Pandemic Pushes Self-Service Ad Platform Adoption Forward

Back in the day, the idea of publishers automating guaranteed advertising with tools like iSocket and Shiny Ads was way ahead of its time. 

The old adage, “If you build it, they will come,” wherein those programmatic direct platforms enabled publishers to automate the buying and selling of guaranteed inventory didn’t work out too well for those early adopters who only saw minimal revenue in those days. 

It was slow starting for the self-service ad platform, as buyers were hellbent on using exchanges to cherry-pick their inventory. If buyers could find a seller’s inventory on the open markets, and often for a cheaper price, why would they choose to go to a pub directly?

But 2020 is a very different marketplace, largely shaped by how the global Coronavirus pandemic has altered the landscape. 

In particular, publishers’ sales teams have been focusing on big buys, leaving the occasional smaller buy on the table. Self-service tech is growing as a preferred brand-safe option for capturing that smaller spend, even with thousands of dollars now getting tossed to self-service ad platforms. 

DanAds are the leading provider of a customizable, scalable, white-labeled self-service technology for publishers and brands, allowing for automation of ad operation, sales, and creative management to increase revenue effectively.

There’s huge optimism for the future of self-service, according to what publishers told us at a recent Think Tank with DanAds.

It’s just not cost-efficient to have a salesperson go through the traditional contract process for transactional or low-spend advertisers, so self-service tech is very appealing for not only capturing incremental revenue but also providing workflow efficiency, one publisher told us.

And while not as sexy as opening up new revenue streams, there’s an additional benefit of automating repetitive ad ops tasks with self-serve tech, freeing up hundreds of hours spent in manual labor filing sales systems, approving creatives, and building reports so that teams can focus on higher-level tasks. 

During the pandemic, some publishers have had to resort to layoffs or furloughs as cost-saving measures. But with self-serve tech, publishers are given the opportunity for sales and ad ops to focus on more qualitative tasks that streamline the business. 

Cracking the Elusive SMB Spend 

Since Facebook and Google still garner the majority of SMB spend, self-service tech is enabling publishers to take a crack at the SMB market. Most of these advertisers don’t have the budgets for these large buys required by some premium publishers, but they want to get their wares in front of those premium audiences. 

We’re now seeing a rise in self-service advertising platforms as another option to the duopoly with growing adoption by retailers like Walmart and Amazon, social media networks like Snapchat and TikTok, and travel platforms like TripAdvisor, as well as a range of pubs like Hearst, Hulu, Soundcloud, Spotify, The Washington Post and Vox.

Like linear TV, Hulu has been an expensive option for advertisers. But this summer, in an effort to garner small and medium-sized ad business, the streamer launched a beta self-service platform with a minimum budget of $500. The tool offers a more simplified package to smaller advertisers, with an option for either a 15 or 30-second spot without a lot of customizations or an audience for targeting. 

“We’re using self-serve to get at small, and medium-sized spend and not have to involve the salespeople. We’re testing that out on Hulu right now and it’s doing pretty good,” a Disney revenue professional shared with us recently.

While most of us were home in the earlier days of the pandemic consuming exorbitant amounts of content, some of us were also creating incredible amounts of creative content. 

On SoundCloud, creators upload their content in hopes of gaining exposure and plays. They rely on SoundCloud’s self-service tool, a perk for the price of their subscription, that enables them to push out their own promotions.

“It’s a completely different revenue channel that we weren’t tapping into before,” said a Soundcloud representative.

Tripadvisor’s Self-Service Ad Platform Becomes Mission Critical

If you attended AdMonsters PubForum Virtual, then you got to hear the keynote by Tripadvisor’s VP Of Global Ad Revenue, Christine Maguire. Tripadvisor was on a path to hit record revenues in 2020, but then the pandemic hit, shattering all of the company’s dreams of reaching their goals. 

Quickly, the travel planning company changed course and started laying the groundwork towards a recovery strategy built on the strength of the relationship they have with their consumers.

Along with leveraging insights from the pandemic-driven shift in consumer travel behaviors to launch new products and better advise marketers on their messaging, Tripadvisor has also seen a rise in engagement with their self-service platform over the past few months with over triple digital quarter over quarter growth as small businesses look for flexibility and control during a time of continued variables.

“As small, medium, and large businesses alike look for efficiencies and focus on investing in performance driving media, easy to use self-serve platforms, like Tripadvisor Media Manager, have become a critical part of the mix providing 24/7 access to our platform and performance dashboards to evolve campaign targeting, creative and budget in real-time,” a media rep for the company told us. 

“Our consumer research tells us that now, more than ever, 95% of our consumers want to hear positive communications from brands. Keeping this in mind, self-service platforms and Tripadvisor Media Manager remove any budgetary barriers from managed service campaigns, allowing access to our audience at any investment level,” they added. 

For large scale media companies, like Tripadvisor, self-service platforms have created an opportunity to help brands engage with users while providing operational efficiencies during a time of reduced workforces.

Freeing up Man Hours

Self-service ad platforms aren’t only for publishers looking to capture incremental revenue, they also help to create workflow efficiencies.

Ad ops teams are spending way too much time manually entering campaign data into disparate systems, like ad servers, CRM, billing and order management systems. This can negatively impact optimization and reporting, as not all data is being entered into each of the systems.  

As well, there can be a lot of back-and-forth with clients running forecasts. For smaller buys, it’s a big headache. But when a self-service tool reduces the manual time spent by ad ops and sales, along with the back-and-forth with clients, by automating the ad buying process, it definitely pays off. 

We’ve heard that companies like Hearst and Shazam reported reducing 90-95% of the manual labor that goes into the buying process. Now that reclaimed time can be used for improving other processes and focusing on strategy.

Planning for Recovery and the Future

Opening up the gates to SMB spend and managing workflow efficiency is just the tip of what a publisher can do with a self-service advertising platform. 

With first-party data being all the rage now with the pandemic changing the way advertisers spend, along with privacy restrictions and limitations on cross-tracking users on Chrome and iOS coming soon, it’s also appealing that pubs can use their own first-party data within a self-service platform to sell unique audience offerings to advertisers. 

It’s an audience that marketers can reach in a brand-safe way, and pubs can produce new content and products to sustain it.