Mobile Ads Are The Future But We Need a Reboot

It’s obvious that mobile advertising can perform much better for media companies than it is now. Publisher Doug Bennett has been working on the problem of maximizing mobile ROI, and he shares some of the evolving functions he has been able to build out in-house that point to incremental improvements.

If Elon Musk built cars the way they’re “supposed” to be built, we wouldn’t have an electric car that goes 0 to 60 in 3.5 seconds. When Steve Jobs decided that portable phones were really computers needing Apple’s attention, it changed our world. The lesson? If you’re willing to rethink everything you know and start from scratch with no sacred cows, you can do great things. That’s exactly where we are in mobile advertising today. We need a do-over with a laser focus on maximizing ROI.

The long-held belief of digital marketing is that display advertising is a powerful and cost-effective tool, while mobile advertising is unpredictable and unreliable. The question is whether or not mobile advertising can do better. It can.

Mobile devices are an incredible enabler for consumers and businesses, but they have been hamstrung by an ad model based on desktop ad thinking (which itself is based on traditional print ad thinking). When you combine this with the constant influx of new devices, features and software and then add ever-evolving user behavior and mindsets, you have massive missed potential and an ROI nightmare.

So what do we do? Do we throw out everything that’s known about mobile advertising and start from scratch? We could, but we’d be throwing out massive amounts of priceless data. Instead, let’s reinvent the entire process of mobile advertising. Let’s stop making ads with the hope that they work and maybe give us some useful data. Instead, let’s use pre-analytics (the data we have) to drive creative decisions, and drastically improve our odds for real success. And while we’re at it, let’s make creating ads a lot easier, too. There are many companies pursuing an answer to this problem. Celtra, PaperG, Flite and our own product called Adsperity are among them. All of these products are pursuing strategies that try to make mobile ads work, and we will all likely find success in increments.

Easy Way to Create Mobile Ads

Easy Way to Create Mobile Ads

We wanted to make mobile ads easy to create, publish and track, but we changed our focus to the analytics that tell us what is happening with a mobile ad. As the ad is being designed, the tool we developed automatically codes it in HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript. It also does quality assurance on the ad, confirming that it meets all mobile ad standards like file weight, size specs and more so it’s guaranteed to work on any device, browser and operating system in an easy to understand environment. You no longer need to be a code wonk to use it.

We’ve also tried to take on mobile advertising’s Achilles heel—cookies. First and third party desktop cookies break down for a number of reasons in the mobile space, from incompatibility across devices and operating systems to automatic and frequent browser cache clearing. To solve this problem, we created custom tagging technology. The instant an ad that we’ve created runs, we know the device type, the OS, browser, connectivity, location, time, interaction rate, time spent and more. A custom dashboard helps users dig into this data, parse it any way one wants and get actionable insights one can use to optimize the ad or create new ones from scratch.


Adsperity Measures ROI Effectiveness of Mobile Ad

The world of mobile is always evolving: new devices, new capabilities, new operating systems, new browsers and whatever else is next. That means we must evolve, too, so we can accomplish the one thing that will never change – our singular goal of maximizing mobile ROI.

Seeking a Younger Audience Using Video – Make Sure You Understand Audience

4 Corners TV has built a growing audience of 25-45-year-olds, but constant experimentation in its year-long existence has shown that younger viewers don’t want straight news from their online videos, even if it’s irreverent. What its Southwestern audience does like is content on pot, extreme sports and local comedy, and the site is taking another crack at news, this time with a sock puppet.  See full article at

By Doug Bennett


It’s hard to imagine that last year at this time we were preparing for the first episode of, an online network sprung from the understanding that our newspapers did not attract a younger demographic. Our goal was to attract and retain a younger audience through new formats and content choices.

Initial audience reactions led us away from daily coverage of socially-focused news to more entertainment-themed content on a weekly schedule. The coverage of adventure sports, craft breweries and other topics related to the four corners area of the Southwest and specifically the Durango, Colo. area resulted in a steady growth trajectory of site visits.

Here’s just a snapshot of the data we’ve collected in our first year: over half of weekly viewers are 25-45-years-old. We’ve seen an average 3,000 videos viewed each week (or over 12,000 views a month) and growing.

Other things we’ve noticed: 75% of all visits convert into video views, 54% of our visitors each week are new and 40% of traffic comes from mobile devices.

