The Open Internet: The Biggest Missed Opportunity in Advertising
Advertising solutions now exist to map the open internet. Businesses are running engaging campaigns
that amplify their brand image to new audiences without the limitations of single platforms.
An Elephant Enters the Room..
Digital advertising is largely controlled by tech giants, leading to costly campaigns that are underperforming for the businesses that rely on them.
Social media platforms run the world, having become global engagement hubs for communities of all types. This has made Facebook and YouTube the “advertising norm”, and a bedrock on which most ad campaigns are built. Unfortunately the bedrock is crumbling along with the cookies that sustain it. Now businesses are waking up to the fact that advertising strategies centered around these walled garden platforms aren’t cutting it.
A Quick Glance at the Elephant…
Change is constant, and the evolution of the internet is a reflection of this truism.
Since its inception in 1983, the internet has transformed dramatically. At each stop along this timeline, advertisers have experimented and honed their strategies to account for developments and innovations. These strategies should not be set in stone, as disruptive forces like consumer preferences and government regulation require advertisers to remain nimble with their approach.
The present day situation is no different. The very nature of the internet is changing, driven by its increasing presence and importance in our daily lives. We now store and exchange the most sensitive information and digital assets that we possess on the internet, spending countless hours each day communicating, collaborating, and socializing with both loved ones and strangers. This migration from the physical to the digital has shifted the public opinion around privacy and altered our cognitive process around engagement. As a result, governments are honing in on privacy concerns and advertisers are exploring new ways to inspire engagement.
The Elephant is a Peaceful Creature…
Advertising challenges are clearly coming to a head, but the solution has been right in front of our eyes this whole time.
Despite the prominence of walled garden platforms, users only spend 34% of their time there. The other 66% is being spent across the open internet. As users traverse the internet and spend time moving from site to site, and platform to platform, everything is connected by the open internet. This creates billions of opportunities to advertise in a way that allows for more compelling brand storytelling in a data-driven fashion.
From browser ads to in-app ads, the open internet allows for a thread that engaged audiences can follow, connecting a brand’s story from channel to channel without being stuck in a single walled garden. This presents an interesting big data opportunity, as businesses are not forced to accept the minimal data and insights that platforms like facebook choose to grant them. Instead, the open internet is far less constraining, delivering meaningful data backed insights.
Until now, most businesses haven’t been able to easily deploy campaigns across the open internet, leaving them with strategies that only address the 34% of a user’s internet time. ReverseAds has solved this riddle by mapping the open internet in order to empower advertisers with the other 66%, enabling the full spectrum of engagement opportunities.
Limitations of Walled Gardens
70% of advertising budgets are spent within the walled gardens of Facebook, Google and Amazon. Upon first glance this would make sense given the prominence of these platforms, however when you consider where users spend most of their time, this statistic is counter-intuitive. The truth is that walled garden platforms seem to offer the easiest channels to engage audiences, but there are severe limitations and downsides of campaigns run within these platforms.
The existence of these “walls” are to protect and empower the organization inside, and not to benefit the platform participants. Users have their data collected and sold. Advertisers spend too much on campaigns that lack transparency. Everyone is trusting the platform to optimize and personalize advertising without putting data at risk or providing competitive advantages. Unfortunately there is demonstrable failure to operate in alignment with these expectations.
Two of the three largest walled garden platforms, Facebook and Google, generate a majority of their revenue through advertising. In 2021, Google’s total revenue was $256.73 billion and Facebook’s ad revenue was $114.93 billion. This can largely be attributed to the value of the time being spent within these free to use platforms. Users of these platforms have become the product being sold to advertisers, as data is collected and monetized within the walled gardens.
There is no transparency behind how the data is used and how the algorithms choose audiences to serve with ads. These walled gardens start to look much more like black boxes when you realize the amount spent within them and the lack of information they share in return.
As money is deployed on campaigns across platforms, advertisers gain very little insight on their customers. There is no clarity on the performance of campaigns, resulting in a hazy view of customers despite existing engagement. In fact, marketers specify that extracting audience insights from walled gardens is one of their biggest challenges.
Data-privacy is definitely a justifiable reason to restrict the sharing of user data, however advertisers have no visibility of the allocation of campaign budgets. Everyone simply trusts that the platform is doing its best to optimize performance and keep campaigns as cost efficient as possible. This blind faith is not enough when businesses are under immense pressure to deliver results.
Given the sheer dominance that walled garden platforms have in the advertising industry, they set the terms that everyone else must adhere to. These platforms have monopolized advertising, making it expensive to run ads and few clear options for alternatives. As advertisers increase in number, competition leads to higher prices across the board and negative ROI becomes more and more common.
The price to advertise on Facebook and YouTube continues to increase and performance continues to fall short. It’s now a necessity for businesses to become experts on ad campaigns in order to compete and generate a positive ROI. Despite this, the walled garden’s market share continues to grow as less and less is spent outside of these platforms, with real-time bidding decreasing by around $1 billion per year for the last few years.
