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This is an Ad, But Not Really

Published: June 15, 2015

Author: Dennis Yu

Imagine if in the first 3 seconds of a YouTube ad we run, we say “hey, this isn’t an ad- don’t hit skip- maybe someone wildly waving for attention or a giant red warning of “if you hit skip, you lose.” Anything to get them not to skip.
Then we explain how just because we paid a few pennies to get their attention, our objective doesn’t have to be to get them to open their wallets right now. Maybe we are more subtle about it. Maybe we just want to wish a friend happy birthday because we are retargeting her and her friends.
Maybe we want to use this as a super-secret PR machine to reach anyone on the planet with whatever message we want. The ultimate micro-targeted inception for pennies.
Or more mundane, maybe you were just on our site and we have a follow-up message. You didn’t complete your checkout. You were browsing a particular product and we have a suggestion. You didn’t open that email we just sent you. You left your lights on at home.
Yes, smart systems could relay such information and make each message, like this video, personally tuned to you. Then it’s more like a helpful alert than an ad.
And you will remember this — the favor we did for you or the helpful advice — more than any feel-good beer commercial ever could.
Back in 2009, we were serving such personalized ads on Facebook, several years before Facebook even built their current ad systems. We had our own ad server that would inject your friends’ faces and names into the ad and ask them to take a quiz or install an app.
These ran inside various games, as you may recall. And we used the same font and colors as Facebook to make them look as if Facebook was sending you alerts. Facebook got mad at us for doing this, as well as the various ad networks that copied our every move.
There are now rules for ad serving in Facebook, whether in their ads system or via banners you control in your apps. That was the Wild West. But the same ad server technology we built is valid as ever. We can still collect the same types of data, if not more today.
It’s just that the price of the traffic has gone from 10 cents per thousand ads served to now over $10- which is 100 times higher.
Spam relies upon a low-cost delivery mechanism because the hit rate is so low.
For spam to work today in the same environment it has to convert 100 times better, all else equal.
But then it’s not spam anymore. You have helpful recommendations that build engagement and trust over time, leading to an eventual sale when the customer is ready.
Spam is not just Viagra or late-nite infomercial promises. It’s anything not finely targeted. By that measure, nearly everything you see is spam. It’s interruptive and isn’t served to you based on who you are. Most ads are unaware — like dumb bombs dropped on mass civilization.
So spam isn’t based on the product being sold — it’s based on whether there is relevance to you, like Jason Miller said:

053a954Content is no longer a numbers game, it’s now a game of relevance. The marketers who focus on being truly helpful with their content and build out a solid top of funnel strategy will be the winners. And the stakes are high as the prize is attention, trust and ultimately revenue.

So remember…


And that’s all we wanted to share with you today.

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