Because this demographic is more and more likely to consume its entertainment through mobile devices, we weren’t surprised at the numbers of tablets and smart phones in the analytics. What was surprising is that desktop usage is still very popular. This seems to correlate with the highest viewing times ranging from Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., when 57% of usage comes from desktop, leading us to believe this group has a habit of watching at work.

Eager to continue the steady increase in views, we reached outside our area to Farmington, New Mexico to tap into a larger audience.

Although the city of Farmington is only 45 miles away, it is demographically different and has over twice the population. To directly appeal to this audience, we featured Farmington specific episodes hosted by local talent, including a Navajo comedy team. The numbers jumped significantly, with average monthly site visits climbing from 12,000 to over 25,000 with over half in the desired age group.

Happy with the success we experienced when adding in additional geographic areas, we experimented with a strategic approach to our content to raise the number of our younger demographic visitors.

The mission of delivering stories with an irreverent tone led us to push the boundaries with topics like cannabis, covering everything from dispensaries to edibles and more. Again, we saw a jump in interest. We also went more extreme with our adventure sports coverage showing mountain climbing, night biking and ice climbing, to name a few atypical sports popular in our area. This resulted in an all-time episode high and increased visitors in the target age group by 12 points.

During this period of testing we confirmed that straight news, even with an irreverent tone, was the least-watched programming. But we’re not ready to give up on news altogether, so we’re looking to models like “The Simpsons” to take a cynical, more off-kilter and character-driven approach to news to appeal to this important age group.

With this in mind, we’re introducing Phil N. Handy, a very talented sock puppet, to anchor our news desk. He’ll focus on slightly off-color stories using a humorous delivery, while keeping a straight face, as it were.

We’re beginning Phil’s welcome campaign through a mock press release and using social media to target groups that enjoy funny, experimental news content. This move towards more unconventional programming will be measured through audience growth numbers over the next quarter to determine if Phil’s “contract” will be renewed.

The lessons learned in our first year have brought a measure of success and given us the flexibility to try new ideas. Along the way, we realized that additional staffing was necessary to pull off the kind of programming that has worked, so we’ve added another editor and show producer along the way. Fortunately, our focus on entertainment over news has created a higher acceptance rate among advertisers, helping us to absorb the cost.

Our change is ongoing, and 4 Corners TV will constantly be experimenting and pushing the boundaries to capture this profitable younger demographic. We’re also in early stages of planning expansion into new cities with similar demographics as areas we serve today, but that’s a story for another time.greenlight[1]

Inform and Entertain is Key to Success with Online Vid

I just finished writing an article giving a progress report on the online video channel for We are off to a great start and I hope you find this information useful. For the full article go to

4ctv-logo-tagline[1], launched in February by Ballantine Communications Inc, represents a new initiative for media companies to do what will be essential to their continued success; connect with new and younger audiences.

Knowing that a demographic of 30-45 year olds would not be engaged as strongly with traditional news formats, was created to provide them content that both informs and entertains while being accessible to them in the formats they like at any time and on any device.

After more than three months of daily production with over 275 videos produced, there have been a number of significant things we have learned. The first, and likely the most important, is the relationship between content and audience engagement. Striking a balance between information and entertainment, with the latter being the most crucial, has been the most substantially effective way to boost traffic.

Since we made adjustments to programming, caused by a slowing growth rate in our targeted audience (according Google Analytics) we have seen a 63% growth in traffic, averaging 4% growth each week. 53% of audience is between the ages of 25-45. And 30% of our traffic is from mobile devices. Our audience values the enjoyment of programming more than it does the information gathering.

This was very evident to us on an April Fools edition of our daily “news” program “The Local Roundup.” While the Roundup has a strong daily audience, consumers weren’t as prone to share or engage with it. So we decided to use April 1 as a test case in favoring entertainment over information, and produced a program filled entirely with fake news.

From federal controls on beer production (a taboo topic in our home state of Colorado) to piranhas in a local river, the fake-news allowed humor to shine through our traditional format. This resulted in the most watched episode of “The Local Roundup” to date, and led us to a more focused initiative to drive entertainment as a first priority of production.

This focus on entertainment has also been reflected in the topics we choose to cover. Generally, the episodes that more directly reflect aspects of the area’s lifestyle are most successful. Shows about mountain biking, rafting and other adventure sports are better received than more socially-focused news.

