Despite coinciding with significant shifts in consumer and business behaviors, Q2 saw a swath of companies release new ad products and/or add new features to their existing platforms.
This article will share highlights of what they released — and offer key takeaways for publishers looking to create new offerings of their own.
In late April, Snapchat began offering U.S. advertisers a new ‘First Commercial’ option. These non-skippable, six-second in-stream ad units run prior to other commercials in Snapchat’s programming, including its Snap Originals shows and the ‘Discover’ section of its app.
Additionally, Snapchat expanded its six-second Snap Select ads to five programming bundles to extend advertisers’ reach across its different audience segments:
Snapchat also launched a new vertical video conversion tool on its Snap Publisher platform. This new tool will help advertisers quickly and easily convert their horizontal video assets to the more mobile-friendly vertical format.
Finally, Snapchat rolled out its Dynamic Product Ads (DPAs) worldwide in June. Like dynamic ads units offered by Facebook and Google, Snapchat DPAs offer brands customized ad formats to showcase their full product catalogs in multiple markets.
Snapchat continues to innovate and offer feature parity with more established ad platforms such as those offered by Google and Facebook. Like those companies, Snapchat is recognizing the importance of capitalizing on their unique first-party data (its audience bundles) and making it easy for large retailers to launch (the DPAs).
Meanwhile, by offering reserve-only, branding ad units (its First Commercial ones), they continue to release ad units for which they can charge high premiums, while their standard ad units become more commoditized.
Fleshing out their self-serve platform has also enabled them to gain performance-focused SMBs as advertisers. According to Mobile Marketer, Snapchat saw a 44% YoY increase in Q1 revenue, with direct response ads accounting for more than half of its total ad revenue.
This doesn’t mean that self-serve ad products work for everybody, though, as we detail in a recent post.
TikTok is branching further into ads and following the steps of its competitors Instagram (Facebook) and Snapchat.
In April, the TikTok team began testing a new “shop now” ad format that would connect advertisers to top TikTok influencers and add prominent “shop now” call-to-actions on those videos, with a proposed 80/20 ad revenue share between TikTok and influencers respectively.
In May, Digiday announced a Q3 rollout for TikTok’s new augmented reality ad format known as “AR brand effect,” which will allow users to add advertisers’ visual effects to the videos they create.
TikTok’s new clickable ad product will compete directly with Snapchat’s Sponsored Lens and Word Lenses AR formats.
Since launching its Creator Marketplace last year, TikTok has continued to build its performance ad portfolio. Its recent surge in popularity and its ability to scale and launch new ad products quickly may give it an even greater competitive advantage.
TikTok is in an enviable situation, considering it’s one of the fastest-growing and most-used apps and reaches a younger audience than other social media platforms. This means that they won’t be lacking advertiser interest any time soon.
That said — TikTok’s approach is applicable to any brand building an ad product. Rather than loading their app with programmatic banner ads, TikTok decided to foster integrated, native ad experiences, which are quickly drawing advertisers (especially given recent boycotts of the native ads on Facebook and Twitter). And by smartly setting up a system where advertisers and influencers interact directly, TikTok earns a rev share while having those two handle the work.
The move offers advertisers the ability to target by interest and behavior to start — followed by the ability for advertisers to upload their own first-party to target Facebook users via Custom Audiences.
Facebook also made headlines with the launch of its new Shops eCommerce feature, which allows businesses to sell their products via their Facebook pages, Instagram profiles, Stories, and ads. Businesses can upload their product catalogs, select which they’d like to feature, then customize their product presentations with cover images and accent colors, as seen in the Facebook image above.
Facebook users can then browse, save, and order those products from businesses’ Shops without leaving the platform.
Facebook’s new native targeting tactics provide advertisers with incremental reach for younger viewers more likely to prefer connected TV (CTV) over traditional TV options.
As a leading social network, Facebook’s foray into eCommerce allows it the opportunity to own the entire buyer journey, which could give it an edge against Amazon, Etsy, eBay, and other eCommerce platforms — depending on how the current Facebook advertising boycott plays out.
Shops eCommerce also creates more hooks and incentives for e-retailers to focus on optimizing Facebook experiences, and the tool, if it converts well, could lead them to start sending more outside traffic to their Facebook pages and/or substantially increase their advertising spend.
YouTube recently announced a new video ad product, YouTube Select, which unifies Google Preferred and other premium ad units for greater flexibility and brand safety.
YouTube Select curates content by “lineups,” including beauty, entertainment, food and recipes, sports, and more, and includes a first-time, dedicated streaming TV lineup to reach connected YouTube TV viewers on their home screens.
Connected TV advertisers can also experiment with skippable ads and expanded Brand Lift measurement tools — including ad surveys via TV remotes — enabling advertisers to optimize their streaming campaigns in real time.
YouTube is also introducing more direct response ad formats, in an effort to automate delivery of actionable and shoppable video ad units.
