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Brands today have a strong incentive to reach and engage their audience on mobile devices as consumers have enthusiastically embraced mobile technology. Mobile usage has overtaken desktop in terms of time spent online. Many marketers have dedicated substantial portions of their digital advertising budget to this rapidly growing channel.

In-app advertising presents a unique opportunity to capture a consumer's attention. However, there are instances when consumers don't see the mobile-app ads that marketers purchase. The online advertising industry must wake up to this and gain a better understanding of why in-app ads are not reaching their audience. First, let me explain why this is happening.

Mobile app developers offer their apps at little or no cost to consumers in order to spur adoption. To accomplish this adoption goal, they rely on in-app advertising to monetize their apps. It's a win-win-win scenario for the developer, their customers, as well as the brands that are interested in reaching these audiences.

In order to best monetize their apps, developers often install Software Development Kits (SDKs) -- a piece of technology that provides a platform to bring the buy- and sell-sides together to trade mobile inventory -- from multiple ad vendors. When a consumer opens an app on their device and an impression becomes available, the app's SDKs will contact advertising vendors to request a banner for the ad slot.

So why install multiple SDKs? The more SDKs, the greater access to buy-side demand. App developers are keen to monetize every available impression, and one way to accomplish this is to ensure that they have access to ample buyers who are interested in their audience.

The developers may also then find themselves with too much demand for a single ad placement, which for the most part mobile in-app offers space for just one banner at a time. So, why would mobile app developers knowingly overbook, so to speak?

Developers have a strong interest in maintaining a positive user experience, ensuring as few interruptions as possible to engagement. When consumers use their mobiles and tablets on the bus or in the streets, the Internet connection may be weak, which can affect the performance of the app. In other words, the user experience can suffer if the consumer is forced to wait a long time for an ad to render on a mobile screen. To prevent these poor experiences, mobile ads are sold and pre-loaded in advance, ready for showing at intervals dictated by the logic of the app, such as between game levels.

That begs the question: what if the consumer never advances to the next level? Or abandons a function where an ad was slated to appear? These ads, sitting in a pool with other ads, have been sold (and to state the obvious, someone has paid good money for them), but a consumer will never see them.

These unseen ads are an issue that those in the industry with greater technical knowledge are aware of, but not the people who have media budgets to spend, and who are anxious to reach a certain audience through mobile. I think this is a huge knowledge gap that needs addressing today. For example, if an advertiser pays for five million impressions and a material amount of these never have the opportunity to be seen by a user, then they need to be aware of this.

It is possible for some ad servers to track when mobile in-app ads are rendered and viewable, but this functionality isn't universal. If the app developer can't report on this level of viewability detail, then the advertiser will be left in the dark, and is potentially paying for ads that are never seen.

So what can be done to address this issue? The first area to be addressed is education -- many brands and agencies are simply not aware of the potential that their ads may not be seen. Advertisers need to be educated in order to ask the right questions of their media buying partners. Often media partners are plugging into multiple sell-side (SSP) sources, whose SDKs will all function in slightly different ways. Advertisers need to ensure they are being billed only on ads that have the opportunity to be seen.

Secondly, advertisers should explore using a third-party verification vendor whose technology can detect when in-app ads are in view. Running with a verification partner across mobile media buys provides an independent audit of the campaign and will verify the ads billed for.

Ultimately, advertisers must be informed if there is any risk that their in-app advertising may not reach its intended mobile audience. Trust is essential to a thriving digital ecosystem, and if advertisers can't be confident that their ads are seen, the entire industry will suffer. So by simply being aware of this issue, understanding the buying behavior of media partners -- and their SDK sources -- will go a long way to clarifying these unknowns.

Jason Cooper is the general manager, mobile at Integral Ad Science.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

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It's official: social media is a major driver of traffic to brand sites. In December of 2014, the top eight social networks collectively drove more than 31 percent of overall traffic to websites, an increase of 22 percent from 2013.

The 5 core pillars of social marketing success

This trend is resonating with brands everywhere. According to Forrester Research, advertisers will spend a projected $12.3 billion on social marketing in 2015. By 2020, the expectation is that brands will spend a whopping $27 billion on social media. 

As social becomes a larger part of brands' overall marketing mix, it's increasingly important to optimize social engagement. In an effort to help identify how brands can excel in social marketing, I've compiled five principal mainstays integral to social marketing success.