Home Page Overview[3]

One surprising development in the first three months of production was the more peripheral role of our newsrooms in Ballantine Communications owns several newspapers, including The Durango Herald and The Cortez Journal. Initially, we assumed that we would draw heavily on the expertise of those newsrooms for content creation on

In reality, this expertise was more frequently utilized in an advisory role. The newsroom has passed along ideas that better fit the audience and experience we are focused on at Our newsroom now plays more of a role as a source for material, as staff writes their own material and depending on story also originates the content.

We have also spent extensive time examining how to maximize workflow for the resources we have available. We must strike a balance between the time it takes to find great stories with the time required to produce daily programming. This has made it essential to set aside time for production teams to sit down and look ahead.

The questions we found ourselves asking: What events are happening in the next month? Which is the right show and host for this story or that? Is there a way to make this more entertaining for our audience? Being intentional about the content and branding choices we make has enabled us to couple production and promotion effectively. We needed to follow the same approach as a company dedicated to video production. Our efforts with video were thus the primary intent as opposed to an add on video to a news story.

The most impactful way 4CornersTV can build its brand and cultivate new audiences is through the addition of new programming and hosts. The first imperative is relatively straightforward. We determine the show we’d like to make, agree on a creative direction and outline the first collection of episodes.

Matching the talent with the program has proven to be a more involved process. Once a creative direction has been established for the show, the next consideration is finding the host that fits with that strategy. At 4CornersTV it starts with a casting call.

We look for hosts who seem natural on camera, even if slightly unpolished, but are able to convey an enthusiasm about the subjects they are covering. For example, once we understood that our show “In the Neighborhood” needed to be fun and fast paced with original content, we hired a host who was willing to have fun herself on camera when engaging the subject, such as letting the audience fly along with her on her first sky dive.

Flying HIGH in the Sky Hero Image[5]

Check out the rest of the article on Enjoy.


Building a Video Channel: First Steps

I recently wrote an article for on the topic of building an online video channel within the confines of a traditional media business.  I included a portion of the article on my blog.  You can read entire article on

As the CEO of a traditional media company, I think a lot about building audiences these days.

My company, Ballantine Communications, Inc.  (BCI), owns and operates several daily newspapers in Southwest Colorado, including The Durango Herald and The Cortez Journal. For nearly 50 years, it has been a leading source of news in these areas. But like most media organizations, BCI needs new, younger audiences to continue its strong role in the community.

To reach this demographic (ages 30-45), traditional news formats are not going to be an effective method of distribution, no matter the relevancy of the content. This audience is far more likely to consume news on a mobile device. In fact, they actively seek out video content to inform them on everything from news, celebrity gossip, buying decisions and life choices.

So my team concluded that the right type of programming for us to launch was a local-online TV channel, which we call (4CTV). But we internally debated: Should the content be focused solely on the interests of locals? Or should it have more universal appeal to match the information tourists are looking for when researching the area? For an organization rooted in a history of traditional journalism distributed in traditional formats, an online TV channel is an exciting prospect, but logistical questions abound.


Here was our challenge: How could we incorporate the skill sets that have been cultivated through 50-years of news gathering and content creation into a video channel focused on a new demographic, in a new format with new goals while continuing our role as a prominent information outlet for the community?

Is it possible to strategically allocate internal resources, like writers and photojournalists from the newspapers, to help create the initial mass of content 4CTV would need to entice viewers? Would these resources understand how to create content that appeals to a previously under-served demographic?

What amount of capital investment would be needed to launch 4CTV before definitive content and operational procedures were in place? Essentially, how could BCI launch 4CTV with compelling content and the ability improve its programming on the fly but without a financial over-commitment?

To successfully launch 4CTV on Jan. 27, we decided that the initial investment would have to be in talent and expertise. We budgeted to spend $25,000 per quarter. These personnel needed to produce content sought by the target audience and to manage a continuous production schedule. We found there was no substitute for the unique overlapping skill sets needed not only to produce content, but also create and manage the procedures that will be the govern the channel as a whole.

The challenges in building a new channel from scratch could only be overcome by focusing on relevant content creation and by providing local advertisers with strong opportunities to market to these prospective customers through video.


As we built the 4CTV team, the need for demographic relevance had to be incorporated into everything from marketing to development to composition of our production team.

