Tell us about your Journey in Technology? What inspired you to start Anzu.io?
Since I first dipped my feet into the AdTech industry, I was hooked. I saw in AdTech, a wide-open canvas for innovation and meaningful advancements. My mission was – and is – to create breakthrough products that have the power to change the way humans and advertisements interface with one another. A core technical background coupled with a passion for business drove me to create technologies that would chart the future of Digital Advertising.
With over a decade in the Mobile Marketing space, I clearly understood the problems the industry was facing. And so, I teamed up with Gaming Product guru Ben Fenster and master Software Architect Michael Badichi to solve the biggest issues in Video game advertising. The lack of scalable tech and cutting-edge solutions, the disruptive nature of in-game ads, and the huge gap between advertisers and developers were leaving audiences of billions of people totally inaccessible to brands. It was also increasingly difficult for developers to monetize without sacrificing the gaming experience. We set out to make advertising in games better when we founded Anzu in 2016. We’ve been disrupting the industry ever since!
What is Anzu.io? What inspired the idea of non-intrusive ads? What unique challenges did you face?
Anzu is an in-game advertising platform that brings real-world brand advertising into video gaming and esports. When we founded Anzu, our key question was: how can we bridge the gap between brands and game developers in an industry that holds so much potential? We wanted to develop a scalable business and tech solution. There was a whole new audience of gamers to tap into, but brands couldn’t access them because of a lack of scalable ad offerings. Developers faced the problem of hard-coded ad technology that made it difficult and time-consuming to integrate ads into the game content.
We were inspired by how Hollywood uses native advertising successfully and came up with the idea of blending ads directly into the gameplay in a similar manner. Our state-of-the-art technology allows brands to deploy immersive ads in IAB-recognized formats directly into the gameplay. Of course, as with every new technology, we face the challenge of market education. We want to shake up the video game industry and debunk any myths around the effectiveness of advertising in games. The next challenge we tackle is breaking down old, stale perceptions of who the gamers are (hint: they are no longer antisocial teens in basements). Gamers hold a massive purchasing power that brands can’t afford to miss out on!
How is Anzu.io different from other Advertising platforms?
In a short time since launching our operations, we have built a product that offers the best in-game advertising on the market. Everyday, we continue to transform the industry with a zeal for delivering excellence to our clients and partners. We are pioneers in the market, offering technologies and services that were previously unavailable in the in-game advertising space. Before Anzu, ad tracking and ad viewability, an integral part of the mobile gaming space, were lacking in-game. We partnered with Cheq to launch the first-ever ad verification solution in gaming. We then went even further by integrating with leading tech vendors to offer the next level in data enrichment, brand safety, and audience verification, all of which were missing in the industry until now.
We also recently announced our participation in the Xbox Tools and Middleware Program, making us the only company currently licensed to provide in-game advertising services for Xbox One development. Anzu is also the only programmatic solution in esports — a sector that lacks sophisticated advertising solutions. We allow many of the esports brand sponsors to insert various types of advertisements with our exclusive partnership with ELeague.
What different technologies do you use at Anzu.io?
As a purely AdTech company, we try to utilize cutting-edge technologies available in this industry. We have consciously built a flexible, full-stack solution that offers innovation in the in-game space. Our core asset is our battle-tested, secure SDK, which is available across platforms with a plugin for both Unity and UnReal. Another significant product we have built is a patent-pending 3D ad tracker that allows the tracking and measurement of ads in real-time.
As part of the IBM Alpha Zone Accelerator, we have developed a compliance tool using AI to help game developers understand what content their users are exposed to and enhance user experience. Anzu believes in building a holistic approach to advertising, and as I already mentioned, we continue to develop new partnerships with tech vendors and publishers to achieve that. We recently entered into an exclusive partnership with Tru Optik, the most widely used audience intelligence and data-management platform (DMP) across Connected TV (CTV), to make first and third-party data for enhanced audience targeting available for in-game advertising on gaming consoles.
Tell us about Blended In-Game Advertising. How can brands benefit from it?
Consumer behavior is changing. Wherever we go, we all want authentic experiences: food, fashion, and even advertising! Users expect their advertising experiences to be more natural and this is where in-game advertising comes in. We offer this with our Blended In-Game Advertising solution that seamlessly integrates non-intrusive ads into the gameplay, allowing brands to reach previously undiscovered audience groups in a more immersive way. As opposed to intrusive ads that interrupt gameplay and offer low brand visibility, blended in-game advertising brings realism to games through advanced product placement.
