It’s 10PM, Do You Know Where Your Programmatic Ads Are?


Programmatic buying is getting a lot of praise these days, but also a lot of flack. Programmatic ad buying simply means automated. A lot of people confuse it with buying ads through computer-run auctions — known as real-time bidding — but that’s just one way to buy ads programmatically. At its core, programmatic buying is any ad buy that gets processed through machines.

In digital advertising, programmatic is a powerful tool but it also comes with some serious downsides. One of the biggest is click fraud, phony clicks on banner ads that end up costing the advertiser without delivery any benefit. But there is another existential threat to the industry: URL masking.

Imagine this, you want to advertise a great new album on a series of great music blogs so you purchase some inventory on the hypothetical But in the end, your ad ends up showing on piracy sites where that very same album is being downloaded. How did this all happen?

The practice of URL masking usually involves utilizing iframes, the same code that lets people embed YouTube videos and other media. What happens is that the music piracy site, or any site with a reputation that scares away advertisers, will embed ads that were meant for, fooling paying advertisers in the process.

AdAge ran a really great article on the problem last week, citing recent research that suggests that 40% of programmatically bought digital ads have masked URLs.

URL masking is often used to trick advertisers into running ads on sites with illicit or stolen content, which tend to generate lots of traffic but little ad revenue. URL masking is also used to fool buyers into thinking they’re buying premium inventory when they are instead getting low quality placements.

Some will hear a lot of talk about programmatic buying as the “future of marketing,” and, like every great seller of snake oil, as a “hop on now or be forever left behind” scenario. But I’d liken it more, in its current state, to a prototype car engine that may revolutionize the industry, or simply leave you stranded.

Programmatic buying is an important part of a marketer’s arsenal. But I’m a staunch believer that programmatic marketing lacks a lot of what makes local marketing great. At the Altitude Group, we focus on the power of true cross-platform marketing. But for many marketers, the risks associated with programmatic buying are just too great to deal with until the industry successfully weeds out click fraud and URL masking.



Never Too Early: Gearing Up for the Holiday Season

signs of christmas

It’s November, and the holiday season is upon us. Many may consider the day after Thanksgiving to be the real start of the season, with its barrage of holiday sales, jingles and advertisements.

But one of my favorite things about the holidays in New York City is the slow build-up I see around me already. My coffee shop has already put up a few wreaths. There are Christmas lights in the nearby bodega and a smattering of fake Christmas tree hawkers are already patrolling the streets. My favorite: the Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks winter cups that mark the real beginning of the season. They’re just as iconic as the tree!

That’s the spirit of a campaign with MSG Entertainment that I’m incredibly proud of: “Signs of Christmas.” The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is one of my favorite parts of the holidays. I’ve taken my son every year since he was 4, and my daughter can’t get over the Teddy Bear Ballerina number. The latest addition to the Ingrassia family will be joining us this year: my 1 year-old son. He’ll either just love the colors, or fall asleep, but I’m excited for him either way.

It began last week and ends on New Year’s Eve. The performance featuring the Rockettes started back in 1933, and has since become an iconic part of NYC’s Christmas season.

As part of the campaign, We asked key CBS Radio talent in New York and Philadelphia to reminisce of their own Christmas memories and call-out the signs of Christmas that they are serif around town.  You can listen below:




Should Brick and Mortars Really Be Afraid of Showrooming?


A few years ago, local retailers were up in arms about “showrooming,” the practice of using a local brick and mortar store to better inform your inevitable online purchase.

Not sure about that book you want on Amazon? Head up to the local bookstore, flip through the pages, and discreetly purchase it from Amazon on your phone. But as our relationship technology evolves, it may be the brick and mortars that are the ultimate beneficiaries of the smartphone revolution.

Google’s Sameer Samat over at Think with Google explored some fascinating data that seems to prove just that.

“On-the-go consumers now spend more than 15 hours per week researching on their smartphones. They gather information and “snack shop” at the pace and place that suits them best—not just on their smartphone, but at the office desktop and at home on the couch with a tablet…Holiday store visits dropped 55% from 38 billion in 2010 to 17 billion in 2013, according to Shoppertrak. Yet during that same period, same store sales rose, according to MasterCard’s SpendPulse report, which means that the value of each store visit actually doubled. How? Consumers visited less, but they were better informed about what they wanted when entering the store. Each trip was more purposeful and they bought more. “

But how can marketers take advantage of this? As Samat points out, Macy’s, REI and Sephora realized that consumers who were researching online for an in-store purchase wanted to know if an item was in stock before heading over to purchase it.