As we moved ahead – and continue to do so – we take every step guided by this core question: Is this content relevant to the needs of our target audience and the way they interact with digital devices? For an audience of 30-45-year-olds living in Southwestern Colorado, much of that content had to be informed by the unique lifestyle they live. In this case, this audience is active, locally-focused and drawn to the area for reasons other than a career.  Check out rest of article on NetNewsCheck.

How Publishers Should Forge A Video Strategy

I recently wrote an article for on the topic of original video content and should publishers pursue this strategy.  I included a portion of the article on my blog.  You can read entire article on



Online video can prompt many questions for a publisher. Should it be short, curated clips that serve as a supplement to a story? Original video content that can stand alone? Should the video be designed specifically for mobile or desktop?

But the most important question to ask is this: Who is the publisher trying to reach? If the answer is a new audience such as a younger demographic, then the process of producing video must begin with collecting and reviewing data that supports the interests of this audience.

It’s also important to realize that starting with a mobile experience and bridging back to desktop may be a critical element to consider as well.

Publishers must begin the process by framing out some key questions, then laying out a plan to support their strategy.

What do we know about the audience?

Is the target younger then traditional users? I recently was involved in the creation of a video strategy to reach a much younger audience (30-45-year-olds). We felt we had some great content that would resonate well with this demographic, but we knew we had to develop even more.

In looking at Scarborough data for 30-45 year-olds, we found the interests were ranked differently from a typical audience for a news site. Top activities for this audience in the last 12 months included (in order of preference): Swimming, gardening, jogging, bicycling, photography, volunteer work, bowling, camping, fishing and backpacking.

We quickly learned that this younger demographic had similar interests to our current audience, yet it was dramatically more active, and hence ranked certain activities differently in terms of importance. Data from BI Intelligence and IDC also indicated the audience was very connected and decidedly at the much-vaunted intersection of social, local and mobile.

What type of content would they be interested in?

Based on information above, the ideal programming for this age demographic was related to physical activities, things-to-do and lifestyle. If one then considers the digitally-connected aspect and the proliferation of video with this younger demographic, it was fairly easy to determine the need for curated, compelling and original video content to stimulate their minds.

Do publishers already have any of this content? If not, where do they get it?

Read the rest of this article on

Tablet Publishing: What Magazines Can Teach

I recently wrote an article for on the topic tablet publishing and why it seems that magazines are more innovative in this area than newspapers.  I have included a portion of the article.  You can read the full article at

Tablet computers have scaled faster than any computing device in history, and there’s no slowdown anytime soon. According to a recent International Data Corporation (IDC) forecast, 121 million were sold in 2012 and the number could reach 190 million in 2013.

The top age demographic for purchasing tablets is 30-49-year-olds. Interestingly, almost as many 55-64 year olds are buying tablets as 18-24 year olds.

What are the daily reading activities on these tablets? According to BI Intelligence, 30-49-year-olds read news content on their tablets 38% of the time, spending 17% on books and 6% on magazines. The core age group for most newspapers, 50-64-year-olds, read news 43% of the time, followed by 17% on books and 6% on magazines.

Considering the relatively small amount of time tablet users spend on magazines, it is curious to observe what appears to be a higher level of innovation from magazines than from newspapers (perhaps driven by advertisers’ attraction to the form factor’s stunning visuals).

Many newspapers are currently pursuing mobile and tablet publishing by creating responsive design Web sites. This means that the exact same content displayed on a desktop website automatically re-formats to fit smaller (or bigger) screens such as tablet and smartphone screens.

From a cost perspective, it is the most efficient use of resources. Rather than developing a multitude of Web sites and/or apps for different screens and platforms, a publisher simply uses one code base. This also enables publishers to avoid Apple’s App Store and its submission guidelines as an added bonus.

Now compare that to what’s happening in the magazine world.

Among magazines’ old guard, the five largest publishers in the U.S. formed a joint venture and launched a start-up, Next Issue Media, with the specific aim to bring about innovation in the digital space.  Read rest of article at


Curated Content vs Sponsored Content – What’s the Difference and Does It Matter?


