It’s been interesting to witness and be a part of the programmatic advertising debate over the last few years.
Programmatic ads have had some wins. And they’ve had some losses, and stories of ad fraud, and they’ve lost and regained the trust of certain third parties. Through it all, one thing has become clear: adtech and martech move at such a phenomenal pace, and offer so much opportunity, that marketers simply cannot afford to fall behind.
We have to continually educate ourselves on the changing programmatic landscape to best take advantage of the gains it offers. Certainly, there have been some valid concerns, debatable platforms, and less than well-intentioned practitioners out there. But I believe the good outweighs the bad – and the opportunity for cost-effective, targeted marketing is too good to ignore.
Gaining a deeper understanding
At Lenovo in 2014, we wanted to get more hands-on with our programmatic spend to better acquaint ourselves with the field, and potentially uncover some cost efficiencies. So we took programmatic in-house. Some of you may have seen me talking about how our ads looked like vomit on a page…
It was a great experience for us to better understand the technology and deal directly with several media networks to secure valuable online real estate for campaigns. The results, as recounted here by our Asia Pacific CMO Nick Reynolds, were a real improvement for us: we were able to make better real-time decisions, and overall we ended up saving 30% in the related operational costs over the year that followed.
The investment in self-education on programmatic advertising certainly paid off and is something I recommend. After all, how do you know what you’re really getting. How can you justify a line on your marketing budget that you don’t understand?
By the time I left Lenovo, we had partnered closely with our agencies, sharing the programmatic workload with them, all the wiser from our in-house experience. Trust was a big factor as we worked together. But this is no different to any partner business relationship – it’s a two-way street.
Where are the positive steps being taken?
Nico Neumann, assistant professor at Melbourne Business School, penned a great articletalking about what the industry can do to keep fixing some of the issues that have afflicted areas of adtech.
One option is regulation to enforce transparency in programmatic ad placement. Another is for brands to demand better accountability from any third-party media vendors they work with. I agree with both of these ideas, in theory. As Neumann says, “Both sellers and buyers should support new industry initiatives, such as Ads.txt, RTB 3.0 and blockchain technologies, to combat fraud and increase transparency.”
Are these initiatives taking hold? Yes, and it’s been great to see many adtech vendors, publishers and even Google supporting the IAB’s Ads.txt initiative to cut down on fake traffic.
Blockchain could well improve programmatic advertising over the next few years. It won’t just affect the marketing industry of course, but I expect it to make the digital supply chain more transparent, cutting out more and more unnecessary third parties, and giving me the confidence that I’m getting what I pay for: real people, real websites, real views.
A couple of examples: first is new adtech venture Bitcomo, launched with “smart” contracts on a blockchain platform for online advertising and lead-generation. The premise is that advertisers will enjoy greater transparency as every click and lead is tracked openly, eradicating potential fraud from the buying and selling process. It’s a two-way affair; publishers will achieve more predictable and visible revenue from the process too.
Another is Papyrus, which aims to be a disruptive and decentralised digital ad platform capable of processing hundreds of billions of targeted ads daily. It’s not just a programmatic integrity issue at play here. Marketers need to pay attention to these new blockchain platforms as there will be increasing potential for better cost-efficiency across all of our campaigns.
It’s simply more efficient and suited to the digital medium
As we continue to iron out the wrinkles, the bottom line is that programmatic advertising is best suited to the digital realm in which we now operate, both in terms of more sophisticated targeting, and with regard to volume and reach.
As OMD’s group business director, Jonathan Betts, said in CMO magazine: “Operationally, (programmatic) is the most efficient way to enable our teams to buy and deliver campaigns …For television, a single TV spot on a national network could be reaching one million people with a single ad. Whereas to reach a million people in online you often have to deliver a million separate ads. And those fundamental differences between the two channels mean you need different technology to deliver the equivalent outcome.”
Brand safety has been one of the major programmatic issues concerning marketers. Most observers know the story by now – Google’s automated ad system was placing a brand’s video ads for YouTube in unsavoury locations – such as the channels or videos of extremist political groups. Not a good look! But what we have to remember is that, compared to traditional ad platforms like TV and print, the digital programmatic medium is in its infancy. Google and YouTube, of course, have every incentive to fix these issues, and they have started this process in earnest.
The digital medium offers so many more nuanced options for ad placement, with far more refined targeting of an individual and their actual preferences for product and service types. Programmatic advertising is 100 per cent necessary for handling both volume and reach, plus personalisation, a hallmark of the expected customer experience.
I have no doubt it will improve and keep getting better and better, and marketers will have to invest in their own education to keep up as it advances.