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Cannabis marketing company Fyllo acquires CannaRegs for $10M

Fyllo, a digital marketing company focused on the cannabis industry, has acquired CannaRegs, a website offering subscription access to state and municipal cannabis regulations. Fyllo founder and CEO Chad Bronstein (pictured above) said his company paid $10 million in cash and stock.

Bronstein previously served as chief revenue officer at digital marketing company Amobee, and he told me that the two companies are “very complementary,” particularly since regulations and compliance present “a unique technical challenge” when it comes to advertising cannabis products.

Ultimately, his goal is for Fyllo to offer “compliance as a service,” with artificial intelligence helping brands and publishers ensure that all their cannabis advertising follows local laws. At the same time, Bronstein said Fyllo will continue to support CannaRegs’ 150-plus customers (mostly law firms, real estate professionals and cannabis operators) and work to bring more automation to the platform.

In addition, CannaRegs founder and CEO Amanda Ostrowitz will become Fyllo’s chief strategy officer, with CannaRegs’ 30 employees continuing to work out of their Denver office. This brings Fyllo’s total headcount to around 70.

“In a short period of time, Fyllo has emerged as an essential platform for publishers and cannabis companies to build creative campaigns in a safe and compliant way,” Ostrowitz said in a statement. “By teaming up with Fyllo, we have the chance to build a truly remarkable brand that can disrupt the entire industry. We look forward to delivering our same quality of data to existing customers and incorporating that data into Fyllo’s platform to become a one-stop-shop for cannabis brands looking to grow their businesses.”

Chicago-based Fyllo raised $18 million in funding last year.

Source: TechCrunch
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Hulu to debut new ad formats in 2020 focused on letting users make choices, transact with advertisers

Hulu is preparing to roll out new forms of advertising this year — one which will allow viewers to have more say in the ads that plays, and another that lets the viewer engage with the brand in question, either by getting information sent directly to their mobile phone or by using QR codes. In later months, Hulu is also considering digital product insertion to enhance the ad opportunities within its own original programming.

The new ad formats are the latest to join an already innovative lineup of ad experiences for Hulu, where the company hasn’t been hesitant about trying out new ideas to make ads more user-friendly. For example, Hulu last year introduced pause ads that pop up only when viewers take a break from streaming. And last month, it rolled out new ‘binge watch ads‘ that allow brands to sponsor ad-free episodes when Hulu detects that a viewer is binge-watching their way through a series.

The goal with these ad experiences is to find a way to make advertising less disruptive to the viewer. In 2020, Hulu is also focused on making its ads more engaging.

In the case of the forthcoming choice-based ads — a sort of ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ for advertising — viewers will be able to select which ads from a brand they want to see. For example, users could choose to see ads about ski vacations from a travel company’s ad, or they could watch an ad about beach getaways. They could even pick which option they wanted with their remote.

In addition, Hulu is planning to roll out new transactional ads to help viewers engage with brands of interest. While 80% of viewing today takes place on the TV screen, most people don’t want to transact on the big screen — they’d rather use a computer or a mobile device. In this case, if the viewer wants more information from the advertiser, Hulu will be able to push that to their phone. This could be done by using the mobile phone number or email attached to a Hulu user’s account (given permission, of course), or viewers could hold up their phone to scan a QR code on the ad itself to take more immediate action.

The information the advertiser shares could include a link that takes the viewer right to a website — like a retailer’s shopping site, for example.

“This goes back to that viewer-first advertising promise: less disruptive, more engaging, and more functional. And it will really allow us to improve both the viewer experience and the advertiser’s ROI,” says Jeremy Helfand, VP and Head of Advertising Platforms at Hulu, in a conversation last week at CES.

The new ad formats will round four main themes Hulu is developing for its advertising experiences — situational, which is based on user behavior, as with pause and binge ads; choice-based, which allows the viewer to make a selection; transactional, where the viewer engages with the brand; and integrated storytelling, which is focused on integration sponsorships to blend the brand and content into a more seamless experience.

While Hulu has already dipped its toes into integrated storytelling with several ad experiences, the company is now thinking about the next steps for these ads, Helfand notes.

“We do think that there is a future where we’re able to fuse brands into the content, post-production,” he says. That is, Hulu could digitally insert product placements into its own programming.

“We’re excited about what’s coming up with cooking content on Hulu Kitchen. Theoretically, we could take a KitchenAid mixer and put it on the table even though it’s not there,” he adds, referring to Hulu’s plans for new original food series, including shows from Chrissy Teigen, David Chang, and Eater.

The technology to do this sort of digital ad insertion exists, but Hulu doesn’t know if it plans to develop its own in-house or acquire or partner with a company that already works in this space.