But do people still showroom? Absolutely – but that’s a challenge that some willingly take on. “We love being used as the internet’s showroom,” Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly once said. They actively embraced that image in 2013’s holiday season, realizing that once a customer is inside your walls they can develop a meaningful, ongoing relationship. With great prices and a great experience (not to mention online price matching), Best Buy was one of the first to realize that showrooming could be an invaluable opportunity.

As the holiday seasons looms over us, many local marketers need to start asking smart questions about how their digital strategy interacts with their in-store experience.


The Psychological Secrets of Storytelling


Earlier this week, I came across a great article on a blog titled “The Psychology of Storytelling” by Gregory Ciotti, a marketer and behavioral psychology writer.

Ciotti starts with a simple proposition:  Stories sell information. He cites a study which found that subjects who were more “transported,” i.e. swept up by a story’s imagery and emotions, were also less likely to find false information in these stories. Lawyers, too, understand the power of storytelling. When convincing juries for instance, lawyers who use storytelling and much more likely to persuade a jury than lawyers who just stick to the facts.

Stories work in marketing – they build emotional bonds with consumers in ways that simple value propositions don’t.

Here are few of the highlights.

We’re hardwired to love suspense

The Zeigarnik Effect is a well documented phenomenon in psychology. It describes the tendency to remember things better that are unfinished or uncompleted. We just hate to leave things up in the air.

Research in that area seems to point to humans being much more inclined to finish something that has already been started (researchers interrupted people doing “brain buster” tasks before they could complete them… nearly 90% of people went on to finish the task anyway, despite being told they could stop).

Delivery Means Everything

How many times have you retold a great joke, only for it to fall flat upon retelling? The best written stories work the same way.

Similar to how a good joke turns into a great joke with perfect delivery, Mazzoco and Green’s research pointed to delivery in the courtroom being of the utmost importance.

This translates to writing in a similar fashion: pacing and deliver of the story matter as much as the content.

Audience Matters

Would you start telling the story of Freddy Krueger to a 5-year-old? Getting your audience right in marketing is everything, and knowing how to tell that audience also matters. Storytelling, in part, relies on a certain shared cultural backgrounds. We like stories because we relate to them. The best stories are often rooted in in the local imagination and vernacular.

Storytelling is a powerful tool in any marketer’s arsenal, but it’s especially powerful for local marketers.

Read Ciotti’s full article here.



‘We Can Survive’ Breaks Social Media Records

Phew, that was fun!

The 2nd annual “We Can Survive” concert was a huge success with big stars, a sold out crowd and money raised for an important cause. But what’s perhaps most amazing is that, in just its second year, the breast cancer fundraiser broke all records and became our most popular event on social media to date. “The social media reach for the event totaled more than 400 million social impressions across 150 million Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts,” Inside Radio notes.

The concert, held at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, had a truly unbelievable lineup: Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Iggy Azalea, Paramore, Lady Antebellum, Pharrell Williams, Sia and Gwen Stefani wowed a captivated audience of lucky ticketholders.

Overall, 70% of all social media interactions happened on mobile devices and women made up two-thirds of social engagers.

Our amazing partners at 5-Hour Energy made the event possible and were incredibly supportive throughout. And they had some incredible social media success of their own: before the concert they asked Facebook fans to send in pictures of themselves with their white bottles to be entered to win a free trip to the concert and a meet and greet with the performers.
wcs contest

At the event, they joined up with Living Beyond Breast Cancer, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping those with breast cancer live beyond their diagnoses.

wcs booth

Setting up the booth.

Check out some of the social action below, or search in Twitter for the hashtags #5hr4wcs, #wecansurvive and #wcs.




5 Lessons in Marketing, Branding and Life from a Marketing Veteran


Last week, 2,800 marketers descended on Orlando for the Association of National Advertiser’s “Masters of Marketing” conference.

While this event didn’t have any formal connection to our similarly named series about marketing, it did underscore something that I think about a lot: it takes inspiration, dedication and moxie to create breakthrough marketing.

While I got to see some of marketing’s brightest minds wax poetic last week, I was particularly awe-struck by Jim Stengel’s speech. Stengel offered his “5 Lessons in Marketing, in Branding, in Life,” a return to a 2008 ANA speech that he gave while still the marketing guru for Procter and Gamble.

Now, on his own, Stengel’s lessons are still the same, with a few caveats.

#1 “Effective, inspiring leaders put people at the center of all they do.”

I couldn’t agree more with Stengel here. “Talent and organizational energy is the ONLY competitive advantage today,” he said. “Everything else can be copied, your unique blend of people and culture cannot.”

