DraftKing’s Jayne Peressini on ghost ads, measuring TV, multivariate testing, scaling a growth team, and much more

By John Koetsier January 3, 2020

Are ghost ads scary? Only if you’re afraid of incrementality measurement.

And, should the onus for ad fraud be on ad networks or on marketers? You might be surprised at the answer from a super-successful growth marketing leader, Jayne Peressini.

DraftKing’s senior director of growth marketing started with Glu Mobile in London, worked for Cisco, then Razorfish. She also ran ad operations for Machine Zone and was a director of revenue for Reddit. In other words, she knows growth marketing.

Jayne Peressini joins us for the fourth episode of Growth Masterminds, the podcast where we talk to mobile experts so that other mobile experts — you! — can get smarter by seeing and hearing their perspectives.

Listen right here:

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In previous episodes, we’ve talked to European mobile consultant Thomas Petit on ASO, conversion optimization, and more. We’ve also talked to two superwomen in games, Lauren Clinnick and Christina Chen, on getting featured by Google and Apple, running a studio in a non-traditional tech region, and knowing when to scale.

And we spent an hour with the grand master himself, Eric Seufert, on IDFA, GDPR, programmatic, incrementality, and everything else but the kitchen sink.

Some highlights from Jayne Peressini

Jayne Peressini

Jayne on UA managers as mini CEOs of their business:

I think that in UA you can get caught up in what your KPI is, ARPU, ROAS, whatever it is.

But if you think about it — and I tell my team this all time — they’re mini CEOs, they’re investing these dollars and you have to think about it as: how do you mitigate risk? How do you mitigate your investment? Knowing that there is fraud out there, what should we be doing to mitigate that risk?

And that’s on them.

Jayne on ghost ads:

For those that don’t know what ghost ads are, it’s this idea that it randomizes holdout groups, but it also does it in a way that it is segmenting users for expose, but also who would have been exposed to those ads, which is a little different. So ghost ads is a little different than kind of how you would break out like a treatment in a holdout group preemptively.

Jayne on how to minimize the impact of privacy regulation:

Most people have registered, even if they haven’t used our product they have at least created a registration, so we capture some sort of data. For us, it’s easier to tie that because we have a signup, we have a login event. Let’s say you’re a mobile game or you’re a casual app … that might not be the case.

Jayne on advertising campaigns:

Don’t just think about the front end numbers. Think about how expensive it is to nurture those consumers.

And … a full transcript of our conversation with Jayne Peressini

John Koetsier: Welcome to Growth Masterminds. This is the podcast where smart mobile marketers get even smarter.

This is just our fourth episode. In the first one we went to the USA. In the second we went all the way across and down under to Australia, and the third we were in Europe, specifically Spain. And now we’re back to the States.

So our next guest is an amazing mobile marketing expert. You are going to love her. She started her career with Glu Mobile in London. That is not a horrible place to start actually, pretty good company there. She worked for Cisco. That might have been maybe not so interesting, maybe not so boring. She did some PR, but we’ll forgive her for that.

She worked in ad tech with Razorfish, a great experience if you want to be a growth marketer. And she was with Reddit as a director of revenue and ad ops, I mean, that’s gotta be a cool job. She worked for Machine Zone as well in ad ops, and I’m pretty sure just about the smartest people in the world work in Machine Zone, and she’s now the senior director of growth marketing for DraftKings.

Jayne Peressini, please say hello.

Jayne Peressini: Hello. Thank you for having me. I’m so excited.

John Koetsier:  You know, you’ve posted quite interesting articles recently, and so I wanted to start with some of the things that you’ve been talking about. You’ve been in ad tech, you’ve been in the advertising ecosystem for a long time on the inside, and as a buyer as well. You’ve seen a lot of changes over the past few years.

I wanted to ask you, what have you seen that’s really changing? What’s really working now? What’s maybe broken or newly broken?

Jayne Peressini: You know when I post articles, I also try to get the most rise. I try to be a contrarian, but I also, there’s truth and I believe everything I do post.

So, when I look at the industry, I see us replicating things that I’ve done in display, desktop display, when I was a junior buyer just starting out. Which concerns me, but I also see from a mobile perspective, us going in a direction where we have learned from some of our mistakes.

What growth marketers are doing well

So things that I think the industry is doing well, or areas that we’re going towards are, you know, two or three years ago it was not uncommon to be running on upwards of a hundred different sources. And I think what a lot of marketers have realized and the industry has definitely jumped on this bandwagon, is we are as advertisers, we have fueled the fraud ecosystem.

