Native ads company Collective Roll expands to U.S.

Adding engagement optimization, the 14-person startup's reach grows to 3,000 sites

Collective Roll director, ad operations Ildar Shar

Collective Roll, a programmatic technology provider that recently launched a native advertising exchange, plans to open its first international office in New York next month. The office will be staffed with a yet-to-be-hired local sales team.

Since the debut of its Stackadapt exchange platform in March, the 14-person Toronto startup’s reach has grown to 3,000 sites, says co-founder & director of ad ops Ildar Shar.

Programmatic native provides the capability to run large-scale campaigns using unique publisher-designed ad units that visually blend with the surrounding content. Unlike standard-size banner ads, which are still dominant in display advertising, native or “in-stream” ads ask the advertiser for a collection of ad elements – for example, a title, preview image and description – and automatically arranges them to fit the style and dimensions of the publisher’s ad unit. While the native format has long been available on social networks and mobile apps, it’s recently been gaining steam as a standard desktop format, as programmatic technologies pioneered by companies like TripleLift and Nativo allow advertisers to reach scale across large networks of publishers.

Collective Roll’s approach hasn’t abandoned native’s roots in sponsored content, though. Shar says the company encourages advertisers to use native ads to link to content that can capture users’ attention, like blog posts or sponsored articles, rather than typical advertiser landing pages and product catalogs that emphasize quick sales. The goal of native is not only to blend with the publisher’s content visually, but to provide advertiser content that’s relevant to the user and the surrounding context.

To that end, Collective Roll recently shifted the focus of its optimization technologies to engagement metrics typically used by publishers. Through direct integrations with its publisher partners, the company is able to track what the user does after clicking the native ad, including how long they spend on the page and how many pages they visit afterwards. If a low level of post-click engagement signals that the advertiser’s content isn’t relevant to the site’s audience, Collective Roll optimizes away from them and tries to find a better placement for the ad. The strategy is to try to provide the added benefit of avoiding placements that inflate CTRs with accidental clicks or fraudulent traffic, as neither accidental visitors or bots stick around long after clicking.

Post-click optimization is a well-established practice in the industry in order to drive stronger results in performance-based direct marketing campaigns. But usually it’s geared towards conversions, like sales or email signups. Using passive engagement optimization, as opposed to metrics like average page views per visit, shifts the focus to brands and brand content.

“For content marketing, what happens after the click is even more important,” says Shar.

Collective Roll is in the unusual (and sometimes awkward) position of being both a supply and demand side technology provider. Although it started as a buying platform, Shar says the company couldn’t find enough available supply of programmatic native ads for its clients – which is why it started building a network of publishers and launched its own exchange. As a result, the company works directly with both advertisers and publishers and is more focused on figuring out what’s wrong with sites and suggesting improvements, rather than blacklisting poor-performing sites.

“We keep track of all the underperforming publishers. If it happens from campaign to campaign, we start digging into that – [for example] we start seeing that the placement can be added to another page where there’s more engagement,” he says. “It helps us to understand the performance on a publisher by publisher basis, and make some changes on the publisher level.”

So far, Collective Roll has worked with agencies like Mindshare and PHD on native campaigns for clients such as Ford, GE and Sport Chek, who are all looking to drive higher quality traffic to their sites. Demand from New York agencies was what drove the company to open a satellite office there, Shar says.

He has big ambitions. “Our end goal is to become the largest supply of native advertising in the world,” he says.

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