All posts in “advertising”

Gravy’s new mobile game show is ‘Price is Right’ mixed with QVC

Following the success of the live mobile game show HQ Trivia, a team of serial entrepreneurs have begun testing the market to see if another game show concept can work, too. Their new game show-inspired app, Gravy, is meant to be a riff on the “Price is Right” combined with a QVC-style shopping experience. That is, the “contestants” compete for discounts of 30 to 70 percent off the products advertised, with a portion of the proceeds going to charity. In addition, through a side game, users can guess when the product – whose quantities are unknown – will sell out and at what price. Those who guess closest win a cash prize.

The startup was created by Mark McGuire, Brian Wiegand, and Craig Andler – the founding team behind Jellyfish.com, an older social shopping network that was acquired by Microsoft back in 2007, to help create Bing Shopping. They’ve also paired up on other projects, including NameProtect (before Jellyfish), printable coupons resource Hopster, social network Nextt, and e-commerce subscription retail site, Alice.com. These have either exited or shut down or both.

The team’s efforts imply a clear passion for working with brands, but getting consumers to connect with brands in new ways is far more difficult, as their track record shows.

That’s why they’re now trying Gravy.

The hope is that the excitement around seeing the product unveiled nightly – and knowing you’ll get a big discount if you buy – will become an entirely new ad unit of sorts, while keeping players engaged in a game-show like experience.

“One of the challenges with millennials is their short attention spans, and they don’t respond well to interruptive advertising,” explains Wiegand, of why the team wanted to build this startup. “I don’t think anyone’s really mastered how to monetize live video. So we came up with this opportunity to create this new ad unit where brands could tell their story, and – for seven or eight or nine minutes – create a live shopping event where millennials can tune in and hear that story but in a fun, gamified kind of manner,” he says.

Here’s how Gravy works. Every night, at 8:30 PM ET in the Gravy iOS app, a live host will unveil the product users can buy. Currently, there’s a rotating selection of hosts who work on a per-show contract basis, usually local comedians – not brand reps.

Players are not told how many items are available, but it’s typically anywhere from two to twenty.

Then the price starts to drop. If you buy early, you’ll have a chance to snag it at a slight discount. But the longer you wait, the higher the percentage off will become. However, you don’t know who else could snatch it up first and when. If you wait too long, the product will sell out.

Meanwhile, if you’re not interested in the product itself, you can guess when you expect it to sell out (meaning, at which price.) Those ten or so closest will receive a small cash prize – a split of maybe $200 or $300, with first place receiving the largest chunk.

[embedded content]

At least 20 percent of sales are given away to charity – a nod, I suppose, to millennials’ interest in do-gooder style companies. But ultimately, that decision that has more to do with the fact that Gravy doesn’t aim to be a retailer – it’s not another deal-of-the-day destination like Woot!, despite the similarities around generating product excitement.

Instead, it expects brands to donate products and pay a fee for the “advertising opportunity” Gravy offers.

Brands will like Gravy because they get millennials’ attention for seven minutes or more, Wiegand says. “They love the engagement. It’s a highly engaged audience…I have a chance to buy the products, so I’m heavily engaged in thinking about that product. The recall, memorability, and all of the subsequent buzz – tweeting and all the social media that gets created because of that – is great,” he adds.

However, none of this is proven out yet – Gravy is just a couple of weeks old.

So far, around 50 percent of the products it has featured have actually been donated by brands, including 23andMe, 3D Doodler, Tapplock, and others. The rest have been subsidized by Gravy, including the bigger draws – like a DJI drone, for example.

It’s not yet charging for the ad opportunity, either, as it’s hoping to grow the audience first.

The company says that’s already underway. After alerting friends and family to the app’s launch, the games are seeing 600+ players nightly, Wiegand claims, and is growing its audience 15 percent week-over-week. Around half of those who signed up to play are returning to watch around three shows per week, he says.

While the early numbers are promising if true, and it’s clear the team likes to work in the general space of connecting brands with consumers, Gravy still feels – like much of what the founders have created before – designed primarily with the needs of brands in mind, before that of consumers.

A “Price is Right”-style app would be a lot of fun, but this isn’t it – it’s, at the end of the day, an invitation to watch an ad and shop at a discount. That’s not something consumers may want to do every day, long-term – even if you try to woo them with a small cash prize won through a guessing game.

And like Trivia HQ , which has dropped from a top 20 app to the 140’s (by App Store overall rank, the shine may eventually wear off for Gravy, too. Especially because it’s not primarily a game – and millennials, as fickle and short attention-spanned as they may be (really? the generation that binges entire TV seasons in a few days?), will know it.

Wiegand isn’t concerned, though.

He says he gets bored with trivia apps in a few weeks, but Gravy is different.