“You have to be able to read the metadata underneath the content as well as visually scan the content,” Helfand explains. “We’ve got a lot of content recognition work that’s already going on inside of Hulu which we use for lots of different reasons, not just for advertising. But there’s also a number of third parties — there’s a whole ad technology industry that’s emerging about being about to do things like that — and we’re looking at partners, as well,” he says.

One area that’s not being prioritized are the ad-supported downloads Hulu once promised. Instead of working out how to deliver offline viewing with ads included, Hulu is thinking about other models — like sponsored downloads, perhaps. But its focus for the near-term is on these newer forms of advertising, not on ad-supported downloads.

“We’re always thinking about the viewer experience and how do we deliver the very best viewer experience. And that obsession with the viewer extends to advertising. Consumers have a choice…They have a choice whether they want an ad-free experience or they want an ad-supported experience. And if they choose an ad-supported search experience, we want to make sure that that experience is just as good as an ad-free one,” says Helfand.

Source: TechCrunch
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Customer data platform ActionIQ raises $32M

ActionIQ co-founder and CEO Tasso Argyros knows that there are plenty of companies promising to help businesses use their customer data to deliver personalized experiences — as he put it, “The space has gotten very, very hot over the last couple of years.”

But in the face of growing competition, ActionIQ (founded in 2014 and headquartered in New York) has attracted some impressive customers like The New York Times, Conde Nast, American Eagle Outfitters, Vera Bradley and Pandora Media, as well as high-profile investors like Sequoia Capital and Andreessen Horowitz.

Today, it’s announcing that it has raised $32 million in Series C funding.

“At this point, we believe we are four to five years ahead of the market,” Argyros told me. “[Customer data platforms are] very hot, you see people really jumping into it, but nobody really has a product.”

He attributed the rise of these platforms to the growth in customer acquisition costs: “Everybody’s switched their focus from ‘How do we acquire more customers?’ to ‘How do you grow lifetime value?’”

The key, Argyros said, is “delivering personalized experiences at scale.” So if you’re a business trying to understand which customers need to be convinced to stick around, which customers are ready to upgrade to a paid subscription and so on, you need a platform like ActionIQ: “What’s common about all these questions is that they’re all data questions.”

He described ActionIQ’s approach as “product-first,” creating self-serve tools for enterprises rather than relying on consulting or IT services, and he said the product is designed to “drive intelligent actions activated through any channel.”

Argyros contrasted this approach with the large marketing clouds, where he said that stitching together products from various acquisitions has led to “a huge data gap between what marketing clouds promise and what they can actually deliver.” And he said other customer data platforms are limited to bringing the data together — but “just putting customer data in one place, that doesn’t mean business can use the customer data to drive value.”

March Capital Partners led the round, with participation from Cisco Ventures, as well as previous investors Sequoia, Andreessen and FirstMark Capital. Meredith Finn, a partner at March, is joining ActionIQ’s board of directors.

“From my professional experience at Salesforce and Twitter, when it comes to building a relationship with your customers, data is everything,” Finn said in a statement. “ActionIQ took a data-first approach from day one in contrast to many vendors that are now scrambling to address their data gaps by duct taping data infrastructure to their existing point solutions. … The potential of such a platform is limitless, and spans well beyond traditional marketing channels to other areas of customer interactions including web and mobile app experiences, customer support, and sales.”

ActionIQ has now raised a total of $75 million in funding. And while the Series C isn’t significantly larger that the $30 million that ActionIQ raise din 2017, Argyros said the company didn’t need to raise a huge round this time around, because it’s already built out the core product.

“A lot of dollars were invested heavily in the product way before the demand was there,” he said. “The Series B was pretty significant because there was so much upfront product investment. … Most of these funds are going towards expanding the business in sales and marketing.”

Source: TechCrunch
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Facebook won’t ban political ads, prefers to keep screwing democracy

It’s 2020 — a key election year in the US — and Facebook is doubling down on its policy of letting people pay it to fuck around with democracy.

Despite trenchant criticism — including from US lawmakers accusing Facebook’s CEO to his face of damaging American democracy the company is digging in, announcing as much today by reiterating its defence of continuing to accept money to run microtargeted political ads.

Instead of banning political ads Facebook is trumpeting a few tweaks to the information it lets users see about political ads — claiming it’s boosting “transparency” and “controls” while leaving its users vulnerable to default settings that offer neither.  

Political ads running on Facebook are able to be targeted at individuals’ preferences as a result of the company’s pervasive tracking and profiling of Internet users. And ethical concerns about microtargeting led the UK’s data protection watchdog to call in 2018 for a pause on the use of digital ad tools like Facebook by political campaigns — warning of grave risks to democracy.