We go beyond standard static banners to give brands custom ad formats that allow them to personalize ad content and boost brand affinity. Our use of standard IAB formats and programmatic technology allows them to launch campaigns at scale in seconds. Combined with a pioneering ad verification solution, we empower brands to ensure a brand-safe environment where they pay only for viewable ads.
How has Advertising technology evolved in the past few years?
We have seen a switch from quantity to quality in AdTech, and I expect this to further consolidate as the industry matures. AdTech is becoming more diverse and sophisticated. To this effect, we are likely to see a greater demand for technological advancements. Digital advertisers have had bad experiences with sub-standard solutions and now demand greater control over budget, analytics, and transparency.
As AdTech grows, we will see an enhanced focus on not just placing an ad, but also knowing what is happening on the other side. Real-time data and analytics, and granular targeting are of prime importance and will be critical in the evolution of this space.
What are your predictions for AdTech in 2020?
As new regulations are announced every second day, all the stakeholders in the industry need to ensure that there is preparedness to apply that. Data privacy, for instance, continues to be a big issue for the industry, and now we are entering an era of data privacy-first advertising where more authentic advertising experiences will be demanded by the users.
In-game advertising, with its native nature, is already there, and herein lies an opportunity for us to offer the best advertising experience with personalized content messaging to make this space stronger. This also means the industry will see a move towards consolidation as it begins to move towards digital ad performance that focuses more on quality over quantity. This will place more value on the metrics of ad viewability and measurability, and ad platforms will have to be ready to make their offerings relevant.
All the stakeholders in the industry are realizing the importance of measuring campaign effectiveness (not just performance KPIs), and how this impacts the customer journey. As a call towards greater accountability and transparency, the industry is likely to see more brands shift their digital advertising budgets in-house to take control over their advertising.
Companies like P&G, for example, are already experimenting with in-house programmatic media buying, and I expect a lot more companies to shift a higher percentage of their overall media buying in-house. Finally, programmatic Digital Out of Home (DOOH) is also on the horizon as brands try to mix up their Marketing approach across channels. Companies like British Airways and Pepsi have already come out with some creative marketing approaches for DOOH and I am excited to see how this space will shape up.
How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?
As a tech company, we have embraced AI from the very beginning. We not only rely on AI, but also use AI-based algorithms in our platform. And we will continue to make decisions that complement this relationship. As I already mentioned, we created a strong AI-powered solution as part of the IBM Alpha Zone Accelerator. And I am looking forward to the approaching massive AI adoption that will disrupt the Advertising ecosystem further.
What start-ups are you keenly following?
Plaid, who was just acquired by Visa, is a great example of how Fintech can really push the envelope. This is further evidence that it’s all about changing the status quo, thinking big, and raising funds from strategic partners.
How do you inspire people at work?
For me, it all starts on a personal level. If I’m inspired, my team catches onto that energy and feels inspired, too! I am laser-focused on bringing our tech to the top, and I can see that my passion is contagious as we have built a team that believes in it as much as I do! We are all 100% committed to the world we are creating for gaming and advertising.
The fact that we are already winning some of the best recognition awards in the industry is not only a testament to our hard work but also a great motivator for us to proceed at an exciting speed and lead this revolution!
Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read.
Jeff Bezos. He doesn’t come from advertising, so he does things differently, and is building a big ad business with real innovation. eCommerce business follows a great deal of logic in understanding how the user journey moves post advertising.
Thank you, Itamar! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
Itamar Benedy formerly served as the CEO of Glispa, a Berlin-based advertising firm with €100M in annual revenues, a team of 250 people, and 9 international offices, and as VP Marketing at Sport.com and Yoga.com. In 2016, he was nominated for Forbes Israel 30 under 30.
Anzu.io is an in-game advertising platform that brings real-world brand ads to video gaming and esports. Backed by BITKRAFT Esports Ventures, WPP, and Axel Springer Digital Ventures, Anzu redefines digital advertising through seamless integration of non-intrusive ads into the gameplay. Bringing real-time data and programmatic capabilities to the video gaming world, the platform promises native advertising, brand safety, and ad viewability