Guy Cookson is Co-founder of Azullo, an advertising solutions provider based in London. Here Cookson discusses Azullo’s flagship product, Respond, how it is addressing “banner-blindness”, its penetration in the market, and the potential up-side for publisher clients.
Your company, Azullo, launched Respond to combat “banner-blindness”. How does your solution address this issue?
It’s no secret that display ad CTRs are falling through the floor. Eye-tracking studies by Jakob Nielsen and others show users are getting smarter at ignoring ads and focusing on content. We wanted to solve this problem without being interruptive, because interruptive ads kill user experience and ultimately lose publishers their audience.
We noticed the world’s biggest publishers use quite simple call-to-action buttons for their most important actions, so we decided to create a dynamic call-to-action button ad format. We called it Respond. It was a leap of faith, but we’ve found it really works.
You use “buttons not banners”. Are users more likely to click on call-to-action buttons?
Yes, we’ve found users are ten times more likely to click Respond call-to-action buttons than other display ad formats. It’s a combination of the button design, placement near the content, and the relevance of the message.
Is there enough scale to make this product worthwhile for publishers?
Absolutely – we have a very broad range of brands using Respond so we can cover most sectors really well. If there’s a sector we’re new to we proactively go after relevant advertisers to plug any gaps.
One thing worth bearing in mind is that Respond offers 100% incremental revenue. Publishers don’t have to change or remove any of their existing ads, and publishers have confirmed that adding Respond doesn’t cannabilise existing revenues at all. We’re capturing a different subset of users, many of which do not usually respond to online ads.
How are you targeting? Is it all done on a contextual basis?
We look at a number of signals, the three most important of which are the context of the page, location of the user, and device they are using. If you’re in the UK and you’re reading an article about a weekend in New York on your iPad the Respond button might say ‘Book flights from London’ and take you to an optimised overlay or landing page when you click.
Our algorithm also monitors the performance of each campaign over time. This helps to ensure we show the campaign that’s most likely to generate a conversion. It’s yield management by creating competition for the space. On a page about a VW Golf the button can self-optimise between campaigns for car insurance, test drive lead gen, used cars, and so on, to ensure the publisher maximises their revenue.
All of this is obviously automated, but we also have humans looking at the data too, so we can share valuable insights with our publishers and advertisers, such as which call to action messages are most effective, which placements work best, which content drives the most conversions, and so on.
How would a publisher implement your solution on their site?
It’s really simple. Publishers add a line of code and place a tag for where they want to buttons to be displayed. We recommend placing Respond where you’d usually find the Facebook Like button, just above and below the content. It’s very simple to add, and it just works from then on. Publishers can sign-up online at www.respondhq.com, or drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Do publishers have control over which ads get shown?
We have sensitivity controls in place, so we can block specific advertisers or even whole sectors, in advance or at anytime. This can be useful if a publisher has an exclusivity deal in place, for example.
What metrics are you using for this solution? CPC? CPA?
We’re actually pretty agnostic about this – ultimately it’s about which campaigns perform best in terms of driving conversions for advertisers and revenue for publishers. That said, increasingly most campaigns are CPC.
Do you have plans to tap into the growing demand from agency trading desks and other dynamic demand sources?
No definite plans to announce yet, but we’re watching the space closely.
You began developing your product 18 months ago, what processes brought it to what it is today?
We follow an agile approach to product development, and that’s influenced how the whole business operates. When we had the original idea instead of spending months planning, we immediately started building the product and meeting with publishers, brands and agencies to get a really good understanding of the problems we needed to solve. We iterate rapidly, so we can respond to client feedback, changes in the marketplace, and ideas for innovation.
What are your views on the relationship between content and advertising?
Well, I think my view on this is probably shared by most web users. Advertisers have been in an arms race with users ever since CTRs started to fall in the mid-nineties, and it’s a battle users are winning. For every expanding, floating or in-text ad, there’s another install of Adblock Plus.
Advertising can really add value to users if it’s done right. We designed Respond with that in mind. Give people a clear call to action at the right time and place, and they will use it. You don’t need to be interruptive to get conversions.
Do you have a similar offering for mobile?
It’s actually the same offering – Respond works really well on mobile sites. It also works well on standard sites when viewed on a mobile device – tap a column of text to read it, and the Respond button might be the only ad you see.