“I always shop and I always like a deal. The deal industry and the shopping industry are so much larger than the trivia space,” Wiegand insists. “And the thrill of seeing a product that you like going down into the sixties and seventies percent off is unbelievably thrilling,” he enthuses. “We are able to feature things that have the best price on the planet of first-run products…it creates this heart-pounding, exhilarating and experience like, ‘Should I buy? Oh my God, look at this price. I can’t turn it down,’” he says.

The company raised $2.1 million in seed funding from a range of investors, including the founders at the turn of the year. Around eighty percent was outside capital, led by New Capital. The under-20 person team is based in both Madison and Minneapolis.

Gravy is on the App Store here.

Facebook’s new authorization process for political ads goes live in the US

Earlier this month — and before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress — the company announced a series of changes to how it would handle political advertisements running on its platform in the future. It had said that people who wanted to buy a political ad — including ads about political “issues” — would have to reveal their identities and location and be verified before the ads could run. Information about the advertiser would also display to Facebook users.

Today, Facebook is announcing the authorization process for U.S. political ads is live.

Facebook had first said in October that political advertisers would have to verify their identity and location for election-related ads. But in April, it expanded that requirement to include any “issue ads” — meaning those on political topics being debated across the country, not just those tied to an election.

Facebook said it would work with third parties to identify the issues. These ads would then be labeled as “Political Ads,” and display the “paid for by” information to end users.

According to today’s announcement, Facebook will now begin to verify the identity and the residential mailing address of advertisers who want to run political ads. Those advertisers will also have to disclose who’s paying for the ads as part of this authorization process.

This verification process is currently only open in the U.S. and will require Page admins and ad account admins to submit their government-issued ID to Facebook, along with their residential mailing address.

The government ID can either be a U.S. passport or U.S. driver’s license, a FAQ explains. Facebook will also ask for the last four digits of admins’ Social Security Number. The photo ID will then be approved or denied in a matter of minutes, though anyone declined based on the quality of the uploaded images won’t be prevented from trying again.

The address, however, will be verified by mailing a letter with a unique access code that only the admin’s Facebook account can use. The letter may take up to 10 days to arrive, Facebook notes.

Along with the verification portion, Page admins will also have to fill in who paid for the ad in the “disclaimer” section. This has to include the organization(s) or person’s name(s) who funded it.

This information will also be reviewed prior to approval, but Facebook isn’t going to fact check this field, it seems.

Instead, the company simply says: “We’ll review each disclaimer to make sure it adheres to our advertising policies. You can edit your disclaimers at any time, but after each edit, your disclaimer will need to be reviewed again, so it won’t be immediately available to use.”

The FAQ later states that disclaimers must comply with “any applicable law,” but again says that Facebook only reviews them against its ad policies.

“It’s your responsibility as the advertiser to independently assess and ensure that your ads are in compliance with all applicable election and advertising laws and regulations,” the documentation reads.

Along with the launch of the new authorization procedures, Facebook has released a Blueprint training course to guide advertisers through the steps required, and has published an FAQ to answer advertisers’ questions.

Of course, these procedures will only net the more scrupulous advertisers willing to play by the rules. That’s why Facebook had said before that it plans to use AI technology to help sniff out those advertisers who should have submitted to verification, but did not. The company is also asking people to report suspicious ads using the “Report Ad” button.

Facebook has been under heavy scrutiny because of how its platform was corrupted by Russian trolls on a mission to sway the 2016 election. The Justice Department charged 13 Russians and three companies with election interference earlier this year, and Facebook has removed hundreds of accounts associated with disinformation campaigns.

While tougher rules around ads may help, they alone won’t solve the problem.

It’s likely that those determined to skirt the rules will find their own workarounds. Plus, ads are only one of many issues in terms of those who want to use Facebook for propaganda and misinformation. On other fronts, Facebook is dealing with fake news — including everything from biased stories to those that are outright lies, intending to influence public opinion. And of course there’s the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which led to intense questioning of Facebook’s data privacy practices in the wake of revelations that millions of Facebook users had their information improperly accessed.

Facebook says the political ads authorization process is gradually rolling out, so it may not be available to all advertisers at this time. Currently, users can only set up and manage authorizations from a desktop computer from the Authorizations tab in a Facebook Page’s Settings.

Kidtech startup SuperAwesome is now valued at $100+ million and profitable


Technology companies like Facebook and Google are scrambling to catch up to the fact that the kids have joined a web originally built for adults, and are using it the way adults do – by liking and commenting, sharing, clicking through on personalized recommendations, and viewing ads. But the technology underpinning apps and sites built for kids can’t operate the same way as it does for the grown-ups. That’s where the company SuperAwesome comes in.