This is not something that was brought upon us by publishers themselves. This was definitely an effect that advertisers brought upon themselves. And I think it’s our job now to fix that. So I see that as being kinda the new thing, the new trend is onus of fraud being back on the advertisers rather than the sources they’re buying through.

I also see marketers more dynamic.

I think a lot of marketers, a lot of smart people in mobile acquisition have been pigeonholed in channel specific buying, and a lot of smart people are now realizing that they can apply the same type of strategies that they’ve used in their channel buying across multiple channels. And you’re starting to see in-house marketing groups work and operate a little bit more dynamically than maybe kind of the static approach that they used to have.

And I think that’s cultivating better talent and retaining people more. I think you kind of saw, if you ever look at peoples’ LinkedIn, people only stay for a year or two and they kind of jump around because they’re not getting exposed to other channels. And I think that this is a good thing that’s in the market where a lot of marketing groups are starting to understand that, hey, if we have smart people, we got to figure out a process, a way that we want to buy and manage media that plays to the strengths of cultivating this kind of new generation of mobile leaders.

And I think the last part is creative.

I think we’ve done such a good job of innovating on the bidding side. And I think creative technology is the next thing that will be big for our industry. The innovation of creative, whether that’s management, tagging, insights from creative, creative, fueling other buying styles, or fueling the algorithms that we use. I think it’s going to be a big change, a big sea change for a lot of marketing groups because it’s been a little bit of an afterthought for some brands and some brands that have taken upon themselves to utilize creative or think about creative from a technical and innovative way are going to be kind of a step or two ahead of their competition.


John Koetsier: Imagine that, marketers rediscovering creative!

How the pendulum has swung and reswung.

Jayne Peressini: It is, I feel like it kind of trends every few years. It’s like, well, we don’t think about creative because we’re not brand marketers, but in fact even brand, now is performance marketing. Even at Machine Zone we were measuring TV. At DraftKings we measure TV.

It’s a performance channel just like any other channel, so there’s no such thing as unmeasurable media these days.

John Koetsier: Absolutely: brand is performance and performance is brand. I mean there’s very, very slim lines separating these right now.

One thing that you said that is very contrarian is that the onus for fraud is on the advertisers. And of course that’s pretty contrarian because a marketer comes and says ‘I have the money, give me what I need’ from an ad network or a media source, right?

But you’re saying, hey, we created this, we have the power to clean it up.

The onus for ad fraud: on advertisers, says Jayne Peressini

Jayne Peressini: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we’re the ones that hold the purse strings.

I’ve been on multiple sides of the ecosystem, so I feel very confident when I say that because I’ve been on the side where I’m asking for the money from, you know, my days at Reddit, even.  And at an agency where you’re beholden to a client and you’re also trying to help a client, but also interact with these different partners.

And from the advertiser side, if we have the money, people listen to us and we also have to make the smart decisions. And I think that there’s a lot of responsibility in that. It’s not just about kind of managing up and just thinking about your numbers.

I think that in UA you can get caught up in what your KPI is, ARPU, ROAS, whatever it is.

But if you think about it — and I tell my team this all time — they’re mini CEOs, they’re investing these dollars and you have to think about it as: how do you mitigate risk? How do you mitigate your investment? Knowing that there is fraud out there, what should we be doing to mitigate that risk?

And that’s on them. That is not on the inventory sources. The inventory sources are taking direction from us.

If we tell them hit this CPI, they’re going to hit that CPI.

At the end of the day, we’re trying to increase monthly reoccurring revenue. We’re trying to increase new user growth. Those are different challenges. Those require different strategies. And from a fraud perspective, that’s us mitigating that. That is not an inventory source where all they’re trying to do day in and day out is perform for us.

And I feel like it’s kind of playing this hot potato game that a lot of advertisers do. They have to really think about that. It requires a lot more data. Not a lot of advertisers are set up that way to be able to manage fraud.

And I think that is a reflection point as well, as you can’t be running on a hundred different ad networks, expecting every single inventory source to manage the fraud themselves. And not have the infrastructure to do it yourself. I think that if you’re going to grow, if you’re going to decide that you’re in housing, everything, you’re going to be operationalizing your media internally.

You have this massive marketing group. Fraud has to be an aspect of that.

It could be an ancillary layer, whatever it is, but it requires a lot of infrastructure, a different skillset, a whole different team even that’s not for a junior marketer to even manage themselves from a fraud perspective. It’s not an afterthought. It is a, it should be, a central part of your marketing group.

John Koetsier: Right, right, right.