The biggest trap among managers and leaders is to over-manage and over-lead. But most of the time, great leadership is setting a tone that inspires and motivates. There’s no need to micromanage when your team regularly goes above-and-beyond to create amazing work.

Stengel goes on to share some sage advice from Warren Buffet. “Always work with people you love and respect.”

#2 Engage Your Hearts and Minds in Everything You Do

That was Stengel’s advice in 2008. In 2014, he added “on your customer’s terms.” Megan Garcia, Altitude’s resident social media whiz, is always reminding me that marketing is no longer B2B, but “H2H: Human to Human.” And like any genuine human relationships, putting your heart and mind out there in a compassionate way will always trump self-interest. “We must be there for our customers all the time – 24 hours a day – because they indeed expect it.”

#3 Focus on Your Business, Brand and People 

The constant demand for productivity can often make us forget the big picture. Stengel shared this frankly terrifying statistic: “Some brand managers spend 80 percent of their day in meetings to coordinate their activities with those of other internal groups.”

It’s easy as a CMO to get caught up in the moment on specific goals, benchmarks and tasks. But every now and then we need to sit down, think, re-evaluate and re-frame.  Are those activities really worth it?

#4 Creativity Rules

“In an IBM survey of 1,500 CEOs,” Stengel notes, “creativity was ranked as the most important leadership competency in the future.” We’ve talked about creativity a lot before here on the Altitude blog, but it’s such an important (and complex) topic that it always bears additional scrutiny.

One quote from Stengel resonated with me: “The enemy of creativity is the fear of failure.” On one end, your personal confidence and motivation can make or break you in the creativite world. But from the standpoint of a manager, stop and think, am I creating a culture that inspires fear or fearlessness?

#5 Have a Purpose

Stengel points to companies like Google, Nike and Pinterest as examples of companies that “have a higher order ideal at their center, and activate it in all they do, grow faster than their competition.”

There are two facets to this: first, your employees need purpose and passion. Compensation is a fine motivator, but nothing motivates better than passion. Secondly, companies need purpose to connect with their consumers.

Stengel’s speech, while my favorite, certainly wasn’t the only memorable event from the ANA conference. Check out AdWeek’s amazing coverage for more.



MasterCard’s Latest Priceless Experience Sets a New Bar

What’s more Priceless for a Chicagoan than tickets to the Packers and Bears game? A great tailgate, sure, but what about hanging out with a Bears legend?

The MasterCard Priceless Cities program provides amazing, one-of-a-kind experiences to its loyal consumers. In this iteration of Priceless Chicago, MasterCard sold just 20 passes to the tailgating experience of a lifetime. Guests were treated to great food and most importantly, a chance to hang out with Dan Hampton, the defensive star of the 1985 Bears Super Bowl victory. They were also treated to Bears footballs, signed by Hampton himself. The whole thing happened in and around a massive 3-story trailer in the Adler Parking Lot near Soldier Field.

The event was promoted utilizing digital banners on CBS Local sites and the passes sold out in a matter of days.

The Bears and Packers rivalry dates back to 1921 and is one of the oldest rivalries in the league. The Bears currently have the lead in overall wins against the Packers, but not by much – making the rivalry that much more exciting.

My colleague Michael Hermalyn and I had the pleasure of interacting with the MasterCard VIPs and Dan Hampton to experience the event ourselves, and to get real-time feedback. I spoke to one of the attendees who told me it was beyond any tailgate experience he (or his two sons, for that matter) ever experienced. It really stuck with me.

That’s the magic of local, experiential marketing. Connecting people with their hometown heroes for one of the most exciting events of the year is an amazing feeling. And for fostering life-long brand loyalty, it’s not too shabby either.

Check out some photos below.

mastercard priceless chicago


Dude. Do you even Snapchat?

I can’t tell you the last time I left the house without my iPhone.

My grocery store is approximately 100 paces from my apartment, but you can guarantee that if you need to reach me in the dairy aisle, I’ll have my phone at my hip. It’s there for every commute, every Netflix marathon, every workout, my phone is one of my essentials. It’s there to document every moment of my life — and the lives of my friends and family.

And it is the home of my favorite social medium, Snapchat.


Since Snapchat’s release in 2011, users have been sending photos, videos, drawings and the recently introduced “Stories” to a hand-selected audience. After turning down a $3 billion acquisition from Facebook, Snapchat has never been cooler. Capture an image and add it to your “Story” but not before adding a caption, photo filter, your geographic location, the current temperature, and of course an illustration done by index finger.

