had never been done before and we launched an experience with them where they wrapped Amazon lockers in 125 locales across the US in five cities in stores like 7-11. The other thing they did was create advertising within email, so if I’m an Amazon locker user, I get an email that says, “Hey, your delivery is here. Here’s your code and here’s a coupon off of a Naked Juice.” I could walk into that 7-11, pick up my package and get a Naked Juice at a discount. They saw a nice lift in sales of Naked Juice products. They also wrapped Amazon Fresh trucks [on the West Coast] with Naked Juice branding. We’ll continue to experiment with Nissan and their agency OMD on experiences like that.

How is Nissan supplementing first-party data with off-network buys?

We were more focused on understanding Nissan’s marketing goals and what they were looking to achieve with this event, [in terms of] a customer experience, brand experience and driving foot traffic into the dealers and selling cars. We primarily focused on [engaging] Amazon customers in the experience.

How did the campaign come together?

We have a team called the Custom Solutions team and they worked closely with the advertising sales team, Nissan and [its agency] OMD to design the experience and think through the customer experience and make sure it was a good one. Nissan has demographic data but they didn’t have insights into audience segments and shopping behaviors, which is what they can learn from Amazon. We created a customized Nissan page on Amazon to promote the Versa Note.

The look and feel of the page felt like a product detail page. What was interesting about this use case is, we don’t sell cars. Nissan Versa customers could go to the page, check out the car, and read information about the car, functionality, colors, and we ran a sponsorship where customers could be eligible to win an Amazon gift certificate. [Ed: On the detail page, there was a learn-more button, which took them to a custom page in which they could be connected with a dealer.] The first 1,000 to lease or purchase a car through the program, Nissan gave them a $1,000 Amazon Gift Card. The goal was to drive awareness into their stores and raise awareness of the vehicles. [Ed: As a point of reference: Amazon was able to deliver 4x the return in dealer contact requests in a separate Nissan DAYZ ROOX campaign launched in Japan.]

How do you prioritize large-scale branding solutions vs. data-driven marketing? Or is that not mutually exclusive?

We’re doing both and thinking about both. There are a couple of things about our ad business, which we will continue to do moving forward. We aspire to do as much as we can that can scale. That’s not just here in the US, but globally.

Like what?

Things like ecommerce ads – how do we get ecommerce ads to a place where they’re scaled across all markets [and] we’re driving the ROI that delights our marketers and creates relevancy for our customers? We’ll continue to focus on that scale and parity across our [geographic] markets. In addition to that, [we’ll] continue to work on custom solutions like the Nissan and PepsiCo campaigns and think out of the box and continue to innovate on behalf of our customers with advertisers.

Sir Martin Sorrell pressed you on divulging more detail on Amazon Sponsored Links and your developing ad network. I have to ask you again.

He was really pushing me today. [laughs] I can’t comment on that.

What’s on your agenda in the coming months?

We want to continue to make consumer-shopping experiences more relevant through great advertising, but we’re also looking to continue to innovate with marketers. We love that marketers want to push the envelope with us. Some of these examples with Nissan, GEICO, Naked Juice, probably 12 months ago if I had been sitting here, I wouldn’t have imagined we’d be launching marketing experiences like that where they’re not even selling products on Amazon, but are finding ways to engage with such a loyal customer base.


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