Social strategy

Developing a cohesive social brand strategy is one of the most important steps toward creating social marketing campaigns that work. Your strategy is your social marketing blueprint, and as such, it should be an integrated part of your broader marketing plan.

When you're considering this part of your overarching social strategy, focus on where resources should be allocated for maximum efficiency, along with which platforms would be most effective for your brand. Not everyone needs to be on Pinterest -- but for a brand that is very visual, Pinterest might be the best choice. Or maybe you've seen that Instagram is where your demographic lies.

In the case of DC Comics, the brand splits its time between Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. As it has the largest following on Facebook, that has become the DC Comics social hub, and the place where it's most likely to post articles, videos, and images related to the brand. The key is to define exactly what you want to achieve, and what you can realistically expect social media to do for you.

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It seems like every year we need to forget everything we know about mobile buying behaviors -- because they're always changing. This year especially, they seem far more complex, with consumers using multiple devices to get the kind of information they want, when they want it.

Last year, our own research revealed increases in the rate of smartphone conversions, tablet conversions, consumers who prefer to shop via mobile apps, and increases in the popularity of incentives like special offers and loyalty benefits.

This year, the data reveals a different story. Based on our most recent industry insights, we see five trends that reveal surprising changes in how consumers are using mobile.

Marketers who fail to keep their finger on the pulse of consumer preferences will lose out on big opportunities to build lasting connections, trust and loyalty.

Shoppers prefer mobile websites -- unless apps are faster

Tablet and smartphone users prefer to use mobile websites to browse product information and/or to make their final purchase rather than using a mobile app. One explanation is that mobile websites provide more information than in-app experiences. While consumers value simplicity when it comes to apps, they also need enough information to make their experience worthwhile. Sometimes dumbing down functions and/or information limits consumers who feel constrained when they want to use an app to browse and explore.

It's harder to get shoppers to download an app

Special offers and loyalty benefits are no longer as compelling as they once were. Rather, mobile users value speed. Insights reveal that speed is the number one characteristic that would encourage a person to download an app, even over a more streamlined check-out process and other perks.

Online shoppers love to "piggyback" devices

Mobile experts say that mobile conversions might be down this year because people are taking different routes to purchase. For example, experts suggest that people might use their desktop or laptop to browse products because pictures and product information are easier to view and read than on smartphones and tablets. Consumers might have a mobile coupon that is only good in-store, or perhaps they prefer to speak with a customer representative and then buy online to avoid long wait times at the register.

Consumers have a multitude of ways to buy, but it's clear they are maximizing their devices in a way that offers the fastest and most convenient path to purchase.

Day-to-day utility trumps sexy features

People are using mobile for simple tasks -- such as finding product information, store hours, and store locations. Mobile consumers value immediacy and hassle-free shopping, meaning that finding products easily makes their shopping experience more enjoyable.

Using smartphones and tablets for utility functions are common, according to Pew Research Center. A recent report says that people are using their mobile phones for quick tasks, short searches, brief references, and entertainment on social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Pew data shows that people who used their cell phone and smartphone in the last 30 days used them for what they call "just in time" activities, such as setting up a meeting, solving an unexpected problem, finding information to settle an argument and deciding whether to visit a particular business, like a restaurant. People want to find the right information at the right time.

In addition to utility functions, we noticed that people like to see user ratings and reviews -- however, they don't necessarily need the ability to share news of their purchases with their friends. In other words, the social aspect of their actions isn't as important to them as it once was.

Cross-channel integration is critical

Mobile is an integral part of the in-store experience. Companies that can successfully bridge the offline and online experience will have the best chance of building lasting connections with shoppers, enticing them to engage more and longer with their brand.

A recent Forrester report shows that 75 percent of marketers consider digital marketing to be a highly effective brand-building tool. However, less than 45 percent actually have all-inclusive strategies in place.

Bridging the offline and online experience requires marketing teams to think about their digital properties holistically. Recall the old adage, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Marketers who think of mobile as just a bolt-on strategy -- or that create an app that works independently of their digital properties -- are not maximizing the sum of these channels.

Marketers should ask themselves how mobile can create different levels of conversation and uncover hidden needs that strengthen connections between their company and their customer. They should examine where digital connection points exist now and where they want these points to be, given that mobile is the default device preference for the majority of consumers. 

