Digital Advertising Acronyms: What do they mean?

Advertising in general loves a good acronym. A member of the public walking into a conversation about advertising performance could be forgiven for believing we have our own secret language to keep them from understanding what is being discussed.

And nowhere is that magnified than within digital channels. Programmatic trading and its related technology has produced a world where whole sentences can be constructed using only acronyms and the odd verb.

Well fear not! The below list will help you navigate this overly complex language and boost your digital vocabulary.

CPC – the cornerstone of marketing performance since the early days of search marketing. CPC is the abbreviation of cost per click and cost paid (often an average across a number of clicks) for each click on your digital advertising. This can either be the exact cost for a single clicks, or the average cost per click calculated simply as total cost divided by number of clicks for a given set of data.

CPM – mostly used in relation to display advertising CPM is the cost paid for every thousand impressions (ad views) on a piece of activity. The M in CPM stands for Mille (from the Latin for thousand) and this metric was the original trading price for display advertising.  As more and more display advertising has become auction based it is now a fluctuating average of the price paid for a group of impressions rather than the fixed price it originally was.

CTR – Another staple of the digital advertising world. Click through rate (CTR) is the number of clicks generated divided by the number of times your ad was seen (impressions) represented as a percentage. Whilst no related to the price paid for the advertising it is often used as a measure of the relevance or effectiveness off a campaign.

ROI – Arguably one of the metrics that has led to the growth of digital ad spend over the last decade. Of course return on investment (ROI) is not a digital specific metric, but it due to the measurability of digital channels its use has helped budgets flow as it has provided advertisers with the assurances their money was being well spent. ROI is generally represented as a percentage or a numerical figure based on the equation £ generated divided by £ spent.

ROAS – a variation on ROI, ROAS represents return on ad spend and is another way of describing the return generated from an amount of investment.

CPAO – one for the account based services, CPAO is an abbreviation of cost per account opened. This is used by businesses such as banks, but also more traditional companies such as catalogue companies and even some subscription services as their primary measure of success.

AOV – Intrinsically linked to return based metrics Average Order Value (AOV) is self-explanatory. The total revenue generated divided by the number of orders placed to show the average value of each. This is often used by retailers with large product catalogues of varying price.

MPU – MPU’s are the square ad units you often see when scrolling through a news article. Their name comes from this frequently used position and is an abbreviation of mid-page unit.  I have seen it described as a multi-purpose unit in the past due to the versatility of this ad format, however the traditional meaning is mid-page unit.

DSP – The advertiser’s access to ad exchanges, the DSP is a demand side platform. The tool which an advertiser uses to access inventory available on the ad exchanges, or to trade with media partners in a programmatic manner. Leading DSP providers are Google (Doubleclick Bid Manager), AppNexus, MediaMath, Turn, Rocket Fuel and The Trade Desk.

SSP – The counterpart to the DSP is the SSP, the Supply Side Platform. The technology sits on the website publishers side and allows them to make inventory (ad impressions) available to the ad exchanges and manage the advertising that runs across their sites.  Many of the DSP technology providers have an SSP solution too given the complimentary nature of the technologies.

DMP – set to become key to advertisers digital campaigns over the coming 18 months a DMP is a data management platform. A place where all of your data relating to advertising campaigns can be held, segmented, reported upon, and activated against. It can be used to take in 1st and 3rd party data which can then power targeted advertising campaigns.

DBM – Googles DSP is Doubleclick Bid Manager, or DBM. Part of the Doubleclick Stack it (like all other DSPs) provides advertisers with access to display inventory bought programmatically.

DCM – Doubleclick Campaign Manager or DCM is the Google owned tool for housing and reporting up campaign level performance data for any advertising tracked through the Doubleclick system. If properly utilised it can contain all information relating to digital campaigns which are run both within Google’s infrastructure but also outside of it.

VCPM – A variation of CPM which has arisen in light of more awareness of viewability matrix is VCPM, or viewable CPM. So rather than reporting the average cost for every thousand impressions, only ads which were viewable are counted in the calculation. This figure would therefore be higher than the CPM but is often more useful to advertisers in in assessing the true cost of their advertising.

ECPM – Another variation of CPM you may see used is ECPM, or effective CPM. This calculation is used to show the cost per mille on a campaign

VAST – a video specific adserving tag, VAST stands for Video Ad Serving Template and allows for the effective serving of video ads within a video player. VAST is the universal video adserving specification developed by the IAB.

