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As the likes of Instagram, YouTube and Tumblr continue to evolve, how will brands know where to spend their media money?

James Whatley is strategy partner at Digitas UK where he works at the nexus of brand, content, and customer experience. You can find him on Twitter @Whatleydude.

Over the last couple of months several digital platforms have revealed their advertising plans. With these all new and all different ad options available, how will brands know how to make the right decision?

Instagram's first ever ad, released by Michael Kors

Core business objectives make a difference here, of course they do. However there are many other factors to take into consideration. For example, what's the current brand health in regards to consumer opinion on that particular platform? Are you at risk from consumer backlash by putting your brand 'out there'? What about the maturity of the analytics available? There's no point doing anything if you're unable to measure the impact properly.

Let's look at three recent headlines and see where and how the money might flow accordingly.

1. Ads are now on Instagram

We know Instagram has committed to rolling out ads (and the first ones just this week!) and while we also know what the ads will look like, we don't know how those ads will behave, not from a client perspective at least. Questions that need answering:

  • Are the images clickable? (it’s looking like a no)
  • Will Instagram enable links in the accompanying copy (something hitherto it has not been keen to do and has yet to reveal as an option)?
  • How is a comment or like valuable to a brand?
  • How are clients supposed to be able measure success?

One of the smarter things that Instagram has (publicly) said on this, almost as an aside to potential partners, is:

“We want to show ads from businesses that are interesting to you, and to do that we will use information about what you do on Instagram and Facebook (our parent company). For instance, this might include the people you follow and the photos and videos you like on Instagram, and your interests and other basic info on Facebook.”

What this says is that if users have linked their Instagram account to their Facebook account, it's open season on cross-platform data sharing. At least the targeting should be better then, right? It remains to be seen.

UPDATE: Nitrogram has posted numbers for that first ad, and the questions still stand.

2. YouTube videos will soon be available offline

YouTube recently announced that a staggering 40 per cent of its viewers are now mobile. That's an astounding number. It also announced that very soon, these mobile viewers will be able to download videos to watch offline; a fantastic and perhaps long overdue 'innovation'. Some questions though:

  • How will ads work offline?
  • Are ads even available to buy on offline videos?
  • How can you measure the CTR on an offline banner (you can’t, right)?
  • If you can, where will the data be stored, on the device? Is this open to abuse?
  • How is any of this attractive to brands?

It would be an understatement to say that 'Google is pretty good at ads', so there is no doubt that answers are being lined up to these questions as you read this. But there's something else to be intrigued about: how does this affect creativity?

If nearly half of all YouTube videos are being watched on the move, and those videos themselves are being watched offline, then how does this change the way we think about creating content for mobile consumption?

3. Tumblr dishes the data

Tumblr, the east coast rebel among the big boys above, has had to start getting serious about how it earns its advertising dollars. Since it was bought by Yahoo in May, Tumblr has stepped up its game considerably. Never more so than recently when it announced that it can and will start opening up more and more data (5.5billion monthly interactions, to be precise) about its audiences to potential advertisers.

Things they like, things they blog, things they re-blog, things they tag, and pretty much every other thing that Tumblr users have done to date, is up for the men and women of the ad world to pore over. This is interesting because as the current darling of the true digital generation, Tumblr knows that it has to be smart in how it not only displays its ads, but also in how it targets them. No teenager in the world wants their Tumblr habits to be made public; to know that your every click and move might have a dollar sign next to it? That might be a bit too much for some.

In closing…

All of these different data points lead to one overwhelming conclusion: digital platforms are in a bind. They need their users to have data to sell and need brand advertising dollars to keep the lights on and (whisper it) actually make some money.

As a result, the platforms listed above (and others) are innovating as best they can to create a suite of seamless and dare I say it, native advertising options that will not only satisfy their partners but also be acceptable to their users.

If you’re looking at new social media activity in the new year, consider your platform choice carefully. Do your research. Understand your audience. Align it all with your business objective and then, once you’ve nailed all that, go and have a serious word with the platform you want to do business with. Ask them how they can help you achieve your goals.

Believe it or not, digital platforms are crying out for awesome ad-based things to do with you, you just have to ask.

What are you waiting for?

James Whatley is lead social strategist at Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, London. This is the first post in his new regular column for The Drum.

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