In the second of our quarterly series, we’ll be discussing all the major new ad products and features released in Q3 2020 — from TikTok’s self-serve ad platform to CVS Pharmacy’s new ad network.
Our goal here is to highlight the most interesting and innovative releases — and offer key takeaways for publishers developing their own ad products
In early July, TikTok launched a new self-serve ad platform and “Back-to-Business” ad credits to help small businesses make up for recent revenue losses.
The TikTok for Business Ads Manager offers a variety of self-serve tools to help advertisers scale and measure their campaigns:
- Creative tools to help businesses build the most effective videos
- Flexible budgets that allow for easy adjustments
- Performance targeting to engage new audiences by audience (custom/lookalike), demographics, and device
TikTok’s Back-to-Business ad credit program for SMBs (small to medium-sized businesses) offers new and existing TikTok advertisers in 18 countries one-time ad credits of up to $300, and matches of up to $2K for ad spends of at least $300.
In late July, TikTok also launched a new Gamified Branded Effect ad unit to help brands tap the growing interest in gaming. Advertisers can use the new interactive format to engage users with their own branded elements and licensed music (or selections from TikTok’s Commercial Music Library) using more than 20 gamified ad formats, including body postures, catching a ball, and more.
In early September, TikTok enhanced its offerings further by launching a new Marketing Partner Program with almost 20 industry experts to help advertisers create, manage, enhance, and measure their TikTok campaigns. Partners include a range of tools, agencies, and studios, such as Kantar (data and insights) and Bare Tree Media (branded augmented reality assets for TikTok Branded Effects and more).
TikTok continues to expand and innovate its ad platform to offer feature parity with its more established social media competitors. The new self-serve platform offers a similar user experience to that of Facebook, Snapchat, etc, so advertisers won’t have much of a learning curve in the onboarding process.
While self-serve ad products aren’t right for every publisher, we expect that TikTok’s format, scale, first-party data, and performance will quickly draw in new advertisers.
- Ability to place ads in the Lens search in pins and the Shop tab in search
- Enhanced performance insights for US advertisers
- Expanded shopping ad features for UK advertisers
It’s important for publishers to think creatively about where ad units can be placed. How are your users engaging with your content? Where do advertisers want to reach them?
Whether or not ads were originally envisioned to be a part of Pinterest’s shopping experiences, as that product grew in popularity, Pinterest took notice. By inserting ads into the shop tab and Lens search, Pinterest opened up a new revenue stream that doesn’t cannibalize their other ad units.
All publishers can learn from this. Being able to identify where users are spending their time — and inserting native, user-friendly ads into those experiences — ensures your ad product doesn’t lose revenue even if user behavior changes on your site/app.
In July, Snapchat announced a closed beta of Brand Profiles, a business-friendly version of its Public Profiles for creators. The new feature enables brands to create a central hub for their in-app experiences, including:
- AR Lenses: Users can discover brands’ showcase Lenses via Snapchat Search or Lens Explorer
- Highlights: Brands can share their permanent collections of best Snaps, Stories, and more
- Native Store: Users can purchase items in brands’ store experiences via Shopify
- Story posts: Brands can share their Public Story — from new items to big moments
Brands can manage their profiles using app and web management tools and access audience insights for those who view their Stories. Brands included in the closed beta include Ben & Jerry’s, Dior, Gucci, Target, and Universal Pictures.
In August, Snapchat announced a new tool to help local businesses promote themselves in Snap Map. The Promote Local Place feature in Snapchat’s Ad Manager allows businesses to put themselves on the map by building out their profiles, using Snapchat-friendly ad design templates, and selecting targeting parameters such as distance to reach more local users.
Business listings appear on the Snap Map, location tags, and search results for those meeting the targeting criteria. Users can swipe the listing to see photos, reviews, and more, as seen in the restaurant listing above.
Like TikTok, Snapchat offers ad credits to incentive small businesses, with up to $500 in credits for “select brick and mortar businesses.”
As noted in our Q2 roundup, Snapchat’s releases are focused on achieving feature parity with competing platforms.
These latest improvements also highlight Snapchat’s greater push towards eCommerce and small businesses, in order to lure advertisers away from larger, more controversial competitors like Facebook.
Despite the aforementioned ad boycotts and brand safety concerns, Instagram and Facebook continue to introduce new ad products and features — and a few controversies.
In August, Instagram launched a new Suggested Posts section to follow the “You’re All Caught Up” screen in users’ main feeds, with organic photo and video content, as well as sponsored posts. The posts curate organic and paid content that aligns with users’ feeds, similar to the Explore page, but can also create a neverending feed for users who thought they were ‘caught up’ — hence a backlash from many Instagram users.