Facebook isn’t for pausing political microtargeting, though. Even though various elements of its data-gathering activities are also subject to privacy and consent complaints, regulatory scrutiny and legal challenge in Europe, under regional data protection legislation.

Instead, the company made it clear last fall that it won’t fact-check political ads, nor block political messages that violate its speech policies — thereby giving politicians carte blanche to run hateful lies, if they so choose.

Facebook’s algorithms also demonstrably select for maximum eyeball engagement, making it simply the ‘smart choice’ for the modern digitally campaigning politician to run outrageous BS on Facebook — as long time Facebook exec Andrew Bosworth recently pointed out in an internal posting that leaked in full to the NYT.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s defence of his social network’s political ads policy boils down to repeatedly claiming ‘it’s all free speech man’ (we paraphrase).

This is an entirely nuance-free argument that comedian Sacha Baron Cohen expertly demolished last year, pointing out that: “Under this twisted logic if Facebook were around in the 1930s it would have allowed Hitler to post 30-second ads on his solution to the ‘Jewish problem.’”

Facebook responded to the take-down with a denial that hate speech exists on its platform since it has a policy against it — per its typical crisis PR playbook. And it’s more of the same selectively self-serving arguments being dispensed by Facebook today.

In a blog post attributed to its director of product management, Rob Leathern, it expends more than 1,000 words on why it’s still not banning political ads (it would be bad for advertisers wanting to reaching “key audiences”, is the non-specific claim) — including making a diversionary call for regulators to set ad standards, thereby passing the buck on ‘democratic accountability’ to lawmakers (whose electability might very well depend on how many Facebook ads they run…), while spinning cosmetic, made-for-PR tweaks to its ad settings and what’s displayed in an ad archive that most Facebook users will never have heard of as “expanded transparency” and “more control”. 

In fact these tweaks do nothing to reform the fundamental problem of damaging defaults.

The onus remains on Facebook users to do the leg work on understanding what its platform is pushing at their eyeballs and why.

Even as the ‘extra’ info now being drip-fed to the Ad Library is still highly fuzzy (“We are adding ranges for Potential Reach, which is the estimated target audience size for each political, electoral or social issue ad so you can see how many people an advertiser wanted to reach with every ad,” as Facebook writes of one tweak.)

The new controls similarly require users to delve into complex settings menus in order to avail themselves of inherently incremental limits — such as an option that will let people opt into seeing “fewer” political and social issue ads. (Fewer is naturally relative, ergo the scale of the reduction remains entirely within Facebook’s control — so it’s more meaningless ‘control theatre’ from the lord of dark pattern design. Why can’t people switch off political and issue ads entirely?)

Another incremental setting lets users “stop seeing ads based on an advertiser’s Custom Audience from a list”.

But just imagine trying to explain WTF that means to your parents or grandparents — let alone an average Internet user actually being able to track down the ‘control’ and exercise any meaningful agency over the political junk ads they’re being exposed to on Facebook.

It is, to quote Baron Cohen, “bullshit”.

Nor are outsiders the only ones calling out Zuckerberg on his BS and “twisted logic”: A number of Facebook’s own employees warned in an open letter last year that allowing politicians to lie in Facebook ads essentially weaponizes the platform.

They also argued that the platform’s advanced targeting and behavioral tracking tools make it “hard for people in the electorate to participate in the public scrutiny that we’re saying comes along with political speech” — accusing the company’s leadership of making disingenuous arguments in defence of a toxic, anti-democratic policy. 

Nothing in what Facebook has announced today resets the anti-democratic asymmetry inherent in the platform’s relationship to its users.

Facebook users — and democratic societies — remain, by default, preyed upon by self-interested political interests thanks to Facebook’s policies which are dressed up in a self-interested misappropriation of ‘free speech’ as a cloak for its unfettered exploitation of individual attention as fuel for a propaganda-as-service business.

Yet other policy positions are available.

Twitter announced a total ban on political ads last year — and while the move doesn’t resolve wider disinformation issues attached to its platform, the decision to bar political ads has been widely lauded as a positive, standard-setting example.

Google also followed suit by announcing a ban on “demonstrably false claims” in political ads. It also put limits on the targeting terms that can be used for political advertising buys that appear in search, on display ads and on YouTube.

Still Facebook prefers to exploit “the absence of regulation”, as its blog post puts it, to not do the right thing and keep sticking two fingers up at democratic accountability — because not applying limits on behavioral advertising best serves its business interests. Screw democracy.

