October 14, 2013

What did Bread actually do?

Aside from some press when a very early beta version of the technology launched in June 2011, the ad tech start-up Bread stayed under the radar. The team focused on building tech and building relationships, and so there's not much publicly available information about what the heck Bread actually did. This post is a bit TL;DR, but for those who are interested, here's what Bread was all about...

What problem was Bread trying to solve?
Starting with a great domain name (www.bre.ad), Bread was founded in 2011 and set out to solve two problems the team saw in the marketplace.

On one side, there were more and more non-traditional publishers building audiences online, particularly on social. The proliferation of influencers and content creators on social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest caught the team's attention. Bread started to hear from lots of these bloggers, musicians, writers, and comedians that they didn't really like a lot of the ways they had to monetize their new social content. Paid tweets and sponsored posts often didn't feel authentic, adding more banner ads on their blogs felt cluttered, and these influencers were tired of having to cannibalize their own content and voice. A lot of them were saying, "We need a better way to make a living creating content online -- something that works no matter where my audience finds my content or what kind of device they're using."

On the other side, Bread saw brands and advertisers eager to get into social and mobile. Marketing budgets were predicted to shift from traditional media into newer digital channels, and there was a keen interest to use rich media to do more brand storytelling rather than click-driven direct response ads. Forward-thinking brands wanted to run innovative and engaging campaigns on social and mobile, but there wasn't a lot of good technology to do it.

What was the solution?
Taking these two opportunities into consideration, the Bread team came up with what it thought was a pretty elegant solution to both. Bread developed technology to serve a full-page, rich-media ad as an interstitial on any link shared on any social media platform. This first product was called Bread Social and it worked like this:

For its second product called Bread Oven, the team built a version of the technology that did the same thing for links on blogs.

But how did that make the web more awesome?
I know what you're thinking: a full page ad sounds kind of intense. How does that make the web better? The team saw three main ways:

1) Bread really tried to differentiate its ad product by being more beautiful than other units. Some of that came from its ad builder technology that allowed advertisers to be more creative with the types of imagery and storytelling they could present. Some of it came from working closely with advertisers to make sure they shared Bread's vision to make the web more beautiful. From both quantitative performance and qualitative feedback from fans and readers, it seemed that Bread was moving in the right direction for making ads a more beautiful experience.

2) The unique qualities of the Bread ad unit allowed influencers and publishers to share their own authentic content when and where they wanted, without having to redesign their sites to accommodate more banner ads. In fact, some publishers did away with banner ads and paid tweets completely and just used Bread technology to monetize.

3) The Bread team was always very sensitive to the end user experience, since the goal was to try to fix problems with online ads, not create new ones. With relevancy targeting, strict frequency capping, clear countdown clocks, and a functional skip button on every ad, Bread added several features to protect end user experience.

What technology was actually built?
At its core, Bread was a technology company. Ad tech is very fragmented market. Sometimes dozens of middle-men companies take a cut along the way between the advertiser thinking of the ad and a viewer seeing it. Bread was a very different kind of ad tech company. The team built everything itself, from a WYSIWYG custom ad builder, to ad targeting technology, to the link-based ad server, to a robust analytics tool to track performance.

Who did Bread work with?
In addition to building all its own technology in-house, Bread also built all its own relationships, too. Rather than rely on third party resellers and remnant networks, Bread sold all of its campaigns itself. The company also built its own publisher network from scratch fostering personal relationships with influencers in verticals like music, entertainment, fashion, sports, and comedy. Everyone from Lady Gaga to a niche film blogger.

How did Bread roll out its product?
Bread technology was not easy to build, and it wasn't evident from the beginning how influencers, advertisers, and end users would react to it. As such, Bread staged its tech roll-out, starting small with a democratized bare-bones version of the a link ad, open to anyone to use however they wanted. Since that launch was public, the company got some press in June 2011 when the beta went live.

As the team built out more features for the fully developed product, it was low key about the work it was doing behind the scenes. It quietly built a sizable ad network (targeted at social media and blogs) to use its technology, and the company started running paid campaigns with top advertisers in the fall of 2012.

At the time the company was acquired by Yahoo in October 2013, Bread had created the web's only full-page, rich-media ad unit that worked across every platform and every device. It worked for big publishers and tiny bloggers and everyone in between, and it was a point of pride amongst the team that they built something that helped support the content creators who make some of the most beloved stuff on the web.

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