An Ad Tech Temperature Check

tenmpcheckClayton Christensen, the father of “disruptive innovation,” would love the ad technology industry.

With more than 2,500 Lumascape companies across various verticals chasing an exit, venture funding drying up for companies that haven’t made an aggressive SAAS revenue case and the rapid convergence of marketing and ad technology, the next few years will see some dramatic shifts.

The coming tsunami of powerful megatrends is driving ad technology relentlessly forward at a time when data is king and the companies that best package and integrate it into multichannel inventory procurement will be the rulers.

In a world where scale matters most, the big are getter bigger and smaller players are getting forced out, which is not necessarily good for innovation.

Data: Powering The Next Decade Of Ad Tech

Data, especially as it relates to “people data,” is and will be the dominant theme for ad technology going forward.

Monolithic companies with access to a people-based identity graph are leaning in heavily to identity management, trying to own the phone book of the connected device era. Facebook’s connection to Atlas leverages powerful and deeply personal deterministic data, continually volunteered on a daily basis by its users, to drive targeting. Google is attaching its massive PII data set garnered through Gmail, search and other platforms to its execution platforms with its new DMP, DoubleClick Audience Manager.

Both platforms prefer to keep information on audience reach safely within their domains, leaving marketers wondering how smart it really to tie the keys of user identity in a “walled garden” with media execution.

Will large marketers embrace these platforms for their consumer identity management needs, or will they continue to leverage them for media and keep their data eggs in another basket?

While some run into the arms of powerful cloud solutions that combine data management with media execution, many are choosing to take a “church and state” approach to data and media, keeping them separate. Marketers have to decide whether the risk of tying first-party data together with someone’s media business is worth having an all-in-one approach.

Agencies Must Adapt Or Die As Consultancies Edge Into Programmatic

Media agencies have also been challenged to provide more transparency around the way they procure inventory, the various incentive schemes they have with publishers and their overall methodology for finding audiences. With cross-device proliferation, agencies must be able to identify users to achieve one-to-one marketing programs, and they need novel ways to reach those users at scale.

That means a commitment to automation, albeit one that may come at the expense of revenue models derived through percentage of spend and arbitrage. Agencies will need new ways to add value in a world where demand-side players are finding closer connections to the supply side.

As media margins collapse, agencies need to act as data-driven marketing consultants to lift margins and stay relevant. They face increasing competition from large consultancies whose bread and butter has been technology integration. It’s a tough spot but opportunities abound for smart agencies that can differentiate themselves.

Zombie Companies Die Off But Edge-Case Innovation Continues

We’ve been talking about “zombie ad tech” for years now, but we are finally starting to see the end of the road for many point solution companies that have yet to be integrated into larger mar tech “stacks.”

Data-management platforms with native tag-management capabilities are displacing standalone tag-management companies. Retargeting is a tactic, not a standalone business, which is now a status quo part of many execution platforms. Fraud detection systems are slowly being dragged into existing platforms as add-on functionality. Individual data providers are being sucked into distribution platforms and data exchanges that offer customer exposure at scale. The list goes on and on.

This is an incredibly positive thing for marketers and publishers, but it is also a challenge. Cutting-edge technologies that give a competitive advantage are rarely so advantageous after they’ve moved into a larger “cloud.” Smart tech buyers must strike a balance between finding the next shiny objects that confer differentiating value, while building a stable “stack” that can scale as they grow.

That said, the big marketing technology “clouds” offered by Adobe, Oracle and Salesforce continue to grow, as they gobble up interesting pieces of the digital marketing “stack.”

Will marketers go all-in on someone’s cloud, build their own “cloud” or leverage services offerings that bring a unified capability together through outsourcing?

Right now, the jury is out, mostly because licensing your own cloud takes more than just money, but also the right personnel and company resources to make it work. Yet, marketers are starting to understand that the capability to build automated efficiency is no longer just a function of marketing, but a way to leverage people data to drive value across the entire company.

Today’s media targeting will quickly give way to tomorrow’s data-driven enterprise strategy. It’s happening now, and quickly

New Procurement Models Explode Exchanges, Drive Direct Deals

I think the most exciting things happening in ad technology are happening in inventory procurement.

Programmatic direct technologies are evolving, adding real audience enablement. Version 1.0 of programmatic direct was the ability to access a futures marketplace of premium blocks of inventory. Most buyers, used to transacting on audience, not inventory, rejected the idea.

Version 2.0 brings an audience layer to premium, well-lit inventory, while changing the procurement methodology. I think most private marketplaces within ad exchanges are placeholders for a while, as big marketers and publishers start connecting real people data pipes together and start to buy directly. It’s happening now – quickly.

I also can see really innovative companies leaning into creating a whole new API-driven way of media planning and buying across channels that makes sense. In the near future, the future-driven approaches of companies like MassExchange will bring to cross-channel inventory procurement a methodology that is more regulated, transparent and reminiscent of financial markets. It’s a fun space to watch.

Who will begin adding algorithmic, data-science driven automation and proficiency to the planning process, not just execution and optimization in the programmatic space?

Many of those in the ad technology and media game are here for the challenge, the rapid pace of innovation and the opportunity to change the status quo. We are all getting way more than we imagined lately, in a fun, exciting and fast-moving environment that punishes failure harshly, but rewards true market innovation. Stay safe out there.

[This post was originally published in AdExchanger on 6.16.15]

Fish Don’t Know He’s Wet

If Your Company Depends on RTB, Put Your Helmet On.

The 5 Reasons RTB is less important than you think

All the hype in the display advertising industry has been around real time bidding for the last several years, and rightly so. Finding audiences with precision (cheaply) is marketing nirvana and, with all of the startup companies willing to work their tails off to make their “platforms” work for advertisers, the promise of media, layered with great technology, and tons of free service was hard to resist. Conference after conference, our industry leadership (well, actually I think it’s just the 30-odd people that speak at every conference) prognosticates on the latest data-driven success story, and ponders the meaning of the famed Kawaja logo vomit map, hoping that their flavor of audience technology gets acquired. But, like the old George Clinton lyric goes, the fish don’t know they are wet. After drinking the RTB Kool-Aid for so long, the real time practitioners may not realize that this fundamental driver of the display advertising ecosystem may not be as important as we all think. Here are five reasons to hedge your bets with RTB:

Quality Matters: Sorry, exchanges, but inventory quality still matters—a lot. The notion that you can splash a little bit of data on top of $0.25 CPM banner inventory and turn it into $5.00 gold was never really real in the first place. The great thing about RTB isn’t the enormous amounts of data you can apply to a media buy—it’s the enormous scale and price advantage that exchange buying brings. In a CPA-driven world, the most important metric is the cost of media. Today’s bidders give advertisers the ability to scour 800+ exchange inventory sources and buy cheaply and deeply into remnant inventory like never before. But, when you look at the reporting coming back, the clicks and conversions tend to happen where quality content appears. I’ve seen it time and time again: An RTB advertiser lucks into a bit of Tier I or Tier II inventory and finds performance. Unless publishers start changing their habits and stop putting banner code on every single web page they publish, there will continue to be a dearth of quality placements available in real time, and average real-time CTRs will not eclipse their .03% average.

Cookies Don’t Scale: This is the dirty little secret of the display media industry, and something that Datran’s Aperture team is out actively pushing. Anyone who has used a DSP can tell you that even a little bit of segmentation data applied to a media buy drops impression availability by a large factor. Cookie-based targeting is enormously complicated, and getting all the gears to turn in the same direction is not easy. How many people are in the market for a BMW are there in any given 30 day period, anyway? Well, according to AppNexus, I can find about 81,689 unique