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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Better ads, fewer tradeoffs: insights from a creative director

March 11, 2024 | By Jeff Hill, Director of Client Success – Clipcentric
The topline: Fewer ads on a page creates a better experience for the audience, and higher-quality, premium ads command a premium for the advertiser. The key is to reduce ads without sacrificing revenue. 

As a longtime creative director in digital advertising, I consistently saw the same challenges across publishers: tension between revenue and creative, between premium ad offerings and relentless efficiency, between trying new approaches and sticking to the playbook.

Here are three insights I often share our clients now that I’m at Clipcentric to show that digital publishers don’t need to view these perceived tradeoffs as either/or dilemmas.

You can reduce ad inventory without sacrificing revenue. Really.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but many digital publishers have successfully reduced ad inventory without sacrificing revenue. Fewer ads on a page creates a better experience for the audience, and higher-quality, premium ads command a premium for the advertiser.

One of Clipcentric’s partners currently fills about 20% of its inventory with direct-sold advertising, but that 20% accounts for almost 80% of its ad revenue. Trading programmatic pennies for direct-sold dollars works. Another partner recently reduced overall ad inventory by 50%, but didn’t sacrifice revenue at all.

More ads don’t always equal more money. Shifting available ad inventory away from open programmatic to direct sold, and then offering compelling, premium units for those ad slots, gives you more control over your revenue and creates a better experience for advertisers and audiences.

Premium publishers should serve premium content and premium ads.

Premium publishers invest a lot in building an audience around top-shelf digital content that keeps audiences coming back for more. But serving low quality ads next to that content can diminish the entire experience of a site or app.

We’ve all encountered a poorly placed programmatic belly fat ad next to a piece of premium content. Even running house ads that promote your own content (for example, from your branded content studio) can sometimes be preferable to low-revenue, low-quality ads on a premium site.

However, in addition to elevating the look and feel of your site, premium ad offerings can effectively differentiate you from the competition and help your ad sales team close more deals. Aligning features from different ad products to advertisers’ KPIs (a dynamic map in the ad unit to drive in-store traffic; a countdown timer or in-banner add-to-calendar feature to raise awareness of an event) allows you to quickly respond to RFPs and develop ad proposals that truly excite clients.

A prime example of this from my time at CBSi was when a client wanted to position its brand in a memorable way. CBS Sports had a popular fantasy football league. We proposed targeting fantasy football users with personalized ads that included each user’s fantasy team name and feedback on their draft choices. The advertiser loved the idea, and it was something only CBS Sports could offer. We linked our fantasy API  to the ad unit (with Clipcentric’s help) and developed a unique offering that the advertiser loved – and that perfectly aligned with CBSi’s own content.

Custom ads don’t require in-house engineering – just the right tech partner.

In my publisher days in creative services, there were so many times the ad sales team approached me with requests for complicated ads:

  • “Can we create a quiz?”
  • “Is it possible to put multiple videos in one ad?”
  • “Can we create an interactive game inside a 300×250?”
  • “Can we use our data to change what’s in the ad?”
  • “Can we put a flying dragon on the page? Okay what about four flying dragons?”

…and so on. There was no shortage of ideas, but with limited resources there was a hesitancy to say yes.

Publishers often streamline ad product offerings into their simplest form so ad ops teams can run very lean and produce ads efficiently. But that often leads to always saying “no” to advertisers who want anything beyond ordinary. Saying “yes” can unlock revenue premiums and demonstrate to your advertisers that your pub is responsive and collaborative and can deliver not just the audiences they want to reach, but the creative that will engage them. 

Ads with advanced creative features – dynamic video, data-driven features, all kinds of interactivity – can drive CPM premiums without needing to develop or retest an entirely new ad unit. At Clipcentric, we work with publishers to develop flexible ad containers that are tested and approved for their sites. Inside those containers, (almost) anything goes. The right partner can help you respond to custom requests to make an advertiser’s vision come to life.

Many media executives probably already know all these things. But sometimes it’s difficult to choose a path that seems more complex than what an organization is used to. Fewer ads, of higher quality, with better features and higher CPMs are not nearly as complicated to pull off as most publishers think. Ad operations professionals, myself included, welcome the opportunity to put real creativity back into ad products.

About the author

Jeff Hill was a director in ad operations and creative services for 15 years at major digital publishers like CBS Interactive and Red Ventures. He joined Clipcentric in July 2023.

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