Video action campaigns are designed to consolidate content and drive conversions across the platform by automatically featuring video ads in YouTube’s home feed, watch pages, and Google video partner pages. According to Google, college fund startup Mos saw a 30% increase in purchases for the above Video action campaign for a fraction of their previous YouTube budgets.
The launch of YouTube Select was well-timed, given a reported 80% YOY increase in US viewing time this spring. The new product offers advertisers a broader range of lineups and market reach than Google Preferred, with content tailored to individual markets.
Select also highlights Google’s endless pursuit of new, innovative ad units. “Video ads” have already been an ad tech buzzword for years, but with Connected TVs and the rise of streaming, Google is effectively creating an ad platform for serving TV commercials in real-time. Their inclusion of “ad units” like surveys additionally helps to drive new sets of advertisers.
Roku is also taking advantage of the video streaming surge with the launch of its OneView programmatic ad product, which combines its first-party data with the performance measurement tools of dataxu, the demand-side platform it acquired last year.
As an OTT platform geared toward cord-cutters, Roku offers an alternative to YouTube and other video ad products. Its trove of household data can also be used to help advertisers — including launch partners Drizly, Lexus, and others — update and optimize their campaigns as stay-at-home restrictions change.
Roku, alongside YouTube and Hulu, are helping to bring programmatic to OTT and Connected TVs. This was an inevitable evolution, considering programmatic ads already fuel basically every other ad medium.
After an initial beta launch in 2017, Spotify launched its Ad Studio platform to 22 markets in April, including New Zealand, Mexico, and Taiwan.
With more people working from home, Spotfiy has seen a 32% YOY increase in users — and the new self-platform allows small, remote advertisers without in-house capabilities to create high-quality audio ads, provided they can meet Spotify’s $250 minimum ad spend.
Last month, Spotify also added video ads to the self-serve platform in the US, UK, and Canada.
Both Spotify ad formats are inserted between music and podcast selections. They can include a destination URL, image, and audio/video message that advertisers can upload or create using Spotify’s free voiceover recording tool. Advertisers can target users by age, gender, and location — and match their messages to users’ moods, based on Spotify’s unique ability to track listener preferences.
The timing of Spotify’s Ad Studio expansion helps it meet users and advertisers where they are — listening and working from home. It would behoove all brands to understand how their users’ behaviors are changing — and to build user experiences and ad units that cater to these adaptations.
The evolution of Spotify’s ad platform highlights the natural course of all the large, custom ad products: it begins with native ad units sold at premium prices to earlier adopters; which then leads to a self-serve platform at lower prices but more scale; after which there are consistent incremental adjustments in the form of easier on-boarding and new ad units.
Instacart has also benefited from user behavior shifts, as more people are ordering groceries online — including a 20% increase in March alone.
The online grocery company launched its new self-serve ad platform in late May, which allows CPG brands to manage campaign goals, budgets, and bid prices to promote their products in Instacart users’ search results.
In the above search for ‘crackers’, for instance, the results include four Featured Product listings from Crunchmaster and HU, all of which appear before the organic search results.
In addition to the new Featured Product ad units, Instacart also offers category banners, coupons, and delivery promotions.
This sponsored listing product seems like a no-brainer: if your site/app has search results, why not monetize them? No matter what your product is, those first spots in results are lucrative and someone will pay for them (such as whomever is fifth in the results).
Surprisingly, though, the number of e-retailers who offer such promoted listings is limited. Amazon and eBay have built billion dollar businesses around them, but even large retailers like Target and Walmart don’t have comparable ad products.
Instacart’s new ad product highlights that that may change. With buying behaviors shifting from in-store to order-from-home, more and more eCommerce brands will recognize the value of their search results and build similar products.
LinkedIn recently announced new features for its Sales Navigator platform, including refined targeting insights with its new “Smart Links” option.
Like UTM parameters for URLs, Smart Links will allow LinkedIn advertisers to track views, frequency, and time spent on their posts and InMail messages to determine the effectiveness of their marketing efforts.
LinkedIn announced more new features in June, including new retargeting tools for its video ads and lead-generation forms. These tools allow B2B advertisers to target new ads to those who watched 25% to 100% of their video ads and/or to those who opened/submitted their forms.
LinkedIn is also now working with Integral Ad Science and Pixalate to ensure brand safety and traffic quality for retargeted ads on the LinkedIn Audience Network.
Earlier this spring, we shared the launch of LinkedIn’s Conversation Ads. These latest features indicate that the top professional social networking platform is not taking its dominance for granted.
Like with Spotify, these incremental ad changes aren’t revolutionary, but they show the importance of constantly listening to customers (the advertisers) and building features that will keep them around. Brand safety auditing, more retargeting triggers, and better analytics won’t be features you’ll launch in the MVP of your ad product, but they’re the small features that keep advertisers happy and spending with you.
Jane is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at Kevel. She enjoys discussing and discovering user-first ad platforms with readers everywhere.