Sending something more personal? Select your receivers individually. You know who else is on Snapchat? EVERYONE.

In August of 2014, Snapchat reportedly had 100 million active users sending 400 million snaps per day. Hey advertisers, guess what! 71% of those users are under the age of 25. What’s different about Snapchat versus Instagram, Facebook and other photo sharing communities? Expiration.

Individuals and brands can send short-form messages that a user can see for a maximum of 24 hours. #GoldMine? Last month, Snapchat featured live-stream, user generated content at events like New York City Fashion Week, iHeart Radio Music Festival, College Game Day (a weekly feature) and most recently the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Brands have joined the conversation as well. Vogue Magazine, McDonalds (see below), General Electric and The NBA are just a few adding the photo sharing app to their social media regimes.


According to a recent Mashable study:

“Almost half of college-age Snapchat users said they would open a Snap from a brand they’d never heard of, and 73% said they would open one from a brand they did know. Close to 70% of students said they’d even add a brand as a friend if they also followed them on a separate social network like Facebook or Twitter.”

So, why join Snapchat? It doesn’t get any more local than in the hand of a customer. Whether it’s a traditional “what we’re up to” photo, or a story with a beginning, middle and end, Snapchat starts (and ends) a conversation with consumers in their back (or front) pocket.


The Altitude Group’s New Interns Tell All

What do free ice cream, cheesy puns and George Michael’s Careless Whisper have in common? They are all part of the wonderful welcome we received from the colorful group of people that make up the Altitude Group.

In all seriousness, we’ve found that this team is the intersection where intelligence meets creativity. On our first day we experienced the expected nervous jitters. Do you remember your first job? After every introduction the thought of “I hope they like me” ran through our heads.

Except for Ryan. He assumes everyone likes him.

cbs interns

We were told in the initial interview that this would be a very “hands on” experience, and we quickly saw this materialize before our first lunch break. We didn’t just sit in on brainstorms, we were actively encouraged to participate and contribute to actual projects. Coffee-runners need not apply, the Altitude Group internship gives an actual taste of the real world.

We’ve seen bathroom stalls bigger than our cubicle, but we quickly made a home of our shared digs. Every good real estate agent knows that location is everything. It forced us to get to know each other in a short amount of time, despite Nneka’s best efforts to ignore Ryan’s bad jokes.

There’s a few cons to our location: we sit too far from the team, and being too close to the fridge means that a smelly apocalypse is always imminent from long-forgotten food stuffs.

We are, however, close to Herm’s office, and the onslaught of  puns that come out of his office. If we weren’t so busy working on other projects, we’d probably meticulously note them all and try to get it published.

Despite the highs and lows of our cubicle locale, by the end of our first week there was a moment when we realized that we work here.

The first two weeks have been a truly unparalleled experience, and we can’t wait to see what the next eight have in store for us!

-Ryan and Nneka


TL;DR: The One Sentence Recap of Advertising Week’s Greatest Insights

This year’s Advertising Week was incredible. Unfortunately, there are too many panels for one human-being to physically go to. So we did the next best thing, we sent out our AG staffers to do a little recon on some of the most exciting panels and capture the essence of the panel in one sentence or quote.

Enjoy our #OneSentenceRecaps.

“Staying on top of change while focusing on the next big idea keeps me up at night.” 

-Lisa Cochrane, CMO Allstate,
What Keeps CMO’s Up at Night?

“If you’re not telling your story well, you’re an interruption

-From a Story Told to a Story Lived

“Data in a vacuum means nothing. Context matters.”

-Jeremy Levine,
How to Build an Influential Brand

“The goal of branded content should be that both the brand and the publisher comes out looking better than they did before.”

Ze Frank of Buzzfeed Motion Picture, The Social Experiment
- Creating A New Media Model

“You are living in the dark ages if you think you can be successful in radio without a strong social media connection.”

Angie Martinez,
The Voices of the Original Social Media

“Work at the speed of culture:  Anticipate, respond and repeat.”

-How to Build an Influential Brand

“Imagination is essential to reaching innovation. To achieve great things, you need to embrace technology and forge amazing partnerships that bring great minds together.”

-Unleashing Potential: Creativity & Innovation

“To be a successful strategist you have to be curious and restless, because the best revelations are in the things you don’t know yet.”

-Wired Strategist

“You don’t get more local than the people you choose to spend time with. Local starts with social in that sense.”

-Greg James,
Reinventing Local Media

“There are no sports fans. There are Giants fans and Bulls fans. Marketers need to have that conversation in that context.”

-Alan Blum,
Reinventing Local Media