At IAS, This Digital Ad Leader Is Navigating Key Trends in 2021

Built In Chicago connected with industry pro Tom Sharma to get his thoughts on the digital advertising landscape.

Written by Stephen Ostrowski
Published on Mar. 31, 2021
At IAS, This Digital Ad Leader Is Navigating Key Trends in 2021
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Last year, when much of the world was forced inside with little to no in-person social interactions, they turned to safe and socially-distant forms of entertainment and ways to stay in touch with others: their screens.

At the onset of the pandemic, a March 2020 study from Integral Ad Science (IAS) found that, of the more than 1,000 U.S. consumers surveyed, 66 percent reported an uptick in streaming content.

“When the pandemic limited opportunities for social engagement, it led to unprecedented levels of digital media consumption,” said Tom Sharma, chief product officer at IAS.

According to the longtime media industry professional, connected TV (CTV) was one particular area with pronounced growth. “As consumers spent more time at home, their time watching CTV programming rose as well,” he said.

CTV is just one emerging technology that Sharma has been focused on since joining the digital ad verification company last fall. The product leader — whose previous roles include vice president, emerging products at NBCUniversal, and VP of technology at Hulu — also singled out contextual targeting as positioned for major growth this year.

“With third-party cookies going away, contextual is a huge opportunity,” Sharma said. “Contextual targeting helps brands to run campaigns in relevant ad environments that align with their messaging and values, rather than targeting consumers individually.”

Recently, Built In Chicago caught up with Sharma to revisit how an unexpected 2020 shaped the digital advertising ecosystem, the emergent tech that’s making industry waves, and the developing trends that are catching his attention.

 

Tom Sharma
Chief Product Officer • Integral Ad Science

How did the rise of remote work during COVID-19 impact consumers’ media consumption habits and, by extension, the digital advertising ecosystem in 2020?

When the pandemic limited opportunities for social engagement, it led to unprecedented levels of digital media consumption. We have witnessed the rise of mobile, over-the-top (OTT) and CTV over several months. The pandemic amplified these trends, especially in CTV, as consumers spent more time at home — an estimated 90 percent of U.S. consumers now have access to a CTV.

For brands, these growing audiences present new opportunities. However, the volume of content means brands have to be more creative and leverage better targeting to maximize these moments and understand the context of the media consumed, as well as the consumer.

What’s remarkable is that advertisers have adapted their strategies in recent months to meet consumers where they are, which means prioritizing digital advertising. Advertisers are also increasing messaging that emphasizes the mission of their company, while brand safety and suitability have become even more important.
 

There are exciting opportunities to work with a talented team here at IAS to help build the future of ad verification in CTV and beyond.”


What challenges does CTV present? How does Integral Ad Science address those challenges?

The biggest challenges in CTV are ad fraud, brand safety and suitability, and planning. The risk of running ads alongside objectionable content exists on CTV just as it does on other channels. In fact, with CTV, the impact can be even bigger, because it is an immersive, long-form and full-screen medium with high dwell time. It’s important to evaluate video content that an ad is served into for brand safety and suitability, rather than just the app.

Lack of transparency into CTV inventory has made planning a challenge, too. CTV is extremely fragmented with multiple ways to buy inventory, such as direct-to-publisher, multi-channel platforms and aggregator platforms. Buyers want to know where their ad will run, including the positioning, timing, show and more.

At IAS, we are solving CTV ad fraud by ensuring every request for an ad is authenticated and from a known source, while also deploying new CTV-specific machine learning and fraud models. As we continue to expand our product organization, there are exciting opportunities to work with a talented team here at IAS to help build the future of ad verification in CTV and beyond.

 

The Connected Advantage

Sarah Martinez, SVP of North America Sales, previously told Built In Chicago that the “measurability” of CTV made it a draw for advertisers. “More than ever before, marketers are looking to maximize the return on their investments, and having access to quality media metrics can make a huge difference when it comes to optimizing their ad spend,” Martinez said.

 

What opportunities and challenges does contextual targeting present?

With third-party cookies going away, contextual is a huge opportunity. Contextual targeting helps brands to run campaigns in relevant ad environments that align with their messaging and values, rather than targeting consumers individually. Our technology not only analyzes the central theme of a webpage but also understands the emotion and sentiment, providing valuable, interest-based audience insights for advertisers in a privacy-friendly way.

IAS helps advertisers create custom contextual segments, with the flexibility to meet brand-specific needs. Our contextual solutions are very unique and, in addition to enabling quality, also help buyers with performance and targeting. As contextual continues to grow, the industry will look to apply these tools across content types such as audio, video and imagery. This means exciting new technology that addresses speech recognition, computer vision and frame-level inference. The future is contextual.

 

More About Contextual

In a recent report on contextual advertising titled “The Congruence Effect,” IAS found that, of the 1,000-plus consumers surveyed, 74 percent indicated a higher likelihood of remembering an ad when “its message relates to the content around it.”

 

From a social media perspective, what are the core issues that Integral Ad Science is looking at in 2021?

In-feed brand safety is key this year. Major social platforms, including Twitter, have teamed up with IAS to build innovative brand safety and suitability solutions that can measure and help brands navigate this dynamic feed environment for the first time. Measuring and verifying user-generated content, especially video, for brand safety and suitability will be key as well. These are complex and challenging problems for the industry, but we are well-positioned to help solve them at scale.

 

 

Lastly, what other key trends are you looking at in 2021 and beyond?

Looking ahead, these are five trends to watch in the wider technology and advertising space:

  1. In a cookieless world, publishers will have more power to leverage their data.
  2. Content and context will matter a lot more.
  3. TV advertising will finally adopt programmatic.
  4. CTV will see huge shifts, leading to the emergence of new measurement KPIs.
  5. Finally, the connection between data and knowledge will evolve. Today the industry collects data and information. How fast that information can be converted into knowledge, and applied in near real-time, will be key.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Headshot via Integral Ad Science. Thumbnail photo by GaudiLab/Shutterstock.

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