How To Remake The Web As A Platform For Branding

Rachel Parkin headshot

The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Rachel Parkin, executive vice president of strategy and sales at CafeMedia.

Advertising plays a vital role on the web. Ads fund publishers in creating great content for all consumers to freely access. In return, consumers explore and connect with this content and advertising, giving advertisers engaged, relevant environments to build their brands.

In recent years, we’ve gotten away from the notion of building brands on the web, in favor of simply advertising. Programmatic advertising made it too easy for advertisers to place ads everywhere. To meet that demand, publishers opened more placements for programmatic supply. Combining a large volume of ads with targeting that literally follows consumers across the web, it’s clear why advertising feels intrusive today.

We’ve failed to explain the value exchange to consumers. And, we’ve failed to deliver on the value exchange of advertising for free content, in a way that inspires consumers to take action. No reframing of data targeting is likely to change that either. Whether or not third-party cookies are the only guilty party, we have to reimagine advertising and branding on the web without them.

Reinventing advertising for a cookieless future gives us a chance to rethink how the web can provide a better platform for branding. Instead of aiming to find a privacy-friendly replica for targeting, we should take this as an opportunity to figure out how to improve advertising for consumers, brands and publishers. Perhaps part of the solution is to move away from competing with platforms on direct response campaigns and put more attention on featuring brands. The best way to protect the open web – and advertising on the open web – is to focus on how the web can more seamlessly integrate brands.

Clear canvas

The key to increasing consumer engagement with brands on the web is a cleaner and more integral experience. When consumers feel overloaded, it’s hard to know where to focus. A less-is-more approach brings brands more clearly into view.

Podcast advertising strikes that balance between high engagement and action. Live read ads are especially memorable because they are a part of the full experience and blend the persona of the host with the advertiser’s message. In this environment, consumers self-select podcast niches that interest them, which makes it easy for advertisers to find relevant consumers for their brands.

What this means for the open web is fewer ads and larger canvases for advertising, all placed in the right context. When consumers see brands in a quality and relevant content environment, they think more positively about the brand and are more likely to take action. Managing frequency to fewer exposures and placements on the page will also make each ad more prominent and increase ad recall. The halo of connecting strong publishers and advertisers all fits together by aligning these ads with consumers’ mindsets to maximize engagement.

Unique uniformity

The challenge in building toward branded advertising experiences is scalability. Custom experiences that tie a brand’s sponsorship to a publisher aren’t often executed in a programmatic fashion. Typically, publishers each put their own spin on bespoke brand partnerships with unique data and formats.

To solve for that, publishers can work in tandem on what sounds like an oxymoron: “unique uniformity.” By creating differentiated experiences, in unison, publishers will make it easier for advertisers to design higher impact experiences across publishers. For example, developing publisher first-party data to a common taxonomy enables advertisers to align their brands with relevant content across publishers. Likewise, selecting common standards for nonstandard creative sizes would increase advertiser adoption of larger format ad canvases that provide the real estate to tell a stronger brand story.

Today, modernizing creative sizes is mostly specific to each publisher. The industry needs to update the concept of the “Rising Star,” which may have been ahead of its time, and re-centralize high impact ad standards on the same building blocks. High impact ads are better positioned to succeed today due to increased mobile screen sizes that better support larger format ads; better design practices so these ads can be bigger, but understated and not intrusive; and the ability to transact on these formats programmatically. Publishers are also more invested in enhancing opportunities for brand advertisers on the web, in light of the larger industry changes.

Moving to a stronger brand building platform on the web will take time. New branding experiences and traditional banner experiences will need to run in parallel as advertisers re-learn the value of this inventory. And while high-impact formats aren’t conducive toward direct response goals, that demand may be in decline regardless, as attribution measurement becomes impossible on the open web.

With standards in place, publishers of all sizes can more easily design to these specs, may even find new open market branding buyers and can certainly partner with existing ad networks or creative solutions as well. By working together on branding formats, publishers empower advertisers to brand at scale and across publishers, which serves to increase the size of the branding investment pool on the web.

Publishers currently differentiate by establishing their own unique flavors. If publishers instead design to a common standard, we can make it simpler for advertisers to differentiate their message. Aligning sizes will then create more space for automating or customizing the combination of the message and environment to innovate on the integrated experience too. All of which goes hand in hand with increasing consumer engagement and the value of advertising on the open web.

Standard for success

If we set our endgame on building a better branding environment on the web, we will succeed in maintaining a premium experience for consumers and advertisers. We will aim high for consumers to appreciate advertising, engage with advertising and clearly prefer the value exchange of ads for free access to content. We will ensure the web has a halo that elevates advertisers aligned with relevant content, and also enhances publishers associated with first-class brands. We will strive for integrated advertising experiences, not creepy targeting. And, we likely won’t miss what third-party cookies enabled after all.

Follow CafeMedia (@CafeMedia_) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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