Well, good segue actually, because the next thing I wanted to talk about is scaling ad spend. And often when you’re scaling ad spend, it’s challenging because you open yourselves up to potentially fraudulent sources of traffic, of clicks, of users, of customers.

It’s also kind of interesting, you were at Unify, the conference that we had this past summer, and I’m just writing about some of  the sessions we had at Unify. And in one of them, I believe it’s somebody from Airbnb or Stitch Fix talking about lift tests, incrementality and measuring that.

And you know, if you throw $100,000 at it, one of them was saying, that’s almost nothing these days. This is not a normal thing for most people who are out there, even many marketers who have very minimal budgets. But at DraftKings, at many of the other companies that Singular works with, you’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars daily budget and other things like that.

So let’s talk about scaling ad spend. What are some of the obvious pitfalls that you have? What are some of the non-obvious pitfalls and what’s a safe way to grow fast? Is there one?

Netflix, ghost ads, and measuring incrementality

Jayne Peressini: Yes, there is. Let’s start at the top.

So when marketers think about scaling, it’s not about adding a new ad network to the media plan. It’s really scaling your business, which is, yes, not a new logo. So the way to scale naturally … a lot of it is reflection on the incremental kind of lift of additional media spend. And Airbnb, a lot of smart marketing groups, whether you’re Lyft or Airbnb, or Netflix is a perfect example of a marketing group that has embraced incrementality.

There’s a paper, a white paper out there from someone within their group that I don’t know if they created ghost ads, but they definitely champion ghost ads.

For those that don’t know what ghost ads are, it’s this idea that it randomizes holdout groups, but it also does it in a way that it is segmenting users for expose, but also who would have been exposed to those ads, which is a little different. So ghost ads is a little different than kind of how you would break out like a treatment in a holdout group preemptively.

And I think that those types of innovations that Netflix has in place are really good ways to operationalize how to measure incrementality. Because to your point, it is expensive.

A lot of people do it where they will serve a PSA ad, a public service announcement ad. So you know, these users get this ad and these users get our brand ad and we look at the lift. Now ghost ads, I think helps with, like most of us work in biddable media, so we have to bid for these users. And so you capture the bid of that potential user as well.

So you’re actually getting more of a true value of what you would have spent on those users.

And I think that the idea of incrementality keeps us a little bit more honest than just throwing more money at a problem that potentially is not about the money, more money to spend. So there’s a lot that we can do. It’s not just new user growth, but it’s also the treatment of how do we retain and grow our current and existing users as well.

And that should be with us.

I think that our industry has some of the smartest marketers in the world, and a lot of them are just looking at the problem of more users, more users, new users, new users, not how do I retain and grow monthly reoccurring revenue as if I’m almost the CFO of my company.

And I think metrics like revenue, but not just new revenue, incremental recurring revenue is a really good approach. A lot of that is kind of this incrementality idea.

You can waste a lot of money with incrementality tests that are a little bit meaningless too. So I think that it’s, you go here, you have to go in with a pretty good game plan. You can’t just throw random incrementality tests out there because it’s not going to get you anywhere unless you’re trying to solve some sort of business problem with the incrementality tests or kind of a cadence of incrementality tests.

Marketing measurement and privacy

John Koetsier: Right, right. Interesting. Tough stuff. That’s kind of a neat segue as well. I mean, we’re talking about incrementality, one of the things that you’ve written about recently and that I’ve talked to multiple marketers about.

Eric Seufert is one example.

There’s obviously a shift towards privacy that we’ve seen. GDPR has been around for some time, California, the Democrats are selecting who will be their candidate for the presidential elections, and privacy and big tech is a big part of that conversation.

If we have more of a shift towards privacy, how will that impact measurability? Are you concerned about that? Do you think that it’s a radical shift or do you think that this move towards incrementality is something that will help us get through this and we don’t need to worry so much about attribution of this particular user ID to that particular campaign, to this particular bit of revenue?

Jayne Peressini: You know, I kinda consider myself lucky and maybe I should knock on wood right now because for DraftKings it’s a little easier for us to measure, and not like everything’s sunshine and roses in a sense, but most people log in when they use our product.

Most people have registered, even if they haven’t used our product they have at least created a registration, so we capture some sort of data. For us, it’s easier to tie that because we have a signup, we have a login event. Let’s say you’re a mobile game or you’re a casual app … that might not be the case.

And I think for those types of categories or those types of industries, these types of laws might impact that. I think that that is a real reality. For us we operate in a very privacy safe way already. Every partner we work with gets a third party data agreement that they can’t obviously use our users’ data or our data. And we already operate with a level of scrutiny on how we manage data, and I don’t foresee us operating any other way.