“We have based [our policies] on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public,” Facebook writes, ignoring the fact that some of its own staff already pointed out the sketchy hypocrisy of trying to claim that complex ad targeting tools and techniques are open to public scrutiny.

Source: TechCrunch
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In a post-cookie world, RTB is key to effective digital marketing

Since GDPR became enforceable, the number of third-party cookies has declined

We’re in a privacy panic.

It started with GDPR, and CCPA followed with new legislation aimed at giving consumers greater control and transparency into how their data is used. Tech giants took a mighty stand to get ahead of the changes and the oncoming cookie-free movement: Apple’s new Intelligent Tracking Prevention (IPT) in Safari places restrictions on cookies based on how frequently a user interacts with the website, purging cookies entirely after 30 days of disuse.

Without obtaining explicit consent from users, Google Chrome will now prevent cross-site cookies from working across domains. Microsoft announced that settings on its new Edge browser will influence how third parties will be able to track consumers across the web.

It worked: since GDPR became enforceable, the number of third-party cookies used per webpage declined from about 80 in April to about 60 in July, and the number of third-party cookies found on news websites (major advertising publishers) in Europe declined by 22%.

In response, there’s been an onslaught of articles claiming the value of real-time bidding (RTB) and all of programmatic will decline in direct correlation with enforced privacy regulation, browser and cookie depreciation. While yes, the cookie (and associated use of cookies) has been the centerpiece of all digital advertising performance reconciliation in the last 15 years, it is not the only reason RTB is an important component of effective digital marketing.

The question then becomes what is the vehicle that allows advertisers and brands to determine the value of those users or inventory in a less cookie-enabled environment.

Enter contextual targeting, which had been living in the shadow of shiny first-party data. It can stop those RTB pipes from rusting by using them to determine the value of the user and placement in the bidding process based on the information on the page, rather than the user. Understanding that we have enough information about ad space without user information means we can face the (more private) future of the industry with far less fear.

It is the answer to the cookie-free, privacy-forward, power-to-the-consumer movement. So how do you determine the value of a placement using contextual targeting – especially when you’ve never valued it that way before? These are – IMHO – the key tenets of deciding the value of a user in a contextual environment:

Placement Targeting: Placement is the exact spot on a publisher’s website/app where an ad unit will appear. Without the ability to target at the placement level, a contextual campaign will not be as effective as it could be. Two identically-sized placements on a page will vary in performance depending on multiple factors, including position, ad type, surrounding context and viewability.

Source: TechCrunch
Continue reading In a post-cookie world, RTB is key to effective digital marketing

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In a post-cookie world, RTB is key to effective digital marketing

Since GDPR became enforceable, the number of third-party cookies has declined

We’re in a privacy panic.

It started with GDPR, and CCPA followed with new legislation aimed at giving consumers greater control and transparency into how their data is used. Tech giants took a mighty stand to get ahead of the changes and the oncoming cookie-free movement: Apple’s new Intelligent Tracking Prevention (IPT) in Safari places restrictions on cookies based on how frequently a user interacts with the website, purging cookies entirely after 30 days of disuse.

Without obtaining explicit consent from users, Google Chrome will now prevent cross-site cookies from working across domains. Microsoft announced that settings on its new Edge browser will influence how third parties will be able to track consumers across the web.

It worked: since GDPR became enforceable, the number of third-party cookies used per webpage declined from about 80 in April to about 60 in July, and the number of third-party cookies found on news websites (major advertising publishers) in Europe declined by 22%.

In response, there’s been an onslaught of articles claiming the value of real-time bidding (RTB) and all of programmatic will decline in direct correlation with enforced privacy regulation, browser and cookie depreciation. While yes, the cookie (and associated use of cookies) has been the centerpiece of all digital advertising performance reconciliation in the last 15 years, it is not the only reason RTB is an important component of effective digital marketing.

The question then becomes what is the vehicle that allows advertisers and brands to determine the value of those users or inventory in a less cookie-enabled environment.

Enter contextual targeting, which had been living in the shadow of shiny first-party data. It can stop those RTB pipes from rusting by using them to determine the value of the user and placement in the bidding process based on the information on the page, rather than the user. Understanding that we have enough information about ad space without user information means we can face the (more private) future of the industry with far less fear.

It is the answer to the cookie-free, privacy-forward, power-to-the-consumer movement. So how do you determine the value of a placement using contextual targeting – especially when you’ve never valued it that way before? These are – IMHO – the key tenets of deciding the value of a user in a contextual environment:

Placement Targeting: Placement is the exact spot on a publisher’s website/app where an ad unit will appear. Without the ability to target at the placement level, a contextual campaign will not be as effective as it could be. Two identically-sized placements on a page will vary in performance depending on multiple factors, including position, ad type, surrounding context and viewability.