SuperAwesome, just less than five years old, has been tapping into the growing need for kid-friendly technology, including kid-safe advertising, social engagement tools, authentication, and parental controls. Its clients include some of the biggest names in the children’s market, including Activision, Hasbro, Mattel, Cartoon Network, Spin Master, Nintendo, Bandai, WB, Shopkins maker Moose Toys, and hundreds of others – many of which it can’t name for legal reasons.

Now, the company is turning a profit.

SuperAwesome says it hit profitability for the first time in Q4 2017, and has reached a booked revenue run-rate of $28 million, after seeing 70 percent growth year-over-year.

This year, it expects to grow 100 percent, with a revenue run rate of $50 million.

Sources close to the company put its valuation at north of $100 million, as a result.

The company says the shift digital is driving its growth, as TV viewing is dropping at 10 to 20 percent per year, while kids digital budgets are growing at 25 percent year over year. At the same time, the kids brands and content owners are realizing that safety and privacy have to be a part of their web and mobile experiences.

SuperAwesome has flown under the radar a bit, and isn’t what you’d call a household name. That’s because its technology isn’t generally consumer-facing – it’s what powering the apps and websites that today’s kids are using, whether that’s a game like Mattel’s Barbie Fashion Closet or Monster HighHasbro’s My Little Pony Friendship Club, or a website from kids’ author Roald Dahl, to name a few.

Key to all these experiences is a technology platform that allows developers to build kid-safe apps and sites. That includes products like AwesomeAds, which ensures ads in the kids space aren’t tracking personal data and the ads are kid-appropriate; PopJam, a kid-safe social engagement platform that lets developers build experiences where kids can like, comment, share and remix online content; and Kids Web Services, tools that simplify building apps that require parental consent and oversight.

These sorts of tools are increasingly become critical to a web that’s waking up to the fact that the largest tech companies didn’t consider how many kids would be using their products. YouTube, for example, has been scrambling in recent months to combat the threats to kids on its video-sharing site, like inappropriate content targeted towards children, exploitive videos, haywire algorithms, dangerous memes, hate speech, and more.

Meanwhile, kids are lying about their ages – sometimes with parental permission – to join social platforms originally built for the 13-and-up crowd like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Musical.ly.

“It’s very easy to come out and beat up Facebook and Google for some of this stuff, but the reality is that there’s no ecosystem there for developers who are creating content or building services specifically for kids. That’s why we started SuperAwesome,” says SuperAwesome’s CEO Dylan Collins.

Before SuperAwesome, Collins founded gaming platform Jolt, acquired by GameStop, and game technology provider DemonWare, acquired by Activision.

Other SuperAwesome execs have similar successful track records in terms of company-building. Managing director Max Bleyleben was COO at digital marketing agency Beamly, acquired by Coty, and a partner in European VC fund Kennet Partner. COO Kate O’Louglin was previously SVP Media in ad tech company Tapad, acquired by Telenor. Chief Strategy Officer Paul Nunn was previously the Managing Direct in kids app maker Outfit7, acquired by China’s United Luck Group.

Today, the company’s 120-person staff also includes a full-time moderation team to review kids’ content before it goes public. A need to do more hands-on review, instead of leaving everything up to an algorithm, is something the larger companies have just woken up to, as well. For example, YouTube said it was expanding its moderation team in the wake of the site’s numerous controversies to north of 10,000 people.

  1. Screenshot 2018-02-16 17.57.11_PopJam

  2. Screenshot 2018-02-16 17.57.22_PopJam

  3. Screenshot 2018-02-16 17.57.35_PopJam

  4. Screenshot 2018-02-16 17.57.47_PopJam

SuperAwesome is much smaller than that, but it has understood the need to double-check kids’ content with a more hands-on approach for some time.

“The content created on [SuperAwesome’s] platform goes through two layers of moderation. It goes through our machine learning moderation. Then it goes through our 24/7 team of human moderators as well,” explains Collins. “With the kids’ audience, it doesn’t work to completely automate all this – you have to have human involvement.”

There are now tens of millions of pieces of content flowing through SuperAwesome’s platform every couple of weeks, to give you an idea of scale.

This online social space is something that kids’ brands want to enter, but safely and in compliance with U.S. and international laws around child protection, like COPPA and Europe’s GDPR-K.

Though SuperAwesome’s focus a couple of years ago was more about helping advertisers and marketers, today, two-thirds of SuperAwesome ads clients have since adopted its social engagement tools from PopJam. (A demonstration of this technology is also live in SuperAwesome’s own kids app by the same name.)

Now, SuperAwesome is leveraging its experience in the kids’ space to help YouTubers come into compliance with Google’s stricter rules, too, so they can ensure brands they’re “kid-safe.” SuperAwesome recently rolled out a content certification standard for under-13 YouTube influencers and those over 13 who target a very young audience with their videos.