Understanding your brand's relevance in the mobile landscape along with customer preferences, frustrations, and values will undoubtedly result in greater customer loyalty and higher profitability across all your digital channels.

Patricia Mejia is CMO at Siteworx.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

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Your company is experiencing a digital shift whether you like it or not. Everyone is searching for new ways to leverage digital to transform their business. The reality is that most agencies are not set up to deliver real business impact beyond marketing campaigns and websites. Worse yet, consulting groups compile their insights into a 300-page deck with no action plan. They are great at solving the "why" and setting the vision, but only digital builders know how to create great digital solutions.

You might ask yourself, what is the new paradigm shaping the industry? We identify it as digital transformation. Best articulated by Capgemini Consulting, digital transformation has the ability to impact three key areas: Customer experience, operations, and business models -- resulting in improved efficiency, scale, reach, and overall engagement. 

The age-old model

Most agencies struggle as they attempt to develop solutions that create digital transformation. Too often agencies neglect to address the core fundamentals of their clients' business and digital capabilities. Thus, the so-called "fix" ends up being more of a band-aid solution, or worse yet, a fly-by-night campaign requiring continual investment that ultimately produces mediocre results. Agencies have perpetuated this dynamic as a means of securing sustainable revenue. The dynamic is further magnified as they continue to position themselves as amplifiers, rather than as partners focused on building the brand's business and digital ecosystem.

The new paradigm: digital transformation

We are seeing the emergence of a new model. One where digital agencies are pushed to look beyond old standbys of messaging, brand, and campaigns -- advising against a roadmap for real digital growth and maturity. Akin to Crispin Porter + Bogusky telling Domino's Pizza in 2008 that the problem is less about its brand messaging or brand story, and more about the cardboard-tasting pizza it delivers in a cardboard box to its customers. Agencies need to be having conversations about digital infrastructure and the ways in which investments in clients' products or services can impact their business. I'm not saying agencies should call out their clients' product flaws -- we don't always have that luxury/relationship, and if we did, we might not have any clients after a while. It's important to have an open mind when thinking about digital transformation, as is understating that delivering business impact extends beyond surface-level marketing efforts. Adjustments may need to occur deeper: at the product and/or service level.

Why are so few agencies helping brands in this way? Most digital agencies have not adapted to this "new responsibility." They lack the established workflows to address large infrastructure projects, or the cadence for product release cycles. Those that are setup to handle digital infrastructure are either A) too specialized in niche apps, dashboards, or specific widgets, or B) only support one business requirement/feature through disposable technology

Digital transformation service areas

Delivering against this "new responsibility" requires an agency that is able to think long-term, and begins by building a foundational infrastructure that fits into a larger roadmap. Once established, evolving that roadmap becomes a shared responsibility. One that is collaborative and focused on uncovering ways to form deeper connections with customers, while creating efficiencies in business processes. In an effort to summarize this model, we have structured our services in a way that aligns client's digital needs with our agency services.    

Understanding and insights
First, the client owns the customer understanding, or the context of the business problem. The agency then delivers insight, which is industry and consumer-specific, and ultimately informs a digital strategy for building a digital infrastructure.

Purpose and storytelling
Second, the client owns its purpose: the definition of why the brand and/or business exists, and the value it provides to customers beyond making money for shareholders. The agency owns storytelling: reshaping how a brand tells its story and how that story is digitally telegraphed across all customer ecosystem touchpoints.

Engagement and experience
Third, the client must own its engagement model: how the business currently interacts with its customers online and how that influences broader touchpoints or offline behaviors. The agency owns shaping the experiences, by immersing consumers in frictionless digital design and navigation. Making "feel and function" right to the consumer, but also ensuring it fulfills the right business goals.

Scale and ecosystem
Last, the client owns the business plan against scale, identifying how it intends to grow and gain operational efficiencies. The agency looks at the client's ecosystem of properties and 3rd party solutions and looks for ways to increase sales, reduce cost ratios and implement automation by digitizing labor-intensive processes, the net result is increasing market response rate.

All said, it is no longer enough for digital agencies to push pixels and translate brand stories into digital experiences. Instead, agencies need to understand how digital can impact the overall business and work with clients to unlock opportunities that deliver a series of shifts, which together result in true digital transformation for your brand.