Source: TechCrunch
Continue reading In a post-cookie world, RTB is key to effective digital marketing

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Pandora launches interactive voice ads

Pandora has begun to test a new type of advertising format that allows listeners to respond to the ad by speaking aloud. In the new ads, listeners are prompted to say “yes” after the ad asks a question and a tone plays. The ads will then offer more information about the product or brand in question.

Debut advertisers testing the new format include Doritos, Ashley HomeStores, Unilever, Wendy’s, Turner Broadcasting, Comcast and Nestlé.

The ads begin by explaining what they are and how they’ll work. They then play a short and simple message followed by a question to which listeners are supposed to respond.

For example, the Wendy’s ad asks listeners if they’re hungry, and if they say “yes” the ad continues by offering a recommendation about what to eat. The DiGiorno’s pizza ad asks listeners to say “yes” to hear the punchline of a pizza-themed joke. The Ashley HomeStores ad engages listeners by offering tips on getting a better night’s sleep. And so on.

The new format capitalizes on Pandora’s underlying voice technology, which also powers the app’s smart voice assistant, Voice Mode, launched earlier this year. While Voice Mode lets Pandora users control their music hands-free, the voice ads aim to get users to engage with the advertiser’s content hands-free, as opposed to tapping on the screen or visiting a link to get more information.

The company believes these types of ads will be more meaningful as they force listeners to pay attention. For the brand advertisers, voice ads offer a way to more directly measure how many people an ad reached — something that’s not possible with traditional audio ads, which by their nature aren’t clickable.

Pandora announced its plans to test interactive voice ads back in April of this year, initially with San Francisco-based adtech company, Instreamatic. At the time, it said it would launch the new format into beta testing by Q4, as it now has.

The ad format arrives at a time when consumers have become more comfortable talking to digital voice assistants, like Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant. There’s also an increased expectation that services we interact with will support voice commands — like when we’re speaking to Fire TV or Apple TV to find something to watch or asking Pandora or Spotify to play our favorite music.

But consumers’ appetite for interactive voice advertisements is still largely untested. Even Amazon limited voice ads on its Alexa platform for fear of alienating users who would find them disruptive to the core experience. Spotify also ran a limited test of voice ads this year.

In Pandora’s case, users don’t have to play along. The company says if the user doesn’t respond within a couple of seconds or if they say no, the music resumes playback.

Pandora says the ads will begin running today for a small subset of listeners using its app.

Source: TechCrunch
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Conductor execs buy their company back from WeWork

It’s been less than two years since WeWork announced the acquisition of SEO and content marketing company Conductor — but those two years have been bumpy, to say the least.

Briefly: Parent organization The We Company’s disastrous attempt to go public resulted in the ouster of CEO Adam Neumann, an indefinite delay of its IPO and reports that the company was weighing the sale of subsidiaries Meetup, Managed by Q and Conductor.

So it’s no surprise that Conductor is, in fact, being sold — not to another company, but to its own CEO and co-founder Seth Besmertnik, COO Selina Eizik and investor Jason Finger (managing partner of The Finger Group and founder of Seamless).

“We’re grateful for our time with WeWork, during which we’ve been able to invest aggressively in R&D, doubling the size of our team with world-class talent that helps our customers achieve success everyday,” Besmertnik said in a statement. “People don’t want to be advertised to or sold to anymore. Our solutions make it easier for brands to deliver marketing that is helpful and valuable. It’s marketing that consumers actually seek out.”

The company also says that Conductor’s employees will be given a new category of stock that they’re calling founder-preferred shares, turning them into “250 employee co-founders” who can appoint a representative to the board of directors. This should give them a bigger stake and a bigger say in where Conductor goes from here.

In fact, Besmertnik noted that pre-acquisition, the Conductor team (including himself) owned less than 10% of the company, while under the new structure, employees will own “more than four times what they did when we sold the company” — and combined with Besmertnik and Eizik’s shares, they have a majority stake.

“Our ownership model is going to really create an even more committed and even more passionate group of people as we apply that to our mission and vision,” he told me.

Conductor started out with a focus on helping marketers optimize their websites for search, then expanded with tools for creating the content that’s being found through search. Since its acquisition, the company has operated as a WeWork subsidiary, and it’s currently working with more than 400 enterprises including Visa, Casper and Slack.

The financial terms were not disclosed, but Conductor says that as a result of the deal, it’s fully divested from The We Company.

Source: TechCrunch
Continue reading Conductor execs buy their company back from WeWork