Rob Norman Joins Board of Playbuzz; Q&A with Norman & CEO Shaul Olmert


Rob Norman retired as chief digital officer at WPP’s GroupM last year after more than three decades at WPP, but said at the time that he planned to stay involved in the digital world. Now he’s announced he’s joining the board of Playbuzz, which creates interactive story elements for publishers and brands. Norman and Playbuzz’s CEO Shaul Olmert spoke to VAN about how Playbuzz seeks to add genuine value to the user experience, and how the ad industry can foster young talent.

As an agency veteran who’s been exposed to every form of advertising, what is it about Playbuzz that made you want to get involved?
Rob Norman: It’s not complicated. Advertisers need engagement as engagement deepens knowledge and brings the sale closer. Playbuzz enables advertisers to achieve audience engagement across thousands of premium content venues in the broader context of media that these users have chosen to consume.

Playbuzz specialises in interactive content. What sort of interactivity genuinely enhances the user experience?
Shaul Olmert:Users enjoy involving experiences in which they are asked to act – whether that be a vote, swipe, flip or tap. In fact, our data shows that adding visual interactive elements (like polls, quizzes and ranked lists) to articles increases dwell time by 20%. And with widespread content fatigue and fleeting attention spans, it’s more crucial than ever that publishers and brands work together to provide audiences with such opportunities in order to not only strengthen relationships with their readers and consumers, but also drive revenue in an increasingly inundated space.

We have partnered with brands including Netflix, Brita and eBay to produce Playbuzz-powered branded content campaigns that are engagement-based. Not only did these perform high above industry standards – with metrics including 97%+ in-item viewability and 2-4 minute average session times (as compared to the 15 second industry average) – they also garnered an average 86% brand lift, as reported by Nielsen.

You’ve talked about the importance of fostering young talent in the industry, what should agencies be doing to encourage them?
Rob Norman: My favorite word is curiosity. Take time to understand your people and what makes them curious. Create an environment in which they show up everyday looking for context and opportunities to apply their imagination. If we can teach machines to learn, surely we can teach people to be curious.

How do you avoid drifting into gimmickry with interactivity?
Shaul Olmert:It’s a common misconception that interactive content must be playful. Our storytelling tools are topic and tone-agnostic, enabling both publishers and brands to address the most entertaining of topics, as well as the most serious and sensitive. For example, HuffPost and Sky News regularly create editorial with our tools to address the political landscape, whereas MTV utilizes our platform to comment on pop culture. As for brands, we produced an interactive campaign for Netflix promoting the latest season of ‘Black Mirror’ and also crafted a campaign for the UK’s National Counter Terrorism Police to encourage individuals to report suspicious surroundings. These content items might differ in topic and tone, but do share one commonality: they all successfully compel audience engagement.

You’ve talked about your obsession with Facebook and Google, are there any advantages other publishers have over the duopoly they should be exploiting more.
Rob Norman: I am not obsessed with Google and Facebook. I think that Google is one of the world’s most outstanding science companies and user of data signals. I also think that Facebook’s engineering for monetization is extraordinary. That said, I don’t think that they are the beginning, middle and end of the ecosystem. There are trillions of media contacts that represent opportunities for brand and performance-focused advertisers to connect with their audiences.

In 2018, we’re going to see Ads.txt and GDPR have a massive impact on the industry. How are they likely to transform the landscape for publishers and brands?
Shaul Olmert: I see this incoming legislation as an opportunity to genuinely improve online advertising, as it will further the journey of a personalized experience for the everyday consumer. With personalized content becoming the new norm, a natural byproduct of this is giving people more options to control their own data.

By putting consumers in charge of this data, it once more puts them at the heart of advertising – and the experiences they consume on publishers’ sites – which is where they should be. The ability to opt in and out means that brands will be able to reach more targeted audiences and pull more robust insights from this in 2018.


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