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Inside Amazon's charm offensive to win over big brand budgets from Madison Avenue

Business Insider | Apr 24, 2019, 10.05PM IST

FILE PHOTO: Jeff Bezos, president and CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post, speaks at the Economic Club of Washington DC's

Reuters

Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos.

  • Amazon is trying to gain on Facebook and Google's ad business by proving its platform can work for big brands that care about metrics like awareness and loyalty.
  • Amazon is increasing its outreach to agencies to talk about new and upcoming ad formats like video ads.
  • Some agencies say that Amazon's ad business is borrowing from Facebook and Google's playbooks but that it's unclear how important advertising is for Amazon.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

Amazon has steadily been building out a sprawling ad business across its website, video platforms like Amazon Fire and IMDb, and a programmatic demand-side platform that targets and places ads on websites outside of Amazon.

One of Amazon's biggest advertising challenge is convincing brands like automakers and financial service providers that don't sell their products on Amazon that beyond driving conversions, it can drive awareness and loyalty. To that end, Amazon is borrowing from the playbooks of Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

Advertisers find Amazon hard to navigate because it requires them to work with various teams that don't always talk to each other. Agencies said the company has become more flexible, but that it's clear that Amazon is not dependent on advertising.

Amazon reported $10 billion in "other" revenue, mostly from advertising sales, out of total revenue of $233 billion in 2018. According to Amazon's job site, the company is hiring for more than 1,200 jobs across eight teams that live under the "advertising" umbrella. Only about 160 of the 845 jobs Amazon is hiring for in New York are in advertising.

"Retail is the core strength of Amazon [but] there is a firewall between the retail and advertising teams," said Will Margaritis, SVP of e-commerce at Dentsu Aegis Network. "There's no way to get around it but the power of Amazon's advertising comes from their retail side."

Read more: Marketers say Amazon's advertising business is difficult to navigate. Here's why the company thinks the 'chaotic' structure actually makes sense.

Amazon is working to prove to brands that its platform can work for big brands, particularly in programmatic and OTT advertising. The goal is to "help brands tell a story in the Amazon shopping experience that resonates with consumers and feeds into longer-term relationship," Colleen Aubrey, the global VP of performance advertising at Amazon, told Business Insider recently.

"They're where Facebook was circa 2014 or 2013," said George Manas, president and chief media officer at OMD. "They are aggressively trying to move up the funnel and become a place for consumers to go that isn't just a last-click solution to buying something."

Amazon is trying out its version of a dog and pony show

Facebook, Google, Twitter, Snap and Pinterest all have big New York teams that woo agencies with new programs and features. Over the past year, agencies say that Amazon has followed suit by growing a similar team with reps dedicated to specific agencies.

Tech platforms are well-known for wining and dining ad executives with fancy dinners or tickets to sports games, but at Amazon, whose CEO and founder Jeff Bezos is known for his frugality, the advertising push is more subdued, said several agency execs.

"Their budgets for the dog and pony show are absolutely smaller than a lot of the other vendors, which is fine. They let the products speak for themselves," Margaritis said. "But they're not flying anyone out to Aspen - Amazon is going to take you out to a nice lunch."

Amazon also routinely visits agencies to pitch its advertising business. During a recent visit with Brooklyn-based agency Huge, Amazon talked about how its platform puts consumers, not advertisers, first. Amazon also played up its data and video efforts in its pitch, said Jenna Massaroni, director of comms design at Huge.

"They're trying to [be] almost altruistic," she said.

But Amazon's data is a better fit for e-commerce and performance-minded marketers than big brands, she said. The company plays up its shopper data but not broader behavioral and demographic data that big brands care about.

"People are hesitant about putting money into Amazon when the full scale of their targeting capabilities are not known," Massaroni said. "I almost think that they're more of a competitor to programmatic companies."

Amazon doesn't have a full-blown advertising leader - yet

One area where Amazon diverges from Facebook is in its leadership.

Agency sources rattled off a short list of execs that they're regularly in contact with at Amazon including Aubrey; VP of global advertising sales and marketing Seth Dallaire; and Ryan Mayward, global head of agency development. Amazon also assigns executives and account management staffers to companies to help with advertising needs.

But several people paused when asked if Amazon has its own version of Carolyn Everson, the Facebook executive who serves as the face of the company's ad business and has helped Facebook's revenue balloon since joining the company in 2011.

"I wouldn't say that they have an Everson there - I don't know that Amazon would handle it that way just given that advertising isn't their main business right now," said one agency executive.

Agencies were mixed on whether or not Amazon needs an executive to champion advertising but Huge's Massaroni said that it can make a difference with big clients who want to associate a face with a company.

"These big companies need to have that rallying person to get everyone excited," she said.

Agencies are starting to get their hands on more proof points

Amazon offers agencies accreditation programs to become certified in advertising and puts on trainings that can last from 30 minutes on ad format basics to four hours long for an in-depth education on specific ad formats. Dentsu Aegis Network's Margaritis said that the agency recently got a deep dive into Amazon's product that prints ad messages on Amazon shipping boxes.

Facebook, Twitter, Google and Snap also provide trainings and certifications for advertisers. In exchange for becoming certified, agencies stay up to date on Amazon's products and get first dibs on new ad formats.

Agencies say Amazon has gotten better at sharing case studies of successful campaigns. But they say the data can be thin.

"Right now, it's Amazon saying, 'Trust us, we know this works,'" said Margaritis, who'd like to see more data about commercials that air in streams of Thursday Night Football games. "Brands want to know exactly what they're getting and when some of these features are brand-new, it can take some convincing to get a brand to put [money] into the big, shiny Amazon bucket."

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