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What you need to know from Advertising Week 2015: Ad blockers, measurement battles and agency shifts

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By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

October 2, 2015 | 6 min read

As Advertising Week New York comes to a close, The Drum looks back on some of the key themes to emerge from a week which saw the industry's best marketers lead over 240 panel sessions and seminars across four days.

Words by Jen Faull and Minda Smiley.

Ad Blockers

In light of Apple’s decision to allow ad blockers on its mobile devices, it’s no surprise it was the hot topic among the speakers of Ad Week. As AOL boss, Tim Armstrong, said: "Everyone is spending all their time talking about ad blocking right now. Everyone should be spending all of their time talking about why consumers feel the need to block ads."

The general consensus was that bad targeting and retargeting has led to the rise and the simplest way to combat it is to focus on making better, creative ads that people don’t want to block. Fetch’s co-founder and chief executive James Connelly said they were “absolutely a good thing … because they encourage people to create better ads,” a view similarly held by Drew Ungvarsky, chief executive and executive creative director at digital agency Grow.

Predicting a continued rise in their use, Yahoo boss Marissa Mayer said during the IAB Mixx event – running simultaneously to Ad Week – that sponsored content will go on to become a more dominant form of online advertising.

Revealing the extent to which it is an issue for some media owners at present, Julie Clark, vice president of programmatic at Hearst said one of the company’s sites (which she declined to name, but revealed its audience is predominantly male and tech-savvy) has a 14 per cent ad-blocking rate.

Hearst is now looking at potential tech partnership that “will supress that”. "As soon as something happens, there's a counter technology," she said.

Measurement

The merger of digital measurement firm comScore and Rentrak – which uses set-top box data to measure TV viewing – appeared to mark the start of what could be a contentious battle in the TV audience measurement space as the combined entity sought to take over the industry leader Neilsen.

The merger’s significant ties back to the industry’s long held need for a more cohesive way of measure and monetising a TV programme’s total audience, including catch-up and mobile viewing, to help them move away from “pay and spray” approach to buying across a TV schedule and towards more targeted ad buys.

The comScore/Rentrak deal promised just that.

However, days later Neilsen announced a landmark partnership with CBS to allow the broadcast giant to include digital audience measurement in TV ratings. Neilsen promised it will also deliver measurement of audiences across linear and digital platforms by the end of 2015. The company’s global president Steve Hasker said during a panel it will be much more superior to what comScore has to offer.

Sir Martin Sorrell, boss of WPP – which owns a 16 per cent stake in the combined comScore/Rentrak entity – unsurprisingly gave his nod of approval during Ad Week to the more competitive environment.

In a related move, Facebook – which has faced scrutiny for its measurement practices by Sorrell – also used Ad Week to reveal a suite of new advertising tools to woo more TV advertiser budgets online.

Facebook’s global advertising boss Carolyn Everson took to the Times Centre Stage to explain that it now wants to help marketers plan a campaign across TV and Facebook. To that end, Facebook will now show marketers how well the social network’s video ads perform in conjunction with TV ad slots using a like-for-like metric.

A new Target Ratings Points (TRP) measurement metric use Nielsen's measurement tools to show marketers if their Facebook ad buy hit the target audience and then evaluate the results against Nielsen-measured TV campaigns.

Creative shifts away from agencies

As brands demand more content at faster speeds to keep up with their digital and social channels in real time, several Ad Week speakers revealed creativity efforts are increasingly shifting to nimbler in-house teams or third-party creatives rather than agencies.

Unilever VP of hair care, Rob Candelino, said it is a “necessary future shift and we have to get ready for it,” and it is now working with talent outside of the traditional agency space through programmes like Tumblr’s ‘Creatrs Network’. However, his acceptance of this fact has been reluctant and he worries fleeting relationships with content creators mean they don't have time to “ingest the brands" and that ultimately puts them at risk.

“When you have a 150-year-old Vaseline brand or a Dove brand that was launched in 1957, resting control to others to create content on your behalf is the most terrifying thing a brand person can do,” he said. “I don’t like it.”

At the other end of the spectrum, big brands like Facebook are opting to work with their in-house shops instead of agencies to help speed things along. Even though Facebook still works with Wieden + Kennedy, chief marketing officer Gary Biggs told delegates that its internal team is continuing to get more and more work as the social media giant introduces new apps and features.

Facebook’s pivot towards an in-house studio reflects a wider trend in the industry of brands cutting out the agency middle man, particularly in the publishing realm as marketers look towards the sites they advertise on instead of agencies to help them create relevant content for their audiences. Over the past few months, publishers including AOL, CNN, and BBC have rolled out branded content studios to help brands create native ads.

You can read more of The Drum's coverage from Advertising Week New York here.

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