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COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter will be the elephants in the virtual room when digital publishers make their pitch to advertisers during the NewFronts next week.
How publishers including YouTube, Condé Nast and TikTok address the health crisis and systemic racism will likely supersede the typical questions surrounding things like brand safety and frequency caps.
“Clients are looking for publishers who are doing something positive,” says Cara Lewis, exec VP, video investment, Dentsu Aegis. “We don’t necessarily want them just to say something to say something; it needs to be heartfelt, real and ongoing.”
For some, it will be hard to focus on these presentations with so much social unrest.
“If we were in the office right now, and COVID didn’t exist, we would struggle to attend a typical NewFront with what’s going on with the country. These tend to be showy and lavish. It would be hard to pretend that’s a totally normal thing to do in light of what’s happening,” says Julia Smaldone, senior strategist, Media Kitchen.
Publishers that don’t feature a diverse set of creators and content, or at the very least showcase a game plan for addressing these holes, could get pinged. This is especially crucial for younger-skewing digital platforms, where diversification and equality are central to the content choices of these viewers.
“We will also see how participants are going to talk about their approach to creating content that reaches diverse audiences and speaks to these concerns, especially for Gen Z audience who feel very strongly about this,” says Noah Mallin, chief brand strategist, IMGN Media, a Gen-Z focused media company.
Condé Nast has come under fire in recent weeks for perpetuating systemic racism internally.
"It's something we take very seriously, and we will be addressing it during our presentation next week,” says Pamela Drucker Mann, global chief revenue and marketing officer, Condé Nast.
Facebook will host its first NewFront presentation as it faces heat from civil rights groups calling for brands to boycott the platform through July due to its refusal to fact-check posts from politicians who spread false information or promote violence.
Facebook declined to comment on its plans ahead of the NewFront presentations, but it is clear from the moves the company has made in recent weeks that Black culture and media are front and center in its discussions with brands.
On Thursday, Facebook outlined a commitment to raising Black voices on the social network and on Instagram. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg announced that Facebook would host a new section in the app called Lift Black Voices, to highlight stories from Black people; share educational resources; and inspire people to take action through fundraising for racial justice causes.
“Now more than ever brand advertisers want ethical considerations in terms of how they go to market with their dollars,” says George Manas, chief media officer, OMD U.S. “Even last year there was a lot of talk about media principles like viewability and fraud, but this is that on steroids. Brands are actively trying to understand how they can bring brand values into their investment approach and use it as a force for good.”
Flexibility will be key
The NewFronts get underway as many brands are still reeling from the pandemic, which decimated ad budgets, postponed content shoots and canceled live sporting events. There’s still little clarity over what inventory will be available for brands to buy and plenty of uncertainty over ad budgets, especially if there’s another COVID-19 spike.
Digital publishers will surely take advantage of marketers’ desire for flexibility. With many TV deals struck during the summer upfront negotiations months before an ad actually runs, digital publishers will likely highlight the ability for marketers to have a greater level of flexibility in when they strike deals, ability to cancel parts of their commitments and opportunity to shift dollars.
"Legacy media have long lead times and complicated cancelation policies that, unfortunately, conspire against marketers who need to move decisively and fast," says Peter Naylor, VP, sales, Americas, Snap. These days we see digital marketers taking advantage of the nimble nature of digital platforms to make fast marketing moves."
Mallin says advertisers will be looking to have different local approaches to advertising. With various parts of the country opening at different speeds, and the possibility that there will be a second spike in COVID-19 in certain states, marketers want the flexibility to pause campaigns in certain locations or easily shift and switch out creative.
Roku has already said it will give advertisers the ability to revamp or quickly pull its creative as part of NewFront deals.
“There are a lot of traditional buying behaviors that a lot of clients have been wanting to evolve and this gives them a reason to do that,” says Condé Nast’s Drucker Mann.
All eyes have been on the launch of new, high-profile streaming services over the past year. And as COVID-19 has only shown to accelerate the adoption of streaming platforms, with more people consuming content while quarantined, there’s expected to be an even greater demand.
Hulu will enter the NewFronts for the first time as part of Walt Disney. This means advertisers will be able to strike one deal across all of Disney’s digital properties, inclusive of Hulu.
Hulu is expected to introduce new ad formats akin to the pause and binge ads during its event. And the company’s internal creative show, GreenHouse, run by Scott Donaton, will be featured.
Disney previously announced it is introducing a new ad product, Disney Hulu XP, which will allow marketers to make one buy, at one price, and their ad can run anywhere across Disney’s entire digital portfolio. These deals will be guaranteed on completed views. It is also enabling a unified programmatic approach that allows the use of client audience data for targeting and the ability to manage and measure brand frequency across its entire digital portfolio.
Frequency is certainly one of the biggest gripes in buying over-the-top video right now.
With much of OTT being bought through aggregators and ad networks, it’s been difficult for brands to control how many times their ads run on platforms, says Mark Rotblat, chief revenue officer, Tubi, which was acquired by Fox earlier this year.
Hulu and Tubi are expected to be among the brands that will address solutions to viewers’ gripe of seeing the same ads over and over.
The NewFronts will see new entrants like TikTok, Snapchat and Facebook.
For TikTok, Mallin says this will be a coming-out party of sorts. Marketers will be looking to the social platform to discuss elevating content beyond its user-generated viral videos. “We will see them start to build out some of their biggest stars like Charli D’Amelio,” he says.
TikTok is heading into its first NewFront show at a challenging moment. Advertisers are already cautious about the Chinese-based app, but they are intrigued by its seemingly unstoppable popularity. TikTok is fostering a growing creator community with some of the most compelling talent in social media.
The lighthearted video app is not typically known for its political commentary, but in recent weeks teens on TikTok have been sharing Black Lives Matter protest imagery.
Advertisers expect to see TikTok highlight its creator community and its latest advertising programs that link stars with brands.
Snapchat will look to remind the ad community about its Discover section—its media hub—which is open to top publishers and creators.
“Snap feels like advertisers have forgotten about Discover and don’t realize just how much is happening there,” Mallin says. While Snapchat’s rollout of advertising initially had a lot of stops and starts, Mallin says, it has done a lot to get its ad ecosystem in a good place.
Snapchat’s message will be to woo big advertisers who tried the platform initially, but didn’t find what they were looking for, to try again.
Snapchat has already been out promoting its media offering. This month, the company hosted the Snap Partner Summit, where it showcased how it would promote Discover videos more prominently inside the app. It also touted new types of shows that blend video and augmented reality, which is Snapchat's signature technology.
The big question, according to OMD's Manas, is how these platforms will lean into the political side of the equation. Will they explicitly talk about curbing misinformation and lean into how they are diversifying content?
"It seems out of touch if they are out there showcasing their bright, shiny object without a thoughtful acknowledgement of the state of the country right now," he says.
Contributing: Garett Sloane