The online advertising sector has proved resilient - and it’s only going to get stronger

Facebook has used advertising to turn its fortunes around - the question, now, is how the industry can keep pace and keep growing.

This month saw Twitter hit the headlines for its hugely impressive debut on the New York Stock Exchange. After its first day of trading, shares in the site closed at $44.30, up more than 73 per cent from their initial price of $23. Last May, there was a huge frenzy around Facebook’s gargantuan floatation. Share prices initially dropped and many naysayers proclaimed that Facebook had overshot its mark, entering at $38 a share. However, from July to September 2013, its share price doubled and is currently trading around the $50 mark.

It’s not just brands going public. Acquisitions for huge sums of money are taking place regularly. Instagram had only 12 employees when it was acquired for a cool billion dollars last year. Just last week, the founder of Snapchat turned down a $3 billion offer from Facebook. Such moves have led to plenty of not-so-hushed murmurs of a tech bubble forming, especially around digital brands.

But how are brands able to command such large valuations, or, in Snapchat’s case, turn such substantial offers down. Put simply, it’s down to a transformation of business models and the potential it offers for monetisation. Snapchat, for example, is hugely popular among teenagers – a bracket it is notoriously difficult to reach. This means, if it can get its platform strategy right, it is going to be in a very strong position to command significant revenue for advertising and marketing on its platform.

Facebook has used advertising effectively to turn its fortunes around. Its most recent results revealed it had broken through the $2billion revenue barrier and exceeded forecasts from Thomsons Reuters. A major contributor to these better-than-expected results was mobile advertising. It stated that 49 percent of its ad revenue – or $882 million – came from mobile devices, up from 14 percent a year earlier. Analysts have also stated that there has been a real rush to advertise with Facebook thanks to the new ad format it rolled out earlier this year. The ability to integrate in-stream ads into the user experience has worked, thanks to it being new, cheap and able to bring better response rates.

Shortly before Twitter declared its intentions to go public clear, it made a shrewd investment, shelling out $350m for MoPub, a mobile advertising exchange. This will enable Twitter to expand its influence as well as serve different formats, such as native advertising – which aims to deliver less intrusive ads to its user base.

In short, advertising is at the heart of online’s success and, increasingly, we will start to see more interesting and useful content delivered to users. The sector is booming and the question that is being levelled at the industry is “how is it going to maintain this pace and keep growing?”.

Firstly, Facebook and Twitter are undoubtedly doing well, thanks to their advertising strategies. But it should be pointed out that, despite being vast, they are closed networks. Brands certainly need to harness the opportunity social networks present, but in order to capture optimal audience engagement, they need to ensure they are not restricting themselves solely to these walled gardens. The term “social” should not be restricted to these behemoths. The whole web is based on social communication (the emergence of sharing buttons, the resilience of email etc.) and herein lies the real opportunity.

A swathe of data is being produced and shared across the entire web every second. It’s for this reason that I believe we are actually on the verge of an incredibly significant landmark in advertising’s history – and one that we can draw parallels with the financial industry.

In 1986, the financial industry experienced its “Big Bang”, where everything changed. Almost overnight, the bowler hats and handshakes for completing a deal disappeared and were replaced with electronic, screen-based trading. It completely shook up the industry and saw London’s position as a financial capital considerably enhanced.

We are, without doubt, approaching a similar moment in the advertising industry, albeit less abrupt.

The volume of the conversation online continues to get louder, but realising this is only the first step, the elixir is not only to be present, but also prepared to intelligently and safely use the huge amount of data available from this digital behaviour. Humans don’t have the speed to extract the key nuggets of information from it all, in a timely way. As such, it’s all about understanding and reaching audiences “programmatically”.

Customers have evolved - meaning marketers must evolve with them. They expect a different approach, and have adopted a form of “banner blindness”: an ability to blank out and ignore ads for products that are either not relevant or have already been purchased, rendering the advertising useless. Marketers must move in real time with their target audience, and understand the value of big data in order to identify where potential consumers are on their journey; business intelligence is of critical importance.

This is why a programmatic approach is going to be the key to the evolution of both advertising and content online. Unlocking these insights will give organisations a “Single Customer View” and valuable understanding of consumer behaviour, allowing them to engage with customers, helping create more targeted marketing campaigns, which results in increased return on investment and business growth. The Big Bang for advertising is undoubtedly coming and it’s the brands that adapt to this change that will reap the benefits.

Rupert Staines is European Managing Director at RadiumOne

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is interviewed after Twitter's IPO on 7 November, 2013. Photograph: Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Rupert Staines is European Managing Director at RadiumOne

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The 11 things we know after the Brexit plan debate

Labour may just have fallen into a trap. 

On Wednesday, both Labour and Tory MPs filed out of the Commons together to back a motion calling on the Prime Minister to commit to publish the government’s Brexit plan before Article 50 is triggered in March 2017. 

The motion was proposed by Labour, but the government agreed to back it after inserting its own amendment calling on MPs to “respect the wishes of the United Kingdom” and adhere to the original timetable. 

