What Is Real-Time Advertising?

What Is Real-Time Advertising?
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I need to tell you something: my Spidey-sense is tingling.

I have a feeling that we are about to have another big shift in advertising. There are rumblings that seem to suggest that the big boys of the technology/media world are going to make a major push. Our future hasn’t simply flowed out in front of us for several years. It comes in bursts and fits among long periods of calm. The financial downturn and the overall lack of enthusiasm for consumer marketing was one of those periods of calm, and it’s just about over.

For example:

Twitter has suddenly become very serious about making money out of its service. It seems intent on shutting off a number of the ways that outsiders have been making money, possibly to ensure that its offering – Promoted Tweets – has the absolute best chance of capturing a brand’s excitement (and dollars).
Facebook has expanded its reach, probably too far. Facebook is the Icarus of media properties, forever going too far with its ideas, only to have its concepts melt under the harsh heat of consumer concern. The Facebook push into the rest of the Web has hit a wall, but it will find a way to scale it.

Apple has begun making serious plans around iAd (its mobile ad network) and the Federal Trade Commission has approved Google’s purchase of AdMob. This means that mobile advertising is going to be easier to execute, efficient to traffic, and rigorously measured.

Google has announced Google TV, a technology and set-top box that will essentially make your home TV into a Web browser, capable of showing video on the Web. In addition to being a huge boon to the porn industry (and what isn’t?), this should open up piles and piles of online video inventory. Google’s not great at hardware (the Nexus One was exciting, but not by much), but hopefully its partners will take the lead on developing cool items that you want in your media center.

There’s a lot happening, and it’s all part of the same underlying trend. I think there’s one root cause that’s driving the supply side (publishers), the demand side (brands), and the underlying infrastructure (the tech companies), and that is, bluntly, the need for speed.

Collapsing Time to Nothing

In media, we have gone from the “CBS Evening News” to “The Situation Room.” We have gone from browsing the Web to always on. We have gone from personal websites to blogs to Twitter feeds. We have gone from documentaries to live feeds. We live in a world where we want what’s happening to be piped into our lives now, and there seems to be no limit to the number of windows we can have open or devices we can interact with. We are on a human-media quest for real time, and it’s time advertising joins in.

The term real time has been applied to a few different corners of technology, and has been adopted from computer science. The technical definition of real-time computing is, well, totally beyond my comprehension. You’re welcome to try to sort it out here. But, in practice, real time has come to mean that time gaps between an event occurring, our ability to see or know about that event, and the feedback that comes from our reaction to that event, have been eliminated. That is, something happens and we know about it as though we were there, regardless of where we are.

In advertising, we are beginning to not only understand this need for speed, but also have the tools to take advantage of the opportunity. This means that advertisers (and publishers and technology providers) can continue to push forward with innovations, but toward a particular direction of making advertising not only more responsive, but also integrated with consumer’s lives.

Here are ways that this is happening:

The ability to make contents of an ad unit change, based on information either from a user or the contents of the page: Making content dynamic is key in the development of truly interactive advertising. Publishers have been hesitant about this technology for a while, since they would have to be a bit unsure about what ads will really show up. But this is starting to change.
True integration across platforms: As more platforms come under the mandate of a few large companies (like Apple, Google, or Microsoft), we can expect to communicate with a consumer as he or she moves through different environments and have that all tracked. This is a critical move: consumers already have integrated their media experiences and we need to catch up.
A social environment that pervades many experiences: So many online experiences have a commercial slant, especially when it comes to looking for information or finding content. The ability to have a social graph applied to a piece of content represents a new level of recommendation that should help to power a consumer decision. This one is fraught with issues, but is still an important frontier.
A hyper-connected distribution system: The protocols and technologies that we need to have a piece of content widely distributed – whether it’s from a publisher, a merchant, or a consumer – means that once we say something, we can expect it will end up in the right ears, right away.
All of this is accelerating our work and making us into better, more nimble advertisers, who are not just interested in crafting the perfect message, but being the perfect brand.