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To Fix Video Advertising’s Unnecessary Complexities, Just Look to the Internet

*This article was originally published on ANA Newsstand at

Over the past 30 years, digital advertising’s evolution has been astonishing. At one time online advertising was limited to static banner ads that — much like a physical billboard — sat in the same place for a fixed amount of time. Now, in milliseconds, programmatic exchanges place precisely targeted ads for a fraction of what the old banner ads cost.

Of course, there’s been more change than just sending those pricey old-school banner ads the way of the dinosaur. Broadband infrastructure has matured and reached a point of high-speed ubiquity, leading to an explosion of digital video. Now, the medium once confined to the living room is everywhere: in hands, on the road, at the checkout counter, at the gas pump, even on the sides of buildings. In fact, according to Cisco, internet protocol (IP) video traffic will be 82 percent of all consumer internet traffic by 2021.

The video boom, especially when combined with programmatic media buying and precise targeting, offers advertisers incredible opportunities to engage audiences and tell compelling, relevant brand stories. Unfortunately, when it comes to video advertising, today’s technology-driven efficiencies only apply to the media-buying side of the equation. The act of filling that impression with creative remains slow, error-prone, and unnecessarily costly. While the video advertising media buy is executed in milliseconds, it can take hours, days, or even weeks to fulfill with corresponding creative. Fortunately for advertisers, the internet that created such a remarkable way to connect with consumers also offers a solution for the creative asset supply chain.

The Current Plight of the Digital Ad Supply Chain
The current digital supply chain has a problem with how it keeps track of creative assets. The process can involve multiple agencies and a lot of back and forth. Consider, as an example, a scenario in which agency A needs to contact another agency to get the creative that was originally used for TV. That sounds easy enough, but when there are thousands and thousands of spots, identifying the right one is often a back-and-forth process. The issue is compounded by the lack of widespread adoption of a standardized ad identification system, such as Ad-ID, to uniquely label each and every advertising asset — even versions of the same ad. Instead, in some cases, ads are referenced using descriptions like “the one with the kid and the lady in the blue dress.”

The scenario becomes even more complicated if there are multiple agencies involved. Agencies A and B may go back and forth for days, when it’s really agency C that has the video.

After days of phone calls and emails, agency A finally knows it can get the creative from agency C. Now it just has to get a copy of the file in the right format for the ad server or media properties where the ad will be used. This process may involve yet another agency, D, the creative agency, to step in.

Agency D will contact its TV ad delivery vendor, which will generate copies of the video ad transcoded to the needed formats. (Of course, the vendor won’t know the correct format without first coordinating with agency A.) Once done, the vendor is able to convert the asset to the appropriate format and from there the video ad file gets manually delivered via FTP to agency A. Finally, agency A can then upload the asset to an ad server and possibly to a new media vendor, which would have to transcode the file again to work with its system — a process that often degrades the file’s quality.

The whole process is overly complicated and time consuming, and it’s completely unnecessary.

Finding a Solution Online
The internet works as a solution to the circuitous creative asset supply chain scenario described above because it has standard means for identifying, authorizing, accessing, and delivering resources no matter the form those resources take. If the advertising industry could apply the same type of workflows and information-exchange protocols specifically to video ads, advertisers’ campaigns could be executed in a way that’s just as automated and streamlined as the media buy.

The first step in establishing an internet-inspired supply chain is creating a consistent way to identify resources. For that, there’s something to be learned from the internet’s Uniform Resource Locators (URLs). No matter how many times a resource is accessed, it is sourced from that same location. No need to make copies. The IP address, a part of the URL, is what specifies the exact location of the resource, and this IP address is usually aliased using a unique domain name, managed by the Domain Name System (DNS).

Such a system for video ad assets is within reach, as some of the pieces, like centralized ad identification registries, already exist. For example, Ad-ID (a joint venture of the ANA and 4A’s) provides unique ad codes using a standard approach. Much like the DNS provides unique domains to identify resource hosts, Ad-ID registries use well-known “prefixes” that are tied to individual advertisers, brands, agencies, etc.

The second step is to implement better workflows. Here, key lessons can be learned from how streaming services like YouTube deliver content. When a video from the site or app is shared, it doesn’t need to be downloaded, compressed, and sent by email. It’s much easier than that — one simply sends the link. When the recipient clicks on the link, they’re taken to the same centralized asset repository where the sender found the video in the first place.

There’s no reason video ad assets can’t be treated the same way, with management and access through “ad clouds,” a centralized, permission-based online location and clearinghouse, wherein brands’ creative assets are made accessible in the same way resources are available through a typical website or FTP site. Physical video assets (i.e., digital video files) would be uploaded directly from post-production in the highest-fidelity master format, and all other renditions and formats would be taken from these originals, thereby preventing the loss of quality caused by repeated transcoding. Also attached to those originals is all of the necessary metadata, indexed by the unique ad code.

Once assets are housed in an ad cloud, with associated metadata and, optionally, talent and rights information for performers who appear in the ad, the assets may be readily accessed using a URL scheme that, much like internet URLs incorporate IP addresses, would include the unique Ad-ID identification code.

Advertisers can take another step toward solving the video ad problem by looking at how the internet specifies the desired format for different file types (e.g., HTML, XML, PDF, or JSON). An advanced ad cloud can incorporate the target format and even host and maintain a registry of common format requirements of network endpoints. For example, the formats needed by all TV, digital video, mobile, and out-of-home endpoints can be maintained in the ad cloud, reducing what needs to be specified in the URL to the target network endpoint and the Ad-ID code. Upon receiving such a request, the correct rendition of the ad will be transcoded directly from the master origin file.

Putting the Infrastructure In Place
Video advertising is both powerful and persuasive, and in a video-everywhere world, it’s certain to grow in even greater volumes. But the processes advertisers use to deliver those ads is too complicated, costly, and error prone and are holding back advertisers’ ability to leverage highly engaged audiences on IP-based platforms.

Advertisers need a better way to deploy video ads. Thankfully, one exists. The internet is a proven model of effectively automating complex systems on a global basis. If the industry simply applies these principles to the handling of video ad assets through the use of ad clouds, it will realize dramatic improvements in the efficiency of video ad campaign execution.