Inside Turner Ignite with Michael Strober

Turner Ignite is our insights-driven content and data solutions unit designed to power the next generation of advertising capabilities. The unit within the ad sales division was created in 2016 with the sole purpose of creating more meaningful connections with our brands and our consumers and driving return-of-investment at scale. In a nutshell, it’s reimaging advertising.

And since the advertising community – creatives, marketers, agencies, industry luminaries, celebrities and everyone in between –  is coming together for Advertising Week this week, we caught up with Michael Strober, executive vice president of client strategy and ad innovation for Turner to talk about Ignite and how we are stayed ahead of the changing advertising landscape. Michael has been leading Turner Ignite with Dan Reiss, head of content partnerships, since it’s inception.

Explain Turner Ignite in layman’s terms.
Ignite is a division that works with teams across the portfolio of Turner brands to harness the power of our data, technology and content to drive better innovative advertising experiences.

An example of this would be the Rick & Morty creative team producing branded content for a burger restaurant. We use data to target that specific piece of content to Rick & Morty fans who love burgers and live near a lot of restaurant locations, or some other important metric that an advertiser uses, on social media.

On the flip side, we can use our data to help inform that same advertiser what days, hours, network or program has a higher concentration of burger-loving viewers. That lets the advertiser buy TV ads which may target their most important customer-- burger-loving millennials, for example. It’s much better than using old-school demographics to target shows with male viewers, aged 18-34, which sounds more like police report description.

At the end of the day, advertising should provide value to the consumer -- whether that's to be entertaining, informative or something in between -- and should be relevant to viewers. That’s what we do at Ignite. 

What are some of examples of Ignite successes with clients so far?
We have done more than 130 audience-driven deals in every major ad category. In this year’s upfront, we saw 100% renewal and doubled our revenue. That means clients are starting to dip their toes into this new way of buying TV advertising, are seeing results-- and are coming back for more.

One client has really been leaning in to our AudienceNOW solution and has seen increases in sales and a better return on investment for their advertising budget. That’s exactly what we want to see.

What is AudienceNOW?
AudienceNOW is one of the data tools we have within Ignite, specifically the one helping brands move past measuring their ads using police report descriptors. We also have TargetingNOW, which is kind of like training wheels for advertisers. My counterpart, Dan Riess, is focused on content partnerships across Turner’s entertainment, news and kids brands.

Change is hard in our industry -- there's a lot of money at stake and organizational beliefs are hard to get past -- so solutions that cater to clients at every level of the innovation spectrum is very important.

What is different about advertising yesterday versus today that drives the need for ad innovation solutions?
A few things have emerged which are driving the industry to change how we approach advertising. There are new kinds of audience data, we have new viewing environments and technology is catching up to take advantage of those changes. 

For 50+ years, billions in TV advertising dollars changed hands pretty much the same way: a show would air and then Nielsen gave us ratings to see who watched the show. The business math was based on that alone. There’s more nuance to it than that, but for the sake of simplicity-- that was the “currency” our industry used.

However, the precision available to advertisers with digital advertising on Internet-enabled platforms led to a whole new way of thinking about marketing. We have more ways to connect how an individual piece of advertising directly leads to outcomes – whether it is sales, brand awareness, or other KPIs (key performance indicators).

Let’s talk about the next big thing—OpenAP. What is it?
OpenAP stands for Open Audience Platform and is an initiative spearheaded by Turner, Fox and Viacom. While audience solutions have been growing quickly, the TV business has been doing things one way for a long time, and there are still many constituents who still have not jumped into the audience-buying pool in a meaningful way.

Why do we need OpenAP if we already have Turner Ignite and tools like AudienceNow? How will working with these other companies do for us that we can’t do on our own?
Here’s an easy way to think about all of this:

Some of the major media companies have developed their own capabilities to take advantage of the shift to audience-based buying. We have AudienceNOW, Fox has AIM (Audience Insights Manager), Viacom has Vantage, NBCU has Audience Studio, and so on.

From an advertiser’s point-of-view, there’s no easy or accurate way to measure how ad investments are working across these publishers. Each of us may define things differently. Our “burger-loving millennials” example on Turner’s AudienceNOW may not be defined the same way as “burger-loving millennials” for the other companies.

OpenAP basically standardizes how advertisers are able to plan for reaching “burger-loving millennials” across the companies (Turner, Fox, Viacom, etc.) participating in it. It also helps for reporting results to advertisers after the campaign. And let’s face it. Massive changes within industries seldom happen overnight so it made sense us all to come together to solve those issues.

All of the stuff in the middle of planning and reporting – the negotiating, the execution of the campaign, etc. – still happens by each company on its own.

What prompted market competitors to become partners for OpenAP?
We were all hearing the same thing from clients – there was not enough standardization, there had to be a cross-publisher solution, and so on. And, while the industry as a whole has been talking about the promise of audience-based buying, nobody was really taking the lead to drive the change necessary make it a staple of the business rather than a side-hobby. That’s why OpenAP is happening.


For those of you headed to Advertising Week in NYC, be sure to hear from Turner leaders throughout the week.