Neil Chaudhari is founding partner and CEO at Propane Studio.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

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If you've found yourself wondering why many of this summer's blockbusters sound familiar, you're not alone, nor are you suffering from amnesia. With big budgets and increasingly global audiences, Hollywood has embraced the sequel and the reboot over the past few years, and that trend continues -- for better or worse -- in 2015. A partial list of this year's sequels include some of Hollywood's biggest franchises: "The Avengers," "Jurassic Park," "Mission: Impossible," "The Terminator," "Ted 2," "Furious 7," a fourth "Mad Max," and "Star Wars." Then there's "Fantastic Four," which takes the idea of a reboot and squares it, given the fact that the film is technically a reboot of a reboot, although the 1994 version wasn't released.

So yes, sequels and reboots are big. And just like how Willie Sutton said he robbed banks because that's where the money is, Hollywood is poised to make bank with this year's blockbusters, even if studios have stretched the tent pole past the traditional summer season.

Still, marketing will have plenty to say about which movies win big and which ones flop. Or at least, marketing will play a crucial role in cutting through the noise and driving audience awareness for a big opening. After the first few showings on opening day, once the general public actually has a chance to see a film, success is pretty much in the hands of the social media gods. But in the run up to release, studios lean heavily on their marketing departments and agencies. And while big media buys and franchises with built-in audiences certainly help, the best marketing is always about ideas and execution.

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Advancements in real-time advertising are happening every day. Building on a previous piece that explains how to get started with real-time bidding (RTB) in display advertising, let's now take an in-depth look at how to leverage the latest advancements in prospecting, retargeting, attribution, and viewability in order to drive success.

Understanding prospecting and retargeting, and how they work together

The typical marketing funnel is split into a number of stages from awareness, to consideration and preference -- all the way down to purchase (or another conversion event). A different way to look at the funnel is to split it into just two portions -- the upper and lower funnel. Given this split, in digital advertising we refer to the upper funnel as "prospecting" and the lower funnel as "retargeting."

Prospecting is crucial for attracting new customers to your business. It includes any marketing activities intended to bring people from the awareness stage of the funnel to consideration and preference when they visit your website for the first time. Prospecting efforts evaluate a wide group of people and then use data to determine whether potential consumers might be receptive to your ad and target them accordingly. However, prospecting is only valuable if the people you're driving to your site are qualified customers.

Alternatively, retargeting uses data signals to lead customers toward the bottom of the funnel to a conversion. Retargeting efforts are directed at those people who have already visited your site and are somewhere in the consideration or preference stage. Your retargeting audience is a significantly smaller pool of potential people than your prospecting audience.

Ideally, prospecting and retargeting work in conjunction: You need prospecting efforts to bring new customers into the funnel, and you need retargeting efforts to keep potential customers interested and to encourage them to convert.

Here's an example of how prospecting and retargeting might look in the real world. Let's say you are on a road trip and start seeing billboards for a fast food restaurant you have never heard of before. These billboards work like prospecting ads by generating new awareness for their brand. When you reach the restaurant, you pull into the parking lot, but then drive off, deciding to eat later on.

As you head back onto the highway, you start seeing billboards for another branch of the restaurant 20 miles away. The billboards appear every few miles, and by the time you have reached that next restaurant, you're hungry enough to pull off and buy a meal. These billboards work like retargeting ads that have not only kept you interested, but have also driven you to make a purchase.

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This article is sponsored and authored by Adroit Digital. Learn more about sponsored content opportunities.

The past 10 years have likely changed the jobs of everyone who is reading this. The explosion of connected devices, how content is consumed, and the applications available through these channels have created an abundance of data points for your organization to consider in its marketing efforts. Combine these changes with the evolution of advertising technology, like programmatic, and just doing your job might sometimes seem like an overwhelming task.

Except that, really, not that much has changed.

Your business goals remain the same: maintaining customer loyalty and acquiring new customers while driving in-market conversions. It's the path to achieving these aims that is different and that calls for a more focused approach. The new marketing reality demands that you understand available data and apply it to the cross-channel, cross-device consumer experience -- while continually testing your campaigns -- to drive these business goals.