It hasn’t interrupted our business. I don’t think it will because we already kind of play it safe in that sense.

I also think that this actually gets into more of the conversation that eventually not just and I’m putting all responsibilities now back on us, so now we have to manage fraud … but this might actually make us have to manage our own attribution in a sense too, because if there’s a privacy, if there’s a lot of implications on the strictness of what we can share, what we can capture, that might just put more pressure on the advertiser at the end of the day to be their own attribution partner.

And this is where you get into it might shift, that instead of user-level attribution you do have to go back to the days of channel-level attribution.

Now it’s not ideal. I hope that doesn’t happen. That’s kind of how early 2000’s, that’s what you did. We could go back there if we really want to. I really don’t want to, but we’ll figure it out.

Maybe I’m a little too optimistic about it, but I think that we have to play out every scenario and every game plan. And so we have multiple game plans for whatever’s going to happen in our industry from a legal perspective. So I don’t see this as we’re putting our head in the sand about it. We have multiple ways to approach this and everyone’s going to be in the same boat.

But I do think there’s going to be some categories, some business kind of categories that will do better in the market if these changes occur, versus others, just inherently based on whether they have a registration and signup.

And that might sound super trivial but I just think we’re going to see that in market.

John Koetsier: I think that’s a really interesting insight and I really look forward to seeing what will happen, what kind of business models will be more effective.

The kinds of business models where a customer is really engaged, puts his or her hand up and says, this is who I am, this is how I’m creating an account, this is how you get in touch with me. And I know that person is less of a user, per se, which we’ve fallen into the trap of calling people ‘users’ I tend to hate that, and more of a ‘customer.’

And it’d be just very interesting to see what that’ll change in terms of business models that succeed, but also marketing practices that succeed. We already talked about KPIs that you optimize for, and when you optimize for eyeballs, and maybe it doesn’t matter exactly which eyeballs, or just the eyeballs that are most profitable, that’s a different model than optimizing for logged in, signed up users/ customers.

And that’ll be very, very interesting how that plays out.

Let’s dive into your vertical a little bit. I’d love to talk a little bit about DraftKings, who you target, who’s your competition. You know what people really get out of playing on DraftKings and how’s that impact your key marketing messages?

Jayne Peressini: Of course. We’ll start at the top then.

So our target audience, I don’t want to say it’s everyone, but I do believe that we are trying to broaden our audience. So you can probably imagine that when I was at Reddit, there was a very particular type of audience.

At DraftKings, it actually is very split by vertical.

We have a very different audience that plays DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports) than we do that play Sportsbook and that we do that plays Casino. Some interesting insights that you know from the category in general. In the state of New Jersey since launching, if you look at a year after New Jersey’s implemented or allowed mobile sports betting, 70% of the bets that happen in New Jersey happen on a mobile device.

John Koetsier: Wow!

New Jersey: the sports betting capital of the US?

Jayne Peressini: I think that’s kind of an interesting stat if you think about that.

Actually, New Jersey has passed Vegas in terms of number of bets. So you know, technically you can kind of now consider New Jersey the sports betting capital of the United States, which is kind of weird to think about.

Now that that said, March Madness still from a retail perspective — so people actually going to a Sportsbook. people still fly to Vegas with their buddies and go and bet for March Madness — one of the largest days for Vegas.

I don’t fly to Vegas with my friends to bet on March Madness, but I play Daily Fantasy Sports with my family pretty consistently every week. And it’s kind of a social thing now for us. My grandma even plays, and I think that’s an aspect of the casual or just engagement, we call it ‘skin in the game,’ that daily fantasy sports can have.

Or even Sportsbook, but for daily fantasy sports, which is more of a national product, you can play with your friends on the couch. And you can draft your lineup and it’s almost a conversation starter. And I think that that’s something that a lot of people are starting to realize about sports is that if you don’t want to talk about politics, especially in this day and age, with your family or friends, which can be a little tough.

Sports is a great next topic when you have nothing else to talk about.

John Koetsier: It really is, and the Thanksgiving season is coming up.

Jayne Peressini: Right?

I mean, what better time to talk about sports in the holidays when you don’t want to engage with your aunt or uncle about their views on politics.

So I think sports is emotional too. Like my father is a huge Oakland A’s fan and we went to go see Moneyball as a family with him because we knew that it would be really important for him. And he cried so hard that, you know, the lights came on at the end when the attendants were cleaning the theater, because he was trying to find his contact because he had cried his eyes out so much.

And so you’re playing up to that, right?

