Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Alex Rahaman: Creativity and context will win in a post-GDPR world

Alex Rahaman, CEO of  NEXD, and NDA’s monthly columnist, is an adtech pioneer. He founded the first mobile DSP, StrikeAd, before selling it to Sizmek in 2015, launched and ran the  Unanimis  mobile ad network before its sale to Orange and led the acquisition   of global media exchange OpenX by Index Ventures.  

Unless you’ve been stranded on a desert island for the last two years, the likelihood is you know we’re now living in a post-GDPR world. You can’t register for any kind of service these days without being presented with a data privacy form.

And yet…

The Armageddon that we were all led to believe would hit us on 25th May 2018 hasn’t quite had the effect we thought it would.  

True, there was certainly panic at the beginning. As Boston University marketing professor Garrett Johnson and Scott K. Shriver of the University of Colorado Boulder noted in their recent paper on the  intended and unintended consequences of GDPR,  publishers reduced their vendor partners by 15% one week after GDPR’s enforcement date and many chose to put their marketing dollars into the hands of Google and Facebook.

And of course, for aficionados of third-party cookies, things haven’t been too rosy either. With  Apple curbing third party cookies on Safari, and Firefox and Brave following suit, the ability to personalise ads using third-party cookies is becoming more and more challenging.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade

But when I speak to my fellow adtech professionals, the mood is certainly far from despair.   Instead, one interesting area of focus is on contextual advertising. That is to say: placing an ad for a product that’s relevant to the content on the page – selling dog food on a webpage that talks about pets, for example.

Contextual advertising has long been a part of media strategy but it’s often been overlooked in favour of highly-personalised data-driven ads. It’s now making a comeback thanks to its ability to deliver relevant ads to audiences, whilst conforming to the rules of GDPR.

But hasn’t Google just said it’s planning to restrict contextual data, I hear you ask? Indeed it has. But again the industry response shows most ad-tech professionals are unfazed by the move, with many claiming that Google’s  contextual data isn’t critical to them. If anything, Google’s announcement could mean that a close advertiser-publisher relationship will be even more important in the future.

For many advertising executives, the focus on contextual advertising is welcome. According to Sam Fenton-Elstone, CEO of media agency Anything is Possible, “If done correctly, this [contextual advertising] is a much better way of creating engaging, better performing campaigns. Over-personalization actually limits campaign effectiveness, so a more balanced approach is a very good thing.”

Over the past 18 months since GDPR came into force, I’ve seen vendors and publishers creating new ways of engaging with their audiences using contextual advertising.  

One of those is The New York Times, whose  Project Feels  uses data science to predict the emotional resonance of its articles for better ad placement. It has essentially identified 18 emotions that its readers feel whilst reading the articles and it is now targeting ads to that content, matching the emotion the ad should produce to the emotion generated by the article.

Of course, making the ad relevant is one thing; getting the audience to engage with it is quite another. So what’s the second ingredient in our recipe for successful advertising in a post-GDPR world? Creativity.

Let’s get creative

I get asked pretty often about low engagement rates and I must say a lot of the problem lies in the ad itself. Your audience isn’t a data point; they are living, breathing human beings. Their lives are hectic – an ad needs to stand out from the crowd to catch their attention. 

It’s no secret that ad engagement continues to dwindle and the big players like Facebook are not immune to this trend. So what can be done to re-engage audiences?

Rich media is a great way of doing this. It’s true that some advertisers are against rich media ads due to the perceived higher costs but in fact they needn’t be overly costly.What’s more rich media ads can deliver instant impact.  In a world where multiple ads are vying for a user’s attention, you need to make sure your ad delivers. That’s the great thing about rich media: it encourages two-way communication, ensuring interaction.

At NEXD, we’ve developed our Campaign Manager, with which advertisers can build their own interactive rich media creatives, without having to touch a single line of code. It means you can make great looking ads effortlessly that really engage your audience.

So maybe living in a post-GDPR world isn’t so bad after all. From a consumer standpoint, their data is protected and they no longer feel like Big Brother is watching their every move across the net. And from an ad-tech industry perspective, maybe this is just the challenge we needed to up our game and create content that will actually engage our audience.