Google’s Neal Mohan On The Keys To Bringing Brand Advertisers Online

Neal Mohan, Google’s vice president of display advertising, said that his “top priority” for 2013 is to bring brand advertising online in a big way.

I interviewed Mohan as part of the preparation for our panel at Disrupt NY next week, where we’ll discuss the ad landscape with Gokul Rajaram, Facebook’s product director for ads, and Kevin Weil, Twitter’s senior director of revenue products. During our Q&A we covered Google’s relationship with brand marketers, mobile and multi-screen advertising, and today’s announcement that Google’s Active View metric, which measures whether an ad was actually viewed (not just served), has been accredited by the Media Rating Council.

TechCrunch: So, how do you plan to get all those brand advertising dollars online?

Neal Mohan: Yes, brand advertising is really a big area of focus for us. From my perspective, it’s certainly my top priority for the year. The reason for it is, as I said to you before, a lot of digital media across all of these different channels whether it’s display, search, etc., has been very much about performance advertising to date.

And brand marketing, measured in terms of television, is really a $200 billion opportunity that the digital part of the universe hasn’t cracked. I would say that the challenge has been that we haven’t really had the technology to do that in the past. So in terms of really cracking that nut on behalf of our advertisers and agency partners, we’re focused on the handful of things:

First, making sure that we give the right canvas to our advertisers for them to be able to tell a story. And what that means is doubling down on formats like video. The TrueView format, which is the skippable ad format, now represents something like 75 percent of the ads on YouTube. TrueView is a format that kind of aligns all of the parties’ interests — advertisers don’t have to pay if the users aren’t interested, users can skip the ad if it’s a boring ad.

That’s the first big area of focus as it relates to brands. The other that I would call out in terms of formats — we’re not just stopping at video. How do we actually make other types of creatives rich and interactive. You may have run across something called a Lightbox format, which combines the best of customizable creativity with true scale. And it starts off in a standard 300-by-250 display space. If the user hovers over the ad for a few seconds, it expands into a canvas that gives the advertiser 100 percent share of voice in that space. The advertiser doesn’t pay until the user has engaged and expanded that ad — this notion of a cost-per-engage model is definitely something that we’re reinvested in very heavily.

The third thing that I would hit on is, there’s obviously this buzzword that it’s the year of mobile. But given where the traffic is shifting, if you’re building for mobile, you’re really building for today. What you need to build for is multi-screen. As consumers, we don’t live on mobile or desktop; we truly live seamlessly across all of these screens. So we’ve made all types of formats and inventory available seamlessly on our exchange.

And then the final thing that I’ll hit on — which I think is the most important thing — is measurement. That’s a big area of focus for us. You may have heard me say that I think a full third of all campaigns will be measured with something beyond the impression or click.

Our announcement is that our Active View format has been accredited by the MRC. The idea there is that instead of managing our campaigns in terms of impressions or clicks, we manage in terms of viewable impressions.

TC: Why is that certification significant?

Mohan: The most important thing is that it’s something that can now be applied as a standard for the industry. For all of our measurement efforts, our belief is that anything that we do is not something that Google can do on its own. We’re working hand-in-hand with the IAB in terms of defining what the standards of viewability are, we’re helping define those standards. Now that we have the MRC stamp of approval, it’s something they can start to transact media on. It’s not a technology that sits outside the tools and the platforms that they use today. It’s built in natively as a first-class citizen.

If you’re an advertiser, now that it’s accredited by the MRC, you can negotiate a deal with the publisher. Similarly, if you’re a publisher, you can sell viewable impressions for perhaps a higher price than you see in the rest of ecosystem.

TC: How does this apply outside of Google?

Mohan: We’re building this into our entire DoubleClick suite, and there are many publishers who are using it outside of just buying on Google. To the extent that DoubleClick is the operating system for the industry above-and-beyond just Google, we’re building natively into that stack.

TC: Your comments suggest that when it comes to bringing brand dollars online, regular banner ads aren’t enough.

Mohan: I think the question around banners versus beyond banners is kind of beside the point. At the end of the day, the way that the creative shows up is the last step in the entire process. There’s all kinds of things that brands think about beforehand, which is, “How do I reach the right audience? How do I give that audience interactive that’s relevant for them? How do I incorporate user choice?”

Whether you can do that in a banner is, in my mind, not the main question that brands are asking themselves. But if the question is, is a static banner going to be the thing that works for brands, my answer there is that of course they’re going to want opportunities to expand out of that real estate.

TC: What do you think about native advertising?

Mohan: I think that it’s something that’s interesting, something that should be part of this overall story. I don’t think it’s something that’s different or isolated from something I just talked about.

Whether it’s something that starts from a banner, something that’s a sponsored story within a more native environment, brands want to connect with the audience and measure the efficacy of their campaigns. Native advertising, as it’s described today to me, feels like another flavor of what I just described.

TC: If you’re right and we’re finally going to start seeing that big brand advertising transition, how quickly do you think the shift will happen?

Mohan: The conversation so far has been extremely positive. Brands themselves have been the ones that tell us that you need to address these pieces. The adoption stats around things like TrueView, the adoption of engagement ads, those types of things, is pretty profound. From a brand standpoint, I think 98 percent of the top 100 brands are working with us in one of these different areas

I think that if you were to ask me where we are, if this was a baseball game, I would say it’s like the first or second pitch of the first inning. I’ve been with the display business since the very early days.

It’s going to happen a lot faster than people think. From a Google standpoint, we’re excited to work with our publishers and agency partners to crack it.