Toronto-based Polar Mobile is well known across Canada for its work developing mobile applications for big brand publishers. But after six years of working with more than 400 publishers, the company is doing a pivot – renaming to the abbreviated Polar and launching a native advertising platform, MediaVoice.
The new platform is designed to help advertisers address the challenges of advertising in a digital world that is presented in a more fractured way than ever before. Audience is being reached on mobile devices, laptop screens, and even TVs with Web access. How can advertisers effectively reach an audience across so many different platforms? We did a Google Hangout on Air with Kunal Gupta, CEO of Polar, about his company’s re-branding and the new product offering. Watch the full video below and read the edited and abbreviated transcript as well.
Gupta has been named one of Marketing Mag’s Top 30 Under 30, Huffington Post’s Most Influential Millennials, and Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year.
Brian Jackson: Tell us why you’re re-branding the company from Polar Mobile to Polar and what that means.
Kunal Gupta: “We built up our customer base by helping big media companies get onto mobile devices. Over the last six years we’ve learned a lot about media.” Last year the firm started looking for new ways to drive revenue for its customers. While publishers and advertisers are adopting mobile advertising, consumers are not adopting it at the same rate and the results just aren’t good enough. The firm started considering native advertising and sponsored content. “The reasons fro the rebranding were driven by the fact MediaVoice is across every platform, it’s not mobile specific. It felt important to lose the word mobile from our brand.”
BJ: You’re launching a platform for publishers to manage native advertising. Define native advertising for us.
KG: “We think the banner ad is dead. If it’s not dead, it’s very, very sick.” It’s seeing low engagement rates from users and the CPM rates are plummeting. It’s a problem because that’s where most of the budget has traditionally been, along with other forms of display advertising like interstitials.
Native advertising is native in two ways. First, user experience: look at what Twitter has done with sponsored tweets, or Facebook has done with sponsored stories. Other publishers like Buzzfeed and Forbes have also taken this approach with content-driven advertising. “You’ll see some form of demarcation that it’s sponsored by or promoted by someone. There’s some context for the user that it’s not coming from the editorial team.” It also must be relevant to the user. If you’re reading an auto magazine, then you want to see ads about cars at that time.
It’s more than just taking display ads and putting them somewhere else on the page. “With native it’s a different approach, we think of it as part of the experience for the user and part of the value for the user. It would be shortsighted to think that Polar will change the way people feel about advertising. But what we’re seeing is a path that will hlep users see the value in ads, and encourage the advertisers to give value to users.”
BJ: Can you explain why you graduated native advertising from being a feature in MediaEverywhere to its own product?
KG: MediaEverywhere is an HTML 5-based platform that is used to push content across mobile products and apps. Native advertising started as a feature in this platform. “Customer feedback was so positive and the interest so high that we decided to launch it as its own platform.” Big publishers are doing native advertising right now by gerry-rigging different systems together and running into workflow and operational challenges. So this platform solves that problem and adds revenue.
BJ: How do customers use MediaVoice?
KG: Publisher use a self-serve Web interface to serve native advertising to their site. MediaVoice will integrate with existing advertising platforms like DoubleClick so the existing workflow can be maintained. The publisher can also use a plugin in their content management system to determine where the ads are placed. The marketers then log into a content management system to provide the content that will be displayed in these ad spaces.
“The way the campaign is executing is what’s changing here. We’re not changing the format of the ad, the way its delivered, the way its served, the way its created. All that remains the same.”
BJ: Digital publishers are facing a lot of challenges when it comes to advertising revenue. How will your platform help address that?
KG: The challenge being met by MediaVoice is how to deliver native advertising at scale. While digital revenue has been growing over the last five years, mobile ads haven’t seen the same growth. “What we’ve traditionally done is shrink display ads to the size of a mobile screen. So what you’ve got is an ad the size of your finger that you’re accidentally touching.” Hopefully this will be a catalyst to drive revenue.
BJ: Are you also planning to create a cross-publisher advertising network with this platform?
KG: Not right away. “We are looking at how we help publishers drive revenue. We think there will be opportunities for them to introduce additional ad inventory and ad fill. We’re still trying to figure out what role we ant to play in that.”
— Shane Schick (@shaneschick) August 1, 2013
KG: “The industry is going to have to figure this out.” Look at early adopters for examples of a good approach. “You’ll see different ads that say ‘brought to you by’ and the style of the font will be different and you’ll see the sponsor’s logo there, potentially.”
One of the challenges that may arise is how much advertisers get involved in the creation of the content. There may be cases where a publisher creates content for an advertiser. “At the end of the day, users are looking for high quality content, publishers are looking for ways to engage with their audience, and advertisers are looking to reach an audience.”