Maximize your data first

First-party data is the best data because it's yours. You know exactly what your own customers are doing on your site, whether they're browsing, buying, abandoning, or returning. Yet many brands aren't using first-party data as effectively as they could be. You have to activate your data first to ensure it will actually provide you with actionable insights about your customers. There are two things to consider:

Live and breathe cross-channel and cross-funnel: As mentioned above, the device boom has complicated the path to purchase for marketers. In a recent Adroit study on how consumers shop on mobile devices, 69 percent of respondents said they are likely to start their shopping journey on mobile but finish the transaction on a laptop or desktop. Think about which media channels you will combine and how you will use them in different ways. Consider the customer experience across devices and focus on shaping multiple messages to nuanced audiences on these channels throughout the purchase journey.

Leave no tactic untested: Even with the right data, you must test and be willing to change your approach to see what works best to achieve the customer business goals listed above. Test creative units across channels, try different segmenting tactics, and run different strategies against each. Analytics and insights should constantly be at your disposal so you can optimize campaigns effectively.

Scale your data second

So once you've activated your first-party shopper data, how do you scale it to achieve the best results?

Many companies keep first-party data to themselves and never look beyond it. That works -- to a limited extent -- for remarketing to your own customers, but it doesn't help you reach new ones. To both keep your current or lapsed customers loyal and target new ones, you need to learn more about what they do when they leave your site. Where else are they browsing, carting, and purchasing? What types of content are they consuming?

Getting access to more quality attributes on the customers you can reach is critical to predict who might buy your products or services for the first time -- or who might buy again. One way to do this is to leverage a data co-op to access anonymized customer data aggregated from other brands at scale to see where else current, lapsed, and prospective customers are shopping, including in different verticals. These aggregate data sets create a clearer vision of consumers' needs, goals, and behaviors. Consider how shared data helps in reaching the business goals mentioned above:

Maintaining customer loyalty: In a commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Adroit Digital in January 2015, 40 percent of respondents who use a digital data co-op, which pools together different brands' first-party data, improved ability to reach their own customers across channels through this method of data-sharing. Co-ops allow brands to suppress their current customers from acquisition messaging. This frees up brands to instead focus on the right retention messages placed in the right channels.

Driving in-market conversions: The most successful co-ops constantly collect and refresh their data to ensure accurate and up-to-date audience characteristics. Fresh data is essential because it eliminates wasted spend that comes from targeting consumers who are no longer in-market. With real, recent browse, cart, and purchase behavior, marketers increase their chances of driving in-market conversions.

Acquiring new customers: By sharing first-party data, marketers can hone in on unique segments that are highly relevant to their businesses, in contrast to more generic pre-segmented audiences from third-party or publisher sources. Marketers get the opportunity to access modeled, anonymized first-party data from diverse industries and shopping experiences, at a scale they could never achieve by themselves. They are then able to identify consumers who exhibit similar behaviors to their customers and target beyond their own customer base to acquire new shoppers. This data can also be used to identify consumers who make more frequent or larger purchases, enabling campaigns to target the most lucrative leads.

True one-to-one marketing will continue to be the zenith toward which marketers strive. Only by understanding and activating the right data in the right ways will this become achievable.

Avi Spivack is senior director of product commercialization at Adroit Digital, the sponsor of this article.

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Ad fraud topped many year-end and new year predictions pieces. And rightfully so, as looming forecasts estimate it will cost marketers worldwide $6.3 billion in 2015. The daunting loss coupled with the fact that adoption of programmatic is still in its early days (there are still a significant amount of marketers wrapping their heads around it) is generating more distrust in the ad tech industry regarding the embrace of emerging ad tech solutions and the value of solutions like programmatic and RTB.

However, programmatic remains one of the most powerful tools in a marketer's toolkit despite these early barriers of adoption. And it is on the fast track to trumping other forms of ad buying. According to eMarketer's latest research on the industry, "2014 Programmatic Advertising Forecast," programmatic ad buying is projected to grow by 137 percent, accounting for close to 50 percent of the digital market. Furthermore, a recent BI Intelligence Report found that digital media buying through programmatic and RTB will rise to a more than $18.2 billion industry.

The silver lining around today's hype around ad fraud is that it will help marketers already using it or planning to use programmatic, better protect their investments with their heightened awareness on what they should be looking for and what more secure solutions are available. And for marketers who are still getting up to speed on the benefits of programmatic, they will make smarter decisions. To mitigate loses against ad fraud and remain smart on how to maximize emerging ad tech solutions to gain a competitive edge and reduce risk, consider the following ABCs as a quick-and-easy guide.