While the “You’re All Caught Up” section is perfect for users who don’t want infinite scroll, it does mean that as soon as a user hits it, Instagram can’t monetize that session anymore (with infinite scroll, however, they can continue to show ads every couple posts).
As a publisher, it’s important to track session lengths for your users — and understand why/when/where users are signing off. If you can increase these session times and show more ads, then you can increase your average revenue per user.
In early August, Facebook announced a new sponsored ad product specifically for administrators of group feeds. New ‘Paid Partnership’ posts extend Facebook’s Branded Content tools to admins of public groups with over 1K members who want to publish sponsored content from brand partners, such The WhiteGlove Travel partnership pictured below.
Facebook has also responded to heightened concerns — and the July ad boycott — with the September launch of updated brand safety tools that allow advertisers to control the suitability of video content and ad placements, exclude controversial topics (including politics), and more, with independent audits and certifications by the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) and others.
These latest developments indicate Facebook is finally acknowledging the concerns their advertisers have (the new brand safety tools follow the Stop Hate for Profit campaign that more than 1K businesses joined in July).
Facebook’s situation highlights the need for all publishers to be cognizant of brand safety concerns. If your site/app has what may be considered controversial content, your ad product will need the ability to exclude ads from appearing alongside these topics. If it doesn’t offer such functionality, advertisers will look elsewhere for traffic.
- App campaigns for engagement: Built to attract return players with custom messages across Search, YouTube, network apps and in Google Play
- Pre-launch campaigns: Pre-registrations allow developers to build excitement for their latest release
- Target Return on Ad Spend (tROAS) for install campaigns: Dynamic bidding for potential players
- Simpler ad image creation: Limited ad aspect ratios and cropping tool
Flexibility is important as your team specs out the ad units and functionality you should build. Were these new gaming ad updates in Google’s roadmap back in Q1? Maybe, but it’s also possible that Google saw a shift in user behavior in Q2 — in this case, a surge in gaming — and quickly re-prioritized what they should release in Q3.
In September, Vox Media announced its new self-serve ad product: Concert Ad Manager.
The platform is designed to help SMBs and brands build ad campaigns at scale using Vox’s custom Athena ad units across premium publishers, including NBC Universal, Quartz, and Boston Globe.
Businesses can control their ad placements for greater brand safety and select from different ad formats and targeting options, such as location, device, interests, or contextual channels like Food, Travel, etc.
The timing of Vox Media’s launch will likely help it gain traction with SMBs looking to expand their reach and migrate spend away from Facebook and other platforms that present brand safety concerns.
The new Concert Ad Manager offers advertisers feature parity with more established platforms, along with support from Vox Media’s ad ops team, and will help them better monetize their 125M unique monthly visitors.
In late August, CVS Pharmacy launched its new ad network, CVS Media Exchange. Like Walmart, Target, and other large retailers, the CVS network will allow advertisers to create online and in-store campaigns that target consumers with relevant ads based on their first-party, ExtraCare loyalty card data.
The network, which is a managed service, grants advertisers access to multiple ad channels — including in-store ads, CVS website banner ads, programmatic, social media, search, and video — and custom pricing based on their desired analytics.
CVS appears ready to take on rivals such as Amazon and Walmart in the eCommerce space, and its first-party data and in-store reach will be attractive to many CPG brands.
These are the type of ad platforms that we love to see: innovative brands building custom, holistic ad products that utilize in-house tech and first-party data. We have no doubt that CVS will eventually drive more revenue through this tactic than relying on programmatic ads from exchanges — and it could be a great way to form tighter relationships with its major retailers too.
These are just some of the many new products and features that launched in Q3.
Here’s a list of those we didn’t cover here — but that we recommend learning more about:
- Amazon: Luxury Stores experience
- Google: Video, CTV campaign tools, lead form ad extensions
- Hulu: Self-serve streaming ad tool
- Microsoft: Shutterstock partnership for ad images, IAS partnership for improved brand safety
- Pandora: Beta launch of voice-activated ads
- Quora: Lead Gen Forms
- RTB House: Streaming video ads
- Reddit: Expanded Inventory option
- Schibsted: Podcast ad platform
- Telegraph Media Group: Conversation ad unit
- Verizon Media: Contextual targeting tools
- Yelp: Keyword blocking, heat maps
- YouTube: Enhanced contextual targeting
What new products and features are you using and developing?
Have any of these products and features inspired your work? Did we miss any?
Share your thoughts, feedback, and insights with the Ad.Product community on LinkedIn.
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