It’s an emotional thing for people: who they support, who they root for. There’s multiple ways to be invested in it. So, for Daily Fantasy Sports maybe you’re invested because you want to talk to your family more or your friends more. And this is a way to do that for sports betters that are in States that allow it.

Now that they have more in terms of they don’t have to go drive three hours from a Metro city to go and bet on a game, they can be on their couch still, or at a sports bar even. So we’re actually finding really cool ways to engage with users like that. So for instance, we have some tests going on around leveraging geolocation, so kind of doing a split test between users that have been to stadiums or have been to retail sports books or sports bars and seeing if those users do well when we target them specifically, or geo-fencing, maybe they’re in real time.

So we have some products within Sportsbook that allow you in real time to, you know, within the game bet that match point by point. Whether this play’s going to be a run play, or a pass, or it’s going to be a kick. And the scalability of that and the way that you can play that is very different than if you’re just betting on the outcome of the game. And that just creates different data points, right?

If you want to be in the moment, target those users, it’s a very different idea and concept and strategy, then you want to get them well before the game even starts.

John Koetsier: Yeah.

Jayne Peressini: And so it’s adding kind of these new cool marketing problems to my team, and every day they’re learning something new, like another step or another cool thing that we’ve found even for Casino.

0Weather, right? You’re sitting at home, and especially now when the weather’s changing, maybe you’re in the middle of a snow storm. Casino product plays very well to people that are indoors for a long periods of time. And that’s just an interesting, cool thing that you can target.

So layer on weather data to your media!

John Koetsier: What’s super interesting to me about what you just said is that we’ve been in this zone where social media has been the virtual place where people have occupied tons of time, hours and hours daily.

And that’s still the case, but we see an increasing flood of people, I had one on my Facebook feed just yesterday, said ‘I’m taking a break from Facebook.’ And that’s a pretty normal thing for me to see these days. And sometimes it’s a week break, sometimes it’s a month break. Some people are saying, I’m quitting this social network and I’m moving over to that social network. You can join me there if you’re there, or something like that.

But we see that people may be starting to reduce their hours on those things, and perhaps other social experiences that are around a topic like yours, sports, might be replacing that.

Jayne Peressini: I hope so. Man, I hope so. I mean, wouldn’t that be a great day if that were the case.

I recently went to a comedy show with my wife and they did a cool thing where they made us lock up our phones. So we had these lockers and they made us lock the phones. I mean, I’m sure it was basically so that we couldn’t record the comedy show, but what it did is we were sitting in the theater and you know, we’re killing time an hour almost before the comedian was going to go on, and everyone was talking to each other as if it was the first time in the history of the world that people lifted their heads.

And I think sports plays to that.

A lot of the time that I spent even growing up was playing on sports teams. I was a very active athlete growing up. I was always on sports teams. I felt this gravitation, this sense of community around sports, and what better way than, and I don’t want to say sports is going to bring our nation together in a sense, but it is just a nostalgic, and hopeful and it brings up these emotions that a lot of people, I think just sometimes you just need that.

And it makes me feel good, even if I don’t want a daily fantasy sports contest. I’m happy that I participated with my family. And then everyone makes fun of me for having the worst lineup because I work at Draft Kings.

So like, how could that even happen?

Jayne Peressini’s best advice on …

John Koetsier: Cool. Very cool. We have a few moments left and I wanted to do some sort of rapid fire stuff , best advice for growth marketers. So I’ll shoot and you shoot back.

Best advice for growth marketers on messaging.

Jayne Peressini: Don’t get caught up in A vs B. Think about modified versions, version one, two, three.

John Koetsier: Nice. Multi-variate.

Best advice for growth marketers on advertising campaigns.

Jayne Peressini: Don’t just think about the front end numbers. Think about how expensive it is to nurture those consumers.

John Koetsier: Best advice for growth marketers on building a team.

Jayne Peressini: It’s really hard. It’s really hard. Have faith and manage your team like a soccer manager or a football coach and you’ll be fine.

John Koetsier: Excellent, coaching versus managing, love it.

Best advice for growth marketers on when to scale.

Jayne Peressini: Always be scaling. When you are asked to do it, it’s too late that you’re thinking about it just then. Always be looking for those opportunities. It’s like building your pipeline in sales.

John Koetsier: And last one … best advice for growth marketers on how to scale.

Jayne Peressini: Start by tightening the screws on your current and existing partners, and then after that, look inward at your data and your decision making. And then look outward at new inventory.

John Koetsier: Wonderful, wonderful.

Jayne, thank you so much. This has been such a pleasure. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as well, and I really appreciate you taking the time.

Jayne Peressini: Thank you, it’s been great.

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