A : Adhere to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)'s Anti-Fraud Principles.

Ad fraud is a center stage priority for the IAB. Especially given the multi-billion dollar threat it poses to the ad industry. Addressing this concern, the IAB this past year established a task force called Traffic of Good Intent, which recommends numerous business practices for advertisers to minimize fraud. Furthermore, it now also certifies advertising technology solution providers under its Quality Assurance Guidelines, signifying that the companies have adopted recommended approaches for brand safety and self-regulation.

B : Buy only ad tech solutions that are transparent and offer ad fraud protection.

While this is by no means a finite list, it's important for marketers to know solutions are available for all sizes of companies and budgets. For instance, on the "Goliath" side, Google is the latest to hype its anti-fraud capabilities. It recently introduced a new fraud protection / viewability feature built into its DoubleClick Bid Manager automated ad buying platform designed to prevent marketers from buying impressions which will never be seen by human eyes. In the mid-enterprise market, AppNexus unveiled a "Certified Supply Program," which in short, allows its buyers to invest in "fraud-free" inventory or buy "non-certified" inventory which does not come with a fraud-free guarantee. A notable player arming small to midsize marketers with a competitive edge when it comes to ad fraud protection is special Forensiq. Similarly to Google, it offers a viewability product along with solutions to combat affiliate, click, conversion, and impression fraud.

C : Continuously monitor the space for the latest, most cost-effective and efficient ad tech and ad fraud prevention solutions.

Interestingly enough with recent year-end and new year prediction pieces, the verdict is still out on how ad fraud will improve. The 614 Group and AdMonsters found that 58 percent of marketers believe ad fraud will decrease next year, while 42 percent disagree. Programmatic and RTB expert MediaPost's Tyler Loechner hit the nail on the head when he recently addressed how the overall market is so young -- and ad fraud is likely to increase as programmatic meets mass adoption. Programmatic has ushered in new fraud realities for ad tech, but programmatic and its ad fraud prevention technologies have yet to see a saturated market -- it's just getting started! As the market matures, smarter and more cost-effective and efficient solutions will continue to emerge, and marketers should constantly monitor this space and ask their ad tech solution providers for better and more secure options.

Last year effectively elevated the discussion of ad fraud. With foreboding predictions addressing the potential $6.3 billion dollar loss to marketers, there's now a healthy fire under marketers' feet to both learn about the benefits of programmatic solutions and better protect current and future investments into this technology with ad fraud protection solutions. While last year heighted the market's awareness, 2015 may be the year the industry restores faith in the digital ad tech industry.

Kiran Gopinath is the CEO of Adadyn.

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In the 2008 indie film "The Wackness," Ben Kingsley's psychiatrist character tells his patient, Luke, to "never, ever, ever trust anyone who says they don't like dogs." While he's certainly an eccentric guy, this is a sentiment I've always held true. And apparently many advertisers have also recognized the universal appeal of canines.

The 8 greatest puppy marketing campaigns of all time

Indeed, we humans are drawn to the (for lack of a better word) cuteness of these creatures, and, if used correctly, one can sell almost anything to anyone by including a dog (or two, or 10) in their ad. Here are eight examples of howl-worthy marketing that will practically turn your eyes into giant hearts, cartoon-style.

Hush Puppies Colombia: GPS Hush Puppies (2014)

The popular shoe brand, known for its lightweight slip-on footwear, made use of two simple truths when creating this guerilla marketing campaign: First that its mascot is an adorable, doe-eyed basset hound; and second, that no one can resist those lost puppy dog eyes.

But the dog in this commercial is far from lost -- in fact, he's tied up next to a sign bearing the letters "GPS," with text following to tease the reader not to pass up the surprise that's waiting if they just grab the pup's leash and go where he takes them. A number of passersby eagerly took the bait and, when they arrived at the Hush Puppies store, were rewarded with coupons -- all because they chose to follow (as the commercial's tagline reads) "the tenderest guide in the world."

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Last year, March produced the most-viewed campaign of 2014, Wren's "First Kiss." Maybe there's something about the month because this year, the most-viewed campaign of 2015 to date was also released in March.

