Content Recommendation Engines
Content recommendation engines’ ubiquity led to heightened competition and consolidation in 2014.
- January: AOL acquired Gravity, and plans to use its technology not just for content recommendation, but to personalize content for AOL users.
- June: Taboola, nabbed a deal with NBC Sports Digital. Outbrain struck back in November, winning a deal with Time Inc. worth $100 million.
- August: Taboola showed signs of diversifying when it acquired Perfect Market, which offers product recommendation ads. “Taboola will continue to focus on full-page personalization” in 2015, CEO Adam Singolda said. With mobile accounting for half of all traffic, “we will continue to invest in bringing unorthodox solutions and products to the mobile environment.”
- September: Yahoo entered the marketwith Yahoo Recommends; early advertisers skewed direct response.
- September: AdExchanger reported that Google is developing a content recommendation solution, which could enter the market next year.
- December: nRelate, which tried to separate itself from the competition by declaring war on click bait, went completely in-house. It will only serve only IAC brands.
- December: Outbrain took another step toward an IPO. The valuation? $1 billion. AdExchanger interviewed CEO Yaron Galai in April.
“Old guards like The New York Times and Wall Street Journal finally entered the game, cementing native advertising’s status as not just a ‘hot buzzword’, but as smart monetization strategy for publishers and effective marketing strategy for brands,” said Tessa Gould, VP of ad innovation and monetization for BuzzFeed, reflecting on the changes in the past year.
BuzzFeed will focus on bringing branded content to video next year, replicating the success of “Dear Kitten” for Purina’s Friskies (18 million YouTube views and counting).
However, as native advertising gains prominence, regulators are taking notice. The FTC plans on releasing guidelines for the format next year.
Here are some highlights from the year in branded content:
- Slate Custom: Lindsay Nelson (since hired away by Vox) talked about how native makes sense with a format most still struggle with: mobile. “Time spent on page is strongest on mobile,” she said. “There is a big opportunity on mobile for native.”
- Washington Post: “When you move into content marketing, it’s a whole different conversation than standard display advertising,” director of ad innovations Kelly Andresen said. “A click-through rate is not going to tell you a story of how well your native campaign performed.
- Quartz: “We take cues from editorial,” VP of advertising and strategy Joy Robins said. “What we see perform well, we apply to the native content pieces we do.”
- Upworthy: “We don’t say yes to every campaign or every brand,” said director of marketing and communications Ed Urgola, whose company has worked with Pantene on female empowerment and Unilever about sustainable living.
- Huffington Post: “Not only do we have this organic scale and reach [of 4 million home page views a day], if an advertiser wants further reach, we can syndicate content through AOL-owned and operated properties,” said HuffPost Partner Studio’s Tessa Gould (now at BuzzFeed).
If any part of native will go programmatic, it’s in-feed ads.
“Native ads sold over programmatic is here now, but very nascent,” said Picard. “The new Open RTB specifications include support for native, and this will lead to much broader adoption once the new spec is rolled out and incorporated into the ad platforms.”
Here are highlights from the year in in-feed ads:
- March: TripleLift raised $4 million for its RTB ad exchange. In November, Microsoft Store’s agency was the first to reap the rewards, buying native inventory programmatically to support ecommerce sales.
- March: Flite’s president pondered how the native exchanges announced by MoPub, OpenX, TripleLift, Hexagram and Bidtellect would pan out.
- March: Publicis’ VivaKi teamed up with TripleLift and Nativo to offer Audience One Demand Native.
- April: AOL rolled out a native ad unit for mobile.
- August: Nativo’s CEO Justin Choi urged distinctions between interruptive in-feed ads and contextually relevant native ads.
- September: Sharethrough acquired content distribution platform VAN to gain a foothold in Europe. It signed on Men’s Health to its mobile exchange.
- October: During Q3 earnings, Yahoo said 44% of display ads were native.
- December: Sharethrough’s ads went 100% viewable. Intel is among the clients interested in the value of an impression, not just a click-through.