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

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.