As prices trend up and performance trends down, there is no clear plan in sight for businesses struggling to generate results with their walled garden ad campaigns. These platforms are becoming over-monetized and success requires more knowledge and resources than ever before.
It should be clear now that walled gardens set the rules for everyone working within their platforms. This presents significant concerns in the area of content censorship. Every piece of content served within the walls of Facebook and YouTube is controlled by the platform. Most notably, YouTube has regularly come under scrutiny for removing content based on the findings of algorithms that attempt to pinpoint misinformation. While the intention is good, policing almost a billion videos is a nearly impossible task, and their engagement algorithms actually encourage users to digest content that is on the verge of censorship without establishing a clear line for creators.
While content censorship is a much more broad issue than advertising, its effects on campaigns run by advertisers should be strongly considered. Which advertisers are being prioritized by algorithms? Whose content is being shadowbanned? The answers to these questions aren’t clear, as platforms do not provide clear guidelines or insight on the matter. This puts advertisers in a challenging situation, especially those that are even minimally related to content that could be considered restricted.
The Power of the Open Internet
The open internet is still a mystery to marketers across industries. This isn’t a surprise given the all encompassing nature of the term. It is sprawling, and can be best described as both a fundamental network and a concept of neutrality that’s applied. It ensures the world wide web is free from biases of broadband service providers that could slow or block specific sites or applications while providing favor to others.
To provide some perspective, walled gardens exist as siloed ecosystems that can be accessed via the open internet much like pit stops along the open road. These walled gardens are not beholden to the same expectations of neutrality, as they are owned by corporate entities that set the rules. The open internet is the connective tissue that links all walled gardens, websites and platforms, as users navigate from place to place. There are nearly 1.2 billion websites that exist across the open internet, with 175 new ones being created every minute.
The vastness of this expanding digital landscape makes it hard for businesses to decipher, resulting in caution when allocating budgets for marketing initiatives. Advertising is a nuanced process, and one that has a significant impact on brand reputation. Because of this, the open internet can seem like a black hole in which a brand can lose control of their narrative and run the risk of leaving negative brand memories with their audience.
The truth is that the open internet is more trusted, less expensive and more transparent than the walled garden platforms in which most businesses spend their budget. Solutions now exist to map the open web, ensuring alignment with a brand’s image and target audience, while creating more engaging brand storytelling that transcends single platforms and connects to the right users at the right time.
The true power of the open internet starts with a simple fact… users trust it.
Trust is a critical component of every business relationship. Now that trust is at an all time low, it is extremely challenging to cultivate it through advertising. In fact, only 47% of brands are seen as trustworthy and 75% of brands could disappear overnight and a majority of people would not care. This data is staggering, but it becomes particularly illuminating and actionable when you pair it with a bit more information.
77% of internet users trust articles on the open internet more than walled gardens. Only 39% of users would start their content exploration journey on platforms like Facebook and YouTube. It doesn’t stop there. 40% of people say that they most often find relevant ads on the open internet compared to only 18% on Facebook. This data paints the picture of a lopsided advertising landscape in which people prefer and trust the open internet, but businesses continue to allocate the majority of their ad spend to walled gardens.
The power of the open internet becomes even more interesting when you consider the state of mind that consumers approach internet usage.
Audience with an Active Mindset Users come to the internet for a variety of reasons, from work to entertainment and everything in between. As such, internet sites and platforms serve a number of functions as users approach the experience from various states of mind. Businesses can deploy more targeted and successful ad campaigns with an understanding of how users approach their internet time.
On average, users across the open internet have a much more active mindset than those on social media sites like Facebook. Nearly half of Facebook users are just scrolling mindlessly, which is not an ideal target audience. Users go to the open internet when seeking specific information, learning about products or services, or intend to make a purchase. This is underlined by the data that suggests the open internet is more trusted than social media platforms.
Brands should be using this information to their advantage, and crafting more nuanced campaigns that generate meaningful touch points across the open internet. These touchpoints have the ability to reach users that have demonstrated intent to purchase, and are actively seeking information or solutions. By deploying campaigns in this way, not only are businesses maximizing engagement across the open internet, but also leaving positive brand memories that can optimize campaigns within walled gardens. This is because a deeper brand awareness is created through campaigns outside of single platforms, which informs customer experiences when reminded of a business on Facebook or YouTube.
Positive Brand Memories Each user’s experience on social media is slightly different, however walled garden algorithms are built to push content that inspires engagement. Unfortunately, high levels of engagement are most commonly triggered by very emotional content. Neuromarketing research proves that sad content on Facebook is the most engaging, resulting in algorithms prioritizing this type of content at a higher rate.
Businesses that advertise on Facebook cannot control this, as ads are deployed by the platform to appeal to users in the same feed that other content is served. Thus, businesses have no control over the content that their ads are being served amongst. So do you want your brand to be associated with sadness in order to increase engagement?