With questions on everything from the customs union to the Northern Irish border, it is clear that the Brexit minister David Davis will have a busy Christmas. Meanwhile, his declared intention to stay schtum about the meat of Brexit negotiations for now means the nation has been hanging off every titbit of news, including a snapped memo reading “have cake and eat it”. 

So, with confusion abounding, here is what we know from the Brexit plan debate: 

1. The government will set out a Brexit plan before triggering Article 50

The Brexit minister David Davis said that Parliament will get to hear the government’s “strategic plans” ahead of triggering Article 50, but that this will not include anything that will “jeopardise our negotiating position”. 

While this is something of a victory for the Remain MPs and the Opposition, the devil is in the detail. For example, this could still mean anything from a white paper to a brief description released days before the March deadline.

2. Parliament will get a say on converting EU law into UK law

Davis repeated that the Great Repeal Bill, which scraps the European Communities Act 1972, will be presented to the Commons during the two-year period following Article 50.

He said: “After that there will be a series of consequential legislative measures, some primary, some secondary, and on every measure the House will have a vote and say.”

In other words, MPs will get to debate how existing EU law is converted to UK law. But, crucially, that isn’t the same as getting to debate the trade negotiations. And the crucial trade-off between access to the single market versus freedom of movement is likely to be decided there. 

3. Parliament is almost sure to get a final vote on the Brexit deal

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the final Brexit deal, which means the government accepts it also needs parliamentary approval. Davis said: “It is inconceivable to me that if the European Parliament has a vote, this House does not.”

Davis also pledged to keep MPs as well-informed as MEPs will be.

However, as shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer pointed out to The New Statesman, this could still leave MPs facing the choice of passing a Brexit deal they disagree with or plunging into a post-EU abyss. 

4. The government still plans to trigger Article 50 in March

With German and French elections planned for 2017, Labour MP Geraint Davies asked if there was any point triggering Article 50 before the autumn. 

But Davis said there were 15 elections scheduled during the negotiation process, so such kind of delay was “simply not possible”. 

5. Themed debates are a clue to Brexit priorities

One way to get a measure of the government’s priorities is the themed debates it is holding on various areas covered by EU law, including two already held on workers’ rights and transport.  

Davis mentioned themed debates as a key way his department would be held to account. 

It's not exactly disclosure, but it is one step better than relying on a camera man papping advisers as they walk into No.10 with their notes on show. 

6. The immigration policy is likely to focus on unskilled migrants

At the Tory party conference, Theresa May hinted at a draconian immigration policy that had little time for “citizens of the world”, while Davis said the “clear message” from the Brexit vote was “control immigration”.

He struck a softer tone in the debate, saying: “Free movement of people cannot continue as it is now, but this will not mean pulling up the drawbridge.”

The government would try to win “the global battle for talent”, he added. If the government intends to stick to its migration target and, as this suggests, will keep the criteria for skilled immigrants flexible, the main target for a clampdown is clearly unskilled labour.  

7. The government is still trying to stay in the customs union

Pressed about the customs union by Anna Soubry, the outspoken Tory backbencher, Davis said the government is looking at “several options”. This includes Norway, which is in the single market but not the customs union, and Switzerland, which is in neither but has a customs agreement. 

(For what it's worth, the EU describes this as "a series of bilateral agreements where Switzerland has agreed to take on certain aspects of EU legislation in exchange for accessing the EU's single market". It also notes that Swiss exports to the EU are focused on a few sectors, like chemicals, machinery and, yes, watches.)

8. The government wants the status quo on security

Davis said that on security and law enforcement “our aim is to preserve the current relationship as best we can”. 

He said there is a “clear mutual interest in continued co-operation” and signalled a willingness for the UK to pitch in to ensure Europe is secure across borders. 

One of the big tests for this commitment will be if the government opts into Europol legislation which comes into force next year.

9. The Chancellor is wooing industries

Robin Walker, the under-secretary for Brexit, said Philip Hammond and Brexit ministers were meeting organisations in the City, and had also met representatives from the aerospace, energy, farming, chemicals, car manufacturing and tourism industries. 

However, Labour has already attacked the government for playing favourites with its secretive Nissan deal. Brexit ministers have a fine line to walk between diplomacy and what looks like a bribe. 

10. Devolved administrations are causing trouble

A meeting with leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ended badly, with the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon publicly declaring it “deeply frustrating”. The Scottish government has since ramped up its attempts to block Brexit in the courts. 

Walker took a more conciliatory tone, saying that the PM was “committed to full engagement with the devolved administrations” and said he undertook the task of “listening to the concerns” of their representatives. 

11. Remain MPs may have just voted for a trap

Those MPs backing Remain were divided on whether to back the debate with the government’s amendment, with the Green co-leader Caroline Lucas calling it “the Tories’ trap”.

She argued that it meant signing up to invoking Article 50 by March, and imposing a “tight timetable” and “arbitrary deadline”, all for a vaguely-worded Brexit plan. In the end, Lucas was one of the Remainers who voted against the motion, along with the SNP. 

George agrees – you can read his analysis of the Brexit trap here

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.