I have worked for several large content publishers, supporting both publisher and advertiser brands in traditional print and digital/interactive.  A particular subject has been receiving a lot of attention lately – Curated Content vs. Sponsored Content; what’s the difference and does it matter? First, let’s understand the meaning of each term:

–       Curated Content: content aggregated for “cherry-picked” topics intended for specific audiences.  The content is gathered by various means, but the two most prevalent are Search (a la Google & Yahoo) and the typical human review. Two good examples of content curation come from Flipboard for curated news aggregation and from YouTube for curated video content.  They each create a tailored experience for the audience based on topics of interest.

–       Sponsored Content: In the last year we have started hearing a lot more about sponsored content.  Another term used frequently is advertorial content.  Basically it is content that is produced around a topic with an eye toward an advertiser to support the effort.  Have you ever been reading an article and at the top it says “paid advertisement”.  It could be an article in print or online that is covering the launch of a new vehicle.  This is content that the advertiser is paying for (note: not all advertorial content carries the “paid advertisement” statement; sometimes the grey lines between the two get fuzzy or even fade away entirely).

Both ways of delivering content to an end user have merit.  Curated content is not associated with advertising dollars, however the sources for content are not always 100% relevant and could possibly cause harm to a brand if the content isn’t closely monitored for the particular audience.  On the other hand, curated content can be a great way of providing depth into specific topics. The person responsible for curating the content must be careful not to claim ownership of the content.  He/She must provide appropriate links, credit, and/or attribution.

Sponsored content might seem tainted or biased to some, but it’s not always the case.  There is a great deal of sponsored content that is very valuable. The author of the sponsored content may be “speaking from the heart” or exactly the opposite, by giving unwarranted, favorable comments and attention to the paid sponsor of the content.  Whichever the case, sponsored content should be clearly identified.

Consumers today expect transparency from brands; they also want to be entertained!  Creating great content around unique topics may require specific focus and most likely needs to be contracted out.  The hired curator needs to work hand-in-hand with the brand, i.e. when creating an entertaining video on certain topics related to the brand.

Content creation by a curator is a specialized field.  The curator must be adept at finding unique and original content and developing sponsored content in a way the brand’s target consumers expect it.  The key to providing successful content is quality of each pursuit.  I read this great interview of Jim Farley, Ford Motor’s CMO, by Digiday.  Below are some excerpts I pulled to validate what I am saying.

Farley spoke to Digiday about how the carmaker is approaching digital, particularly in its focus on creating shareable content.

Have you figured out social media yet? We’re getting closer to figuring out the cadence in the social space. We’ve made a lot of progress. We’ve committed a lot of resources to our digital spend and the human capital to promote the company and our products. We developed a lot of new muscles. We learned a lot about how to make social make sense for the company and still be authentic and not interrupt people’s natural interactions. In social, we learned how important content generation is. At first, we didn’t understand how much content we needed to produce. That’s the currency of the social experience.

Why is content so important?
What we found is that shareable content is something you have to be professional about and quick to develop. You can’t do it by content alone. You have to have paid advertising. But it’s best to start with a running start. If you’re doing pre-launch on the Fusion, start with Ryan Seacrest’s fan base. If you want to have a conversation about Ford, start with Mustang. You have to find something that starts the dialogue and is compelling. You have to have great sharable content, which isn’t easy to produce.

Content keeps coming up. Brands have always created content. How is it different now?
If I walked through the agency three years ago, the team was mostly working on broadcast advertising. There were a couple people in other areas, including the Web. They’d be working on banner ads or our own cool videos the banner ads would link to. When I walk through today, one person is working on a Ken Block video, the next is working on an animated figurine doing comedy, the next is working on Ryan Seacrest videos. It’s almost overwhelming. We’re not used to entertaining people. We’re used to informing people. Entertaining people means taking risks and making cultural judgments. Take Doug the puppet. He had a press conference where he had to be funny, but if he was too inappropriate, it would be bad for our brand. Those are new creative muscles.

Full Interview

Having a content strategy is critical as it relates to pursuit of existing and new audiences for a brand.  What constitutes a content strategy ten years ago is vastly different in today’s brand community.  There is an expectation from the audience that not only the brand should be the expert but they should also identify other reputable sources of content to further bring robust information on a topic.

This article helps with the discussion of this topic.

So in today’s world a consumer realizes the differences between original content, curated content and sponsored content.  They are looking for the best overall experience and want to be informed and entertained.  The need for print, video, digital, apps etc. requires the use of many sources of content.  Content experts now and in the future cannot be one dimensional.  We should never think of curated and sponsored content as a bad thing.


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