[embedded content]

This is something SuperAwesome’s brand customers requested, because they’re spending their ad dollars on YouTube – and sometimes finding their messages matched up with inappropriate content. The problem of toxic content on Facebook and Google could have a massive impact on the ad industry if it continues to go unchecked. For example, one of the world’s largest advertisers Unilever this month threatened to pull ads from Facebook and Google if they don’t address the problems with propaganda, hate speech and disturbing content aimed at children.

SuperAwesome’s new, voluntary certification for YouTubers takes into account the content the channel produces, their behavior on the screen, their recording practices, and much more.

“YouTube is not an under-13 platform, so their hands are kind of tied in terms of something like this,” says Collins. The company announced the certification earlier this month, and already has 35 YouTubers on board, representing 35 million subscribers and 8 to 9 billion monthly impressions. “There’s real momentum that’s happening with this,” he adds.

SuperAwesome believes it’s now poised to for rapid growth as more brands and businesses begin to address the needs of keeping kids safe online.

“Kidtech, as a category, has really just been invented in the past three or four years. No one thought they’d have to build specific technology for kids…this is problem that we’re starting to solve,” Collins says.

SuperAwesome has raised $28 million to date according to Crunchbase, including a $21 million Series B from Mayfair Equity Partners in mid-2017, which included Hoxton Ventures and Inspire Ventures. The company has no immediate plans to fundraise again.

Featured Image: Hero Images/Getty Images

This Ikea magazine ad is also a pregnancy test

Ikea collaborated with Medical Lab Mercene Labs to create an ad that doubles as a pregnancy test. Peeing on the marked area will show whether you’re pregnant. If you are pregnant, a discounted price will appear right on the ad. Peeing on an ad may be unconventional but it could also be the future of advertising. 

Click-to-WhatsApp messaging buttons are now rolling out in Facebook ads


WhatsApp has always said that it has no plans to put ads into its own app, but this is not stopping Facebook, which now owns WhatsApp, from figuring out other ways of monetizing the hugely popular messaging service, which has around 1 billion daily users.

Today, Facebook is launching a new ad unit that will let businesses create a link between the two platforms: advertisers can now include a button on their ads so that people can call or message via WhatsApp with the click of a button.

We reported early sightings of the feature in test mode earlier this year.  Now, Facebook has confirmed to us that it’s rolling this out gradually, starting first with North and South America, Africa, Australia and most of Asia.

You might notice that Europe is not included in the list, and wonder if that might relate to news that Facebook last year had to pause efforts to share data between the two platforms when it was deemed to violate data protection laws.

From what we understand, the plan is to introduce Europe at a later date, but Facebook is going to first observe how the feature is used elsewhere, and is also still working through questions from outside the company about how WhatsApp and Facebook will work together.

(Those outside the company may well include consumers, but also regulators.)

The new feature getting announced today, more generally, follows on from some bigger developments for how WhatsApp is already being used by businesses.

Facebook tells us that more than 1 million Facebook Pages already include WhatsApp numbers in their posts each month, which implies that there is already a pipeline between the two companies being used by businesses more informally to connect with customers more directly.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard that in some developing markets, businesses are using their WhatsApp and Facebook pages as their primary points of contact for users, so this would make some sense to expand for Facebook, as the new White and Yellow Pages, respectively.

“Many people already use WhatsApp to communicate with small businesses. It’s a fast, convenient way to stay in touch,” said Pancham Gajjar, product marketing manager, Facebook, in a statement. “By adding a click-to-WhatsApp button to Facebook ads, businesses can now make it even easier for people to learn about their products, set up an appointment or use their service.”

The other trend to note here is that WhatsApp has been working on a way of creating more specific business accounts for some time now. Most recently, it’s posted some more information on its help pages about how business accounts will be verified, confirmed or unconfirmed — although it has yet to roll out any specific products or pricing tiers that speak to these three statuses.

The new button ad-unit is also similar to the click-to-Messenger ads that Facebook previously rolled out.

“That format was the first ad product to explicitly link activity on Facebook with activity on Messenger, and it was followed by other ad formats on Messenger itself,” said eMarketer principal analyst Debbie Williamson. “It seems that Facebook is following a similar strategy for WhatsApp, starting with click-to-WhatsApp ads on Facebook, and presumably eventually rolling out ads on WhatsApp itself.” (Which really would be a track back from WhatsApp’s mission statement.)

For now, Facebook does not have plans to add the WhatsApp button integration to regular consumer services, although you can see the potential for putting the links in, say, Pages where users want to offer a contact address, or in the Marketplace next to items that are being sold, or even in job listings.

“We recently started testing different ways for a Facebook Page to point people to their WhatsApp presence from the Page itself,” a spokesperson said, “but don’t have any more details to share on that right now.”

Updated with comment from eMarketer.