eBay readies native mobile ad formats which could be traded programmatically in 2015

eBay is stepping up its mobile ad offering with the launch of a suite of native formats, which will in time be sold programmatically as it looks to explore “native programmatic at scale”, according to its head of advertising Phuong Nguyen.

The auction site, which now trades the majority of its inventory programmatically, is aiming to roll out a series of mobile native ad formats before the end of the year, designed to seamlessly fit with the site environment.

“We are calling them home-screen native apps, and they will appear on the home screen on our mobile and web app ads, and really look like they belong in that page. We think that’s the right way to have an ad experience, because it makes advertisers feel they are part of the overall experience,” he said.

He conceded that the industry made mistakes with its initial approach to mobile advertising, presuming that replicating the desktop experience would be sufficient.

“When mobile ads started proliferating initially, as an industry we were a bit lazy and took the same paradigms that worked for desktop and reapplied them for mobile. The result was we proliferated these horrible experiences with these little strip banners that you would be hard pressed to argue were ever going to really engage with consumers,” he said.

The native mobile ads will initially be traded directly, but eBay is also looking at opening up the inventory to programmatic trading in 2015.

This part of the strategy is being led by newly promoted Jean Baptise-Goux, who has taken on the role of head of programmatic following the departure of Guy Jones.

He told The Drum: "Selling mobile formats programmatically is part of our 2015 strategy, and we hope that in 2015 we will be able to sell our new native formats programmatically.

"It’s about understanding what will work for our advertisers and users, and creating best customer experience."

Nguyen sadded: “In order to get native programmatic working at scale, we as an industry must better define some of the variables. On one side it is defined as integration within the flow of an experience, but in order to trade it effectively at scale, you need to think about the variables you must define to enable many advertisers to interact with that native ecosystem.”

As with any new ad format, achieving this will rely on industry standardisation, according to Nguyen, who added: “native programmatic at scale will be one of the most interesting innovations in the industry over the next 12 months”.

He referred to eBay as a publisher in its own right, and criticised publishers who have failed to fully embrace programmatic trading.

“There is no reason whatsoever that any publisher should be constraining what they put into their programmatic set-up, and if they are doing that they not truly embracing what programmatic is all about. In doing so they are being a bit protectionist about their existing direct sale business, which I think is a horrible way to run a publishing business, because they are not really embracing innovation in ways which can help with their business and in moving the industry forward.”

Programmatic trading has to date been regarded as an effective way to trade huge volumes of remnant inventory for cheap prices, and has previously stirred up fear among publishers who for a time saw their yields plummet as a result.

However, Nguyen described any reticence or fear publishers may have over controlling their floor prices “irrational”.

“The reality of the situation is that most of the technologies used in creating a programmatic set-up give publishers all the controls they should require to control the pricing, and likewise with the buyers and what they want to pay.

“Programmatic is democratising the true value of inventory and what things should be bought and sold for, and makes that part of the process more efficient, so as an industry we can spend more time on what will add more value to our customers – more creativity, more great innovation, more big ideas.”

He dismissed the notion that data-driven marketing and programmatic trading were rising to the detriment of creativity, describing that as a “complete fallacy”.

“Programmatic is simply a more efficient means of executing an ad buy. Yes, it gives you a higher degree of control over what you pay, and yes it’s a high amount of rhetoric around the trading and commoditised aspects of our industry – but those should be the table stakes at which we operate.

“But the creativity comes out of how you use insight in order to really drive our advertising forward.”

Earlier this year eBay revealed to The Drum it was testing video ad formats. These remain in experimental phase as the publisher continues to grapple with designing an experience that doesn’t detract or intrude on the consumer experience.

“Video is still in the innovation lab. Every bit of content we have on the site needs to add value to people’s shopping experiences. We have toyed on and off with various executions – whether it be video reviews on products or user generated content – but at this point in time we have no concrete plans to launch a video advertising product.

“But we are experimenting with it internally to find a right way of making it work because we realise how important video is becoming as part of marketing mix of most of our advertisers. So it’s about trying to find the right execution within the eBay environment – that is still the user experience challenge that we are trying to tackle,” said Nguyen.

Jessica Davies

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