Taboola CEO Adam Singolda on how COVID accelerated the future of digital advertising

2020 has seen ad spend drop globally and Australia fall into a recession, and while plenty of marketers hit the pause button, native advertising platform and open web data provider Taboola saw an opportunity to get its clients thinking about digital. Mumbrella's Zanda Wilson spoke with CEO Adam Singolda about how the pandemic forced advertisers to use data differently.

2020 has forced marketers to make tough decisions about how they spend money, with many budgets frozen as businesses tried to make sense of how the coronavirus pandemic would affect them.

COVID-19 also forced a rethink by marketing agencies and other businesses in the industry, who had to swiftly plan for a 2020 punctuated by lockdowns, low ad spend, and now, a recession.

“We saw a decrease in ad spend overnight, which surprised us,” Adam Singolda, CEO of discovery and native advertising platform Taboola told Mumbrella.

Taboola CEO Adam Singolda

Singolda quickly realised that digital advertising would become more important than ever over the rest of 2020, with more people at home and online looking to remain connected, make purchases, and more.

Soon, new opportunities began to arise for Taboola, as the global pandemic forced advertisers to get online.

“In many ways, the pandemic accelerated us into the future. Brick and mortar business, that would have taken years to start spending on digital, the pandemic forced them to consider that faster,” he explains.

“New verticals were born during the pandemic – we got to work with companies in the education space online, health care space, luxury masks – something that didn’t exist before. We were a great place for people to advertise.”

Like many businesses, Taboola started to see revenue recovery in the third quarter of the year. Singolda says that Australia was already at an advantage with regards to how agencies and marketers prioritise digital spend.

“Australia is a very strong advertising market. You’re looking at a market of $16 billion a year in ad spend – that’s a pretty big market cap. I think it’s one of the biggest places in the world for digital, which is two-thirds of the entire budget.

“So Australia is very much in the future already when it comes to advertising spend. You’re already working with people who understand digital. Australia is also between the west and the east, you have this hybrid thinking.”

One of Taboola’s key points of difference with its data set is that it takes from the open web. Singolda told Mumbrella he sees his website as “an open curiosity graph” that gives a more realistic view of consumer behaviour than you’re likely to see on social networks.

“You tell Facebook what you want people to think about you. Taboola sees what people are actually passionate about. You don’t lie to yourself when you go and read something on the internet,” he says.

“This website will always be available to see the true analytics of the internet, as opposed to the social networks.”

And it was with this data that Taboola was able to convince multiple clients that the pandemic could be an opportunity for them; and that now was the time to get ahead of the pack.

“We saw a lot of budgets that were frozen… in this case data was a way to unblock that freeze. In many, many cases we saw advertisers use this data to justify testing again, and come back,” Singolda explains.

“There were two ways of dealing with the pandemic. One camp was hoping that it would end and waiting for normal to come back. The other camp realised that some things might not return to normal, so they’d have to change.”

Taboola also has partnerships with several major Australian publishers, providing services to help with areas like branded content. Recently it added Seven West Media to a list of publisher clients including the Daily Mail and News Corp.

Singolda says Taboola’s new business has been driven by, “an inherent tension between social media platforms and ‘open web’, publishers, apps that live outside of the wall.

“Products like Facebook Instant Articles are one example of how there will always be a fundamental crisis a platform might go through or whether they want to keep the user in (the wall), or enable the user to go into the open web.

“From a brand perspective, studies show that the average consumer trusts ads on news publishers four times more than ads on social media which is great for journalism, where that editorial clout matters.”

Digital advertising in Australia is showing clear signs of a post-COVID recovery, with the latest figures from IAB Australia seeing 11.3% growth in Q3 when compared with the previous quarter.

Additionally, SMI data tracking ad spend for September showed the digital advertising space had recovered almost to the point where it was last year. Ad spend year-on-year for September was down just -2.7%, with the sector showing a rebound far ahead of Australia’s ad spend as a whole which was down almost a quarter for the same time period.

Looking towards an uncertain future, Singolda believes we’re likely to see ad spend recover over the coming months, but in new areas and segments that might have taken over a decade to develop otherwise.

“We’re seeing advertisers taking more risks, using data more. Specifically, we are in the future. We are seeing advertisers now that should have been born in the year 2030.”


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