Interactive Advertising Bureau
14 January 2021

Member Guest Blog Post with IAS - The European Recovery Will Transform Digital Advertising. And For The Better

Alongside its early challenges and uncertainty around digital ad spend, 2020 has been a big year for digital advertising. In our member guest blog post, we spoke with Nick Morley, EMEA Managing Director at Integral Ad Science (IAS) on the trends and opportunities expected this year. 

Nick Morley joined Integral Ad Science (IAS) in January 2017 to lead the strategic development of the EMEA business. Nick has a proven track record in launching and scaling high-growth businesses across Europe, with a decade’s worth of digital advertising industry experience. 


European recovery

The last year has seen not only the most content consumed online, but also a rise in hate speech and misinformation. Combined with privacy concerns and the deprecation of third-party cookies, advertisers have had to adapt and innovate like never before. The rise in digital content consumption, growth in digital video usage, advancement for contextual targeting and a shift towards brand suitability, are all welcome and positive signs for the digital advertising industry, according to Morley.

“Alongside its challenges, 2020 has proven to be a year of innovation for digital advertising as we witnessed changes that may be measured in years were instead measured in months,” he argued. “In 2021, the European recovery will accelerate and benefit from ad spend that migrated from other channels and strength in e-commerce.”

A suitable approach to targeting

IAS verifies the quality of digital ad placements for brands and advertisers. In other words, it provides the technology that allows advertisers to block ads from appearing next to unsafe content and towards suitable content online. It is the global leader in its space and has been at the heart of some of the innovations last year. When questions around keyword blocking and coronavirus were raised in 2020, IAS saw a 77% drop in “coronavirus”-related keyword blocking from mid-March to May in the UK. This is due to the industry’s quick response, commitment to education, and access to sophisticated contextual technology that allowed advertisers to not over block on news content.

Morley argued that this trend will continue and by combining brand safety and brand suitability activities, advertisers can avoid inappropriate content and also proactively target suitable content, ultimately supporting high quality journalism.

“This year, it’s essential that brands prioritise taking a prescriptive approach to keyword blocking – moving away from blanket approaches and towards optimising digital ad investments,” he said. “The focus on targeting towards suitable content, as opposed to blocking against unsafe content, will grow to be the new normal.”

The future of advertising is in digital video

It’s no question that work-from-home orders have fuelled usage of social media, streaming platforms, digital video and smart devices. Everyone is guilty of having scrolled continuously through social feeds and binged watched their favourite TV shows.  As such, IAS conducted a survey of global digital advertising experts and found out that 88% expect the shift in ad spend from satellite linear TV to digital video such as streaming platforms will only accelerate in 2021. 

"Advertisers are going to be spending more on digital video than ever before as the format emerges to become a major avenue for online advertising campaigns,” Morley said.

The biggest drivers for this, Morley explained, are audience migration and consumer viewing habits, alongside its ability to provide advertisers with enhanced targeting and richer data insights.

How we feel about content will influence how ads are delivered 

According to recent IAS research, the majority of consumers (81%) prefer it when digital ads match the content that they are viewing. The content that people consume, the shows people like or dislike, has a big part to play in the ads that appear alongside it. Beyond this, advertisers are now able to target consumers based on the emotion or contextual relevance of content.

“Contextual analysis uses AI and Machine Learning (ML) to analyse the content of web pages at a cognitive semantic level,”  Morley explained. “It can tell us, for example, that advertising cruise ship sales on a page related to a cruise ship accident, is not the relevant context.”

Targeting a user based on the type of content they are consuming on the page can prove effective. It’s a big game changer in a world where third-party cookies - the bit of code that tracks our online movement - will be made obsolete by Google this year.  For Nick Morley and IAS, this presents an opportunity. 

“Contextual targeting will achieve scale for advertisers in 2021,” he said. “This need will be particularly prevalent in Europe, where GDPR, privacy concerns and the phase-out from third-party cookies continues to limit the data available for audience targeting. Unlike cookies, contextual data analyses the content of a page and so is full-proof in a world without third-party cookies.”

But that’s not the only type of data or information that can be gathered from a page.

“In addition, sentiment analysis, providing the ability for brands to target based on negative or positive emotions will grow as it allows the industry to build more intelligent solutions,” Morley explained. 

It takes a bot to catch a bot

Increased adoption and innovation pushes platforms forward, but also creates challenges around ad fraud. IAS defines a successful ad impression as one that is viewable by a real person in a safe and suitable environment (and that all of this happens within the desired geography of a campaign).

“A big trend that we’re seeing is that malicious bots and fraudsters are being programmed to appear as human as possible - intentionally watching videos online, or clicking on ads,”  Morley warned. He recommended that sophisticated tools are required for detection. 

“In the modern fraud landscape, it takes a bot to catch a bot,” Morley advised. “Advertisers need to make sure that their fraud mitigation solution has these capabilities because they cannot rely solely on human rules to try to stop a scalable machine-driven threat. In 2021, using a ML driven approach that learns about previously unknown threats will become critical,” Morley concluded. 

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