Ad Council takes the top spot on the March iMedia Brands in Video chart, where it garnered 92.5 million views with "Love Has No Labels." That's more views than any other campaign in 2015 to date. Its performance made the Ad Council one of four new brands on the chart this month, and it beat out some of the most prolific brands in online video, including Samsung, Google, and Microsoft.

"Love Has No Labels," created by R/GA, is a PSA that encourages us all to overcome our biases and embrace diversity through love. The organization has a long history of producing powerful PSAs -- from its earliest work during WWII ("Loose Lips Sink Ships") and its creation of characters Smokey the Bear and McGruff the Crime Dog, to its "Keep America Beautiful" campaign -- that effectively capture the public's attention for major social issues. But this is its most viral branded video campaign to date.

The three-minute video starts with a crowd gathered in front of a large black screen. Two x-ray-like skeletons embrace and kiss on the screen. Then the two skeletons walk to the sides of the screen, and it is revealed that they are two women. They embrace again as the audience cheers and the screen reads, "Love has no gender." "Same Love" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, featuring Mary Lambert, starts to play over the video as more skeletons and messages of inclusion appear: Love has no religion, race, or age.

Released on March 3, the campaign had generated more views inside of two weeks than Budweiser's "Lost Dog" (63.5 million views), which was the most watched campaign of the Super Bowl.

Not only is "Love Has No Labels" the most-watched campaign of the year so far, but it has also is already the No. 21 most-viewed branded video ad of all time. It has already surpassed a number of groundbreaking campaigns, including Old Spice's innovative 2010 "Responses" (89.3 million views) and VW's 2011 Super Bowl campaign, "The Force" (85.8 million views).

The month "Love Has No Labels" was released doesn't really have anything to do with its success. Like Wren's "First Kiss," the campaign would have been successful no matter the time of year it was released. Neither campaign was capitalizing on a specific event or season. The content of each campaign is the sole driver of the generous viewership.

Consumers today want emotional stories. They are crazy for an emotional story with an uplifting message. Consumers also want to share this kind of heartwarming content with their social networks. If brands can package those stories in a surprising way, as the Ad Council did, there is extra incentive to share. "Puppy Love" and "Lost Dog" are examples of how Budweiser has adapted its legacy of buddy advertising to capitalize on these truths.

Does it help that Budweiser's campaigns aired during the Super Bowl? Yes. But over the last year, campaigns like Always' "#LikeAGirl" and Wren's "First Kiss" have proved that moving creative can generate buzz equal or exceed that of a major event. The added benefit of not using an event like the Super Bowl to create conversation around a campaign is that a brand doesn't have to share the spotlight.

"Love Has No Labels" benefitted not only from inspiring creative, but also from a creative distribution strategy. The organization released the campaign on its own YouTube and Facebook pages, but it also partnered with the Upworthy. Upworthy posted the PSA and its behind-the-scenes content on its Facebook page, which has more than 7 million "likes," and that content accounted for 46 percent of total viewership.

This approach validates the idea that brands need to target influencers in order to achieve maximum impact with their content. In the case of "Love Has No Labels," the influencer was Upworthy. Its clout with the online community as the internet's favorite purveyor of emotional and uplifting content not only validated the Ad Council's content, but also put it in front of an audience that might not have seen it otherwise.

The strategy is an important one for all brands, but for non-profits in particular. Non-profits seldom have the budgets to compete with for-profit brands when it comes to video production or distribution, but they have a distinct advantage in that non-profit missions are often full of real and emotional human-interest stories. If non-profits can capitalize on partners and influencers to help tell their stories, like the Ad Council did, more will have the opportunity to be heard.

Mallory Russell is content editor at Visible Measures.

iMedia's Top 10 Brands in Video chart, powered by Visible Measures, focuses on aggregated brand view counts across related social video ad campaigns. Each brand and campaign is measured on a True Reach basis, which includes viewership of both brand-syndicated and audience-driven video clips. The data are compiled using the patented Visible Measures platform, a constantly growing repository of analytic data on close to 400 million videos tracked across more than 300 online video destinations.

Note: This analysis does not include Visible Measures' paid-placement (e.g., overlays; pre-, mid-, and post-roll) performance data or video views on private sites. This chart does not include movie trailers, video game campaigns, TV show, or media network promotions. View counts are incremental by month.

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