The emotional state that a user experiences with your ad content is out of your control on Facebook. The user may have just seen a highly emotional or triggering news story that was intended to engage them. Subconsciously this can leave brand memories that are linked to unrelated content consumed moments before or after your advertisement. The open internet is much different, as it is possible to appeal to users with an active mindset and demonstrable intent to make a purchase.
It’s a matter of appealing to the emotional (Facebook) or rational (open internet) part of people’s brain. While there is opportunity in the emotional, it is a much less controlled approach to advertising, and one that comes with the risk of negative brand reputation. The question then becomes, how can brands effectively lean on this to broaden their reach, increase ROI and strengthen their brand reputation?
The secret can be found in the data.
Data fuels digital advertising. As mentioned above, walled garden platforms lack transparency, separating advertisers from the data that drives their campaigns. This forces advertisers to have blind faith in the platforms on which they allocate their budgets. The open internet is a much more transparent place, empowering advertisers with the data needed to optimize performance and a clear view of where money is being spent. This can all be achieved with cookieless and privacy-forward solutions.
Mapping the Open Internet When considering the open internet for advertising campaigns, businesses can become overwhelmed by the scope. 1.2 billion websites, dozens of popular social platforms, web apps and more, all at your disposal. Luckily, there are solutions that comb through all of this information using machine learning and AI. This is made possible through the transparency of data available.
ReverseAds is leading this charge to proliferate ad campaigns on the open internet by mapping it for businesses who want to advertise there. Without going too deep into our methodology, we use keyword data to map the open internet and predict where a user is going on their path to purchase. A buyer’s purchasing decisions can be predicted by looking at their engagement with content online. Keywords related to the videos they watch, sites they explore, and blogs they read tell a story that can help businesses map the open internet and path to purchase.
Keywords have the power to connect these dots and help businesses accurately predict where a buyer is heading next. Every webpage can be crawled to locate the keywords related to a product or service being considered. As keywords accumulate, a buyer’s profile begins to take shape and connections are made. We call this a “keyword cluster”, and we use this cluster to determine where on the path to purchase a buyer currently exists.
Dynamic Advertising One of the massive benefits associated with mapping the open internet and the paths that buyers take, is the ability to optimize and personalize the ads being served. Each platform and medium for advertising is different, and by understanding the attributes that make a campaign successful, brands can serve dynamic ads that account for the ways in which they are being consumed.
Ads on Facebook require a different approach than ads on highly specific industry sites. Data allows us to deepen our understanding of what content performs best in each setting, which we can use to serve more resonant ads at the moment a user is most receptive. This is where data meets brand storytelling, and by intelligently combining these facets of advertising, businesses can begin to generate more valuable engagement.
Brand Storytelling Amplified
Whether advertising within a walled garden or on the open internet, brand storytelling allows businesses to foster stronger connections with their audience. This approach to marketing has become a central focus for some of the largest brands in the world, as it makes a brand memorable and inspires conversion through a compelling mission that resonates with customers.
The issue with solely relying on walled gardens to relay your brand story is that you’re missing all of the customer time spent elsewhere and the trust that is inherent in open internet advertising. It would be like trying to tell your story within a single chapter to an audience that is distrustful. By folding in open internet ad campaigns, brands can begin to amplify their reach and create impactful touchpoints that transcend a single platform. These campaigns become vehicles for engagement, creating a brand thread across the internet.
A Brand Thread It should be clear by now that internet users spend most of their time outside of walled garden platforms, and actively seek information across the open internet when looking for new products or services to buy. Brands that don’t take note of this, are missing an opportunity to deepen their engagement and create memorable touch points across the internet. These touchpoints act as a brand thread that can be traced from site to platform to app, telling a unique story and appealing to customers in nuanced ways.
Internet users traverse the web, with different intentions on each website and platform they visit. A smart advertiser uses this to their advantage, crafting campaigns that account for where and when a customer is seeing the ad. While some broad platforms might be great for top of the funnel brand awareness campaigns, targeted industry websites can be used to appeal to middle or end of the funnel customers that are looking for specific information or inspiration to purchase.
The open internet allows for this brand thread to develop over time, leaving customers with memorable ad experiences that actually speak to their need in that moment. A customer will be a lot more compelled to engage if they remember your brand from a positive experience they had.
The nature of internet advertising is changing. The era of cookies is coming to an end, web 2 is transitioning into web 3, and users approach their online time and experiences with deeper expectations. All of these trends demonstrate the power of open internet advertising and the limitations of walled gardens when strategizing and deploying modern digital ad campaigns.
An approach stuck in the old ways of Facebook and YouTube can be severely limiting and result in campaigns that struggle to deliver a meaningful ROI. Inspiring engagement online is not what it was 5 years ago, as internet experiences and user expectations are changing. A more targeted and nuanced approach to advertising is needed for businesses that want to remain competitive. The open internet holds the key, and businesses should be exploring their options in this area if they don’t want to miss the biggest opportunity in advertising.