VPAID – VPAID is another form of video tag and is an abbreviation of Video Player Ad-Serving Interface Definition. The main thing VPAID offers over VAST is interactivity and the reporting of it. It allows for the tracking and reporting of clicks within an video, duration of video played, and other interaction measures above and beyond whether a video ad was displayed.

MRAID – Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface Definitions, or MRAID relates to mobile rich media, specifically ads that will run in App. MRAID is a standard which allows mobile rich media ads to serve in difference mobile apps allowing them to adapt to size and also consider different device level information.

VTR – the video equivalent of CTR, VTR is view through rate and represents the number of people who viewed the majority, or all of you video as a percentage of the amount of people who it was displayed to.

SDK – whilst it is specific to mobile apps, SDK is not as mobile an abbreviation as some people think. It stands for software development kit and is a programming package allowing the development of mobile apps. In advertising terms it is used in conversation around tracking as it is the software which allows for the tracking of in app activity or for the usage of apps.  It also powers a low of the location based mobile data which advertisers use for geographic targeting.

This is an initial brain dump for now and far from a conclusive list. I will aim to add to this list in time and build this out into more of a translation library to aid in your digital conversations.

Ad Fraud: Whose responsibility is it anyway?

Ad fraud is set to become a hotly debated topic in 2017. Thanks, in part, to the White Ops report on ‘Methbot’. The Ad fraud operation which they claim was netting as much as $5M a day through billions of fraudulent ad impressions, or was it?

Whatever the facts about the Methbot case, and the intentions of the White ops team, the bigger question the story raised which wasn’t making the headlines was the lack of incentive for ad fraud to be reported.

Numerous reports of the story made claims suggesting there was nothing that could be done to stamp it out, or no way to bring the culprits to justice. Of course this is absolutely false. If the appropriate details are provided then the law enforcement in the appropriate countries can bring these fraudsters to justice. They can get details of sites, payment details and addresses from the advertising providers. They can speak to website hosts and find details if they have the appropriate warrants; and they could do a lot to try and track these people down.

Only they aren’t, because nobody reported a crime. And when you look into the people who could, and the supply chain of programmatic advertising then you can see why a supposed huge fraud, isn’t becoming a criminal case.

Let’s look at the people involved, their ability to spot ad fraud, and their motivations to prevent it.

The agency

Of course the agency wants to prevent fraud. Their competitive advantage hinges around being able to control their client’s ad campaigns and also provide assurances around brand safety and performance. Any fraud drives up their costs without generating sales or leads and so if they are to perform they need to weed out the fraudsters. They have the technology and the data to identify and stop fraud.

However their commitments extend to their set of clients alone. So they generate their own blacklists of IP addresses or domains where they spot suspicious activity and apply them to their client’s campaigns. They secure refunds where they can provide fraudulent activity and protect their client’s budgets. However the fraudsters remain free to continue on other advertiser’s activity and this works in the agencies favour. Other people’s campaigns suffering generates new business opportunities!

So they keep their blacklists as intellectual property and ensure they aren’t affected but aren’t incentivised to do anything more.

The advertiser

Advertiser awareness of fraud varies massively.  Smaller advertisers will largely be unaware that there could be fraudulent activity taking place on their campaigns and are unlikely to have the technology in place to identify it themselves. Larger advertisers will be more aware and likely more vigilant to fraud either acting for themselves or via an agency.

However, much the same as the agency; the advertiser wants to remove fraud but they are only concerned about their activity. Fraudulent activity eating up their competitor’s budgets means there is less competition for the better quality inventory they are hunting.

Their incentive therefore to eradicate fraud does not extend beyond their own activity.

The DSP or advertising provider

Here we are moving into the people making money directly through fraudulent activity. Of course all DSP’s know about the importance of fraud. They know their reputations rely on their ability to combat it and they have to be seen to be speaking out about it but ultimately they are taking a share of the profit. One ach impression served or click made they are earning profit.

And we also have to consider their focus. Even Google’s reported 100+ strong ad fraud team is a meagre size compared to their business. So they have to focus their efforts. They have to focus on bringing down the big bot networks and identifying patterns and trends which could be costing advertisers millions. Their focus is not on whether a specific site has generated a few thousand fraudulent ad impressions.


Fraudulent or not, more impressions means more advertising revenue for the publisher. So there is no real incentive for publishers to report any potential fraud on their own sites.

Competition may mean if they believed their competitors were defrauding advertisers then they would be quick to report them to any parties involved. But rarely would this become a criminal case as it could involve high costs and a long drawn out process. We have also seen in the Criteo vs Steelhouse case that it can bring an unwanted amount of scrutiny onto both parties.

So who is really incentivised to bring the fraudsters to justice?

Well in real terms, nobody.  Everybody has a collective interest to eradicate fraud, but nobody individually is completely invested in doing so. Even to a certain degree the third party verification partners. Of course they want to eradicate fraud for the people who subscribe to their services, but if they got rid of it all together then who would they sell their wares too?

And then there is the issue of standards

One of the contributing factors in the lack of progress on the fraud front is the metrics which we consider ‘good’ for both display advertising and digital advertising as a whole.

Current market averages for click through rate (CTR) on a display campaign are 0.07%. Once you have generated a click, and depending on the industry you are operating in, you may expect a conversion rate between 1% and 5%.

These low figures are contributing to the fraud problem as they mean warning signs are not necessarily available for when fraud is concerned.

At a 0.07% CTR and a 1% conversion rate you would be serving 150,000 impressions before you expected a click through conversion. And even if you served this many impressions and didn’t get a conversion, you may be tempted to wait as if two come along at once, you are back on track. So there is the opportunity to be the victim of hundreds of thousands of fraudulent impressions before you even realise your campaign is not performing and start to investigate why. Or more likely, just remove the publisher from your activity and move on.

Multiply this issue across thousands of advertisers and you can see the opportunity for fraudsters to cash in before their activity even gets looked at.

How do we stop Ad Fraud?

With nobody really incentivised to bring criminal charges or to remove fraud outside of their own selfish domain it is difficult to see how it is stopped. The only real solution is for parties to come together as a collective to stamp out fraud for the benefit of the industry.

Trade bodies such as the IAB are engaged in initiatives, however to date that has culminated in definitions around what constitutes fraud. And of course they themselves can do little without the buy in of the major advertisers, agencies and technology providers. These are the key data holders and without them on board, industry wide initiatives are unlikely to take off.

What is clear is we as an industry need to get our house in order.  Continued concern and scrutiny over fraud and ad quality need addressing in 2017 before they become critical to the future of display advertising.

F*ck Mark Zuckerberg’s T-Shirt

Often in our search to either solve problems, or improve situations we fall into the trap of thinking what works for one person, will work for another. It is understandable as we look for proof of a solutions viability, the fact it has worked before gives us confidence it could work for us.

We also live in a world where this message is used as the hook to sell us the any product even vaguely related to self improvement. Do what I did and you will look like me. Here is the secret for how I became a billionaire. How X went from that to this.

But what a lot of people fail to appreciate is how different we all are. There is no one size fits all model for achieving anything in life. If there was, wouldn’t we all be doing it?

F*ck that T-Shirt

If you follow business press or read biographies you will read a lot about how super successful people achieve so much in their day. And a lot focuses on their daily routine or habits, suggesting that if you replicate them, you too will replicate their success.

If I hear about one more person who has followed the Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg model for wearing the same outfit each day I may strangle somebody with their plain black tshirt.

Equally, another of the more consistent stories you hear is about how these people rise ridiculously early each day and on need 4 hours sleep. Something which many people try and replicate, and will generally tell you how productive it makes them at every opportunity.

I’ve done a fair amount of research into productivity and can tell you that two things for sure:

  1. There is no reason this will defintiely work for you, that doesnt mean you cant be be more productive
  2. It is far more important to understand your own energy patterns

Personally I am an early riser anyway. I’ve never struggled getting up in the morning and find myself most pre noon. But that doesn’t mean I am more effective over a 24 hour period.

I have lulls at other times of the day when my energy levels dip, and past 10pm in the evening I am useless, no matter if I feel alert, I just can’t be effective.

Conversely I know a lot of people who do their best work late at night. But speak to them pre 10am and its a complete waste of time. This isnt because they are any less effective, or any less productive, it means they have their energy peaks at different times.

It irks me to see people handing out blanket advice without considering the differences of each individual. You need to find what works for you, and understand when you have energy. If that’s early in the day and you can crank out a ton of work pre 9am then great, and if its post 9pm and you like to work into the night, then thats fine too.

Don’t build a team of hammers

A widely used quote attributed to Abraham Maslow:

I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.

Often this quote is attributed to tactics and techniques.  Used to profess the virtues of broadening skills, knowledge and approaches.

But this quote can equally be applicable to teams and team structure. If everyone you bring into a team matches a prescribed criteria then that team will become the hammer, and every challenge will begin to look like a nail.

Understanding and assessing individuals skills, capabilities, personalities and approaches is critical is you want a varied toolbox within your team. Ensuring there is variety whilst maintaining a core of values and goals is where excellence exists.

In the agency world this can be as simple as having a balance of thinkers and doers, or a balance of personalities to match against clients.  Taking it a step further you have profiling tools such as Myers Briggs which will give even more detailed view on individuals and how they can be moulded to compliment one another.

However you achieve it, just make sure you don’t build a team of hammers.

Looking for Hope in the EU Referendum

When I saw the news Friday morning I was honestly gobsmacked. I had believed all along that Remain would eventually win through and genuinely thought I wouldn’t be as close as everyone was making out. When I went to bed at around 11 both Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage had more or less conceded defeat. 6 hours later and I’m waking up to news that WE have voted to leave.

I don’t think I have ever felt the same feeling about a political event. Yes, I have voted in general elections and ‘my side’ have lost. But with that you know that there is still a level of consistency about what will happen in the future. And as much as I may agree about one policy or another, there are a lot of constants to cling on to. This time it was different.

I wanted to rant. I wanted to put all of the thoughts in my head down in writing. I wanted to smash BREXIT faces one by one into a photo of Boris Johnson. Look {smash} at {smash} what {smash} you’ve {smash} done {smash}.
But as satisfying as that might have been, it wouldn’t have achieved anything. So I decided to take all of the things that have been wrong with this referendum and turn them into hope. A hope for the future that we will take these lessons and never make the same mistakes again.

Hope #1: People understand the importance of their vote

The turnout of the referendum as 72%, far higher than any general election in 20 years. But in the days since the result we have seen people come out saying they didn’t think their vote would matter. People who voted for a BREXIT without thinking it would happen or thinking of the consequences, now left with a regret for their decision.

It can be easy in an election to think your vote doesn’t matter, especially if you are in a majority seat area. But we all need to vote for what we believe and what we think is right.

Hope #2: We force politicians to speak in real terms

The level political argument in not just the referendum but the most recent general election reached a new low in my lifetime, and the information presented by either side treated the voting public with contempt and insulted their intelligence.

This was magnified in the referendum with many people, only now realising what it means to leave the EU. More expensive holidays, loss of the right to work in other countries, restrictions on holiday homes, expensive to study and travel within the EU.

If politicians don’t speak in real terms, it is on you the voter to search out the truth.

Hope #3: Politicians are held to account for their lies

We seem to now live in a world of freedom for politicians to lie. Less than 9 hours after the result was confirmed, Nigel Farage was forced to admit the £350 Million we apparently (but don’t actually) give the EU each week wouldn’t be spent on the NHS. Of course it won’t, but that is what the leave campaign suggested on the side of their bus and hung a large portion of their campaign on. This figure that has been disproven in number of times, they refused to drop. And we as the voters fail, repeatedly to hold them to account.

And the other key lynchpin in the vote, immigration. Again less than 36 hours after the result, leave campaigners forced to backtrack on claims of reduced or more control on immigration.

The British voters, and the British media, have to hold politicians to account for these lies. And moving forward, we have to do this before a vote is cast.

Hope #4: We see past individual political ambitions

We have to realise our politician’s intentions. There is one reason, and one reason alone that Boris Johnson led the leave campaign. His own personal ambitions to be Prime Minister. He saw an opportunity to potentially remove David Cameron and position himself at the front of the queue. Despite being open about his belief in a single EU trade union in the past, he was willing to switch sides for his own personal gain.

Equally the reason we had a referendum in the first place comes down to David Cameron’s desperation to stay at the head of The Conservative Party. He was facing a revolt from the right leaning Conservatives and had to promise the referendum to keep his leadership and secure his position as Prime Minister.

Neither believed we should be leaving the EU, but both were willing to put the country at risk for their own ambitions. And Johnson went one step further to manipulate and mislead 17,410,742 people to get where he wanted to be.

As voters we need to be smart enough to see through this, otherwise we will continue to be pawns in their game.

Hope #5: I hope I am wrong about the future

And the final hope.  I hope I am wrong about the impact this will have on the country, the economy, and our future as a nation.

I’m worried about what the future holds for our country, but I have to cling to hope that we may at least have learnt some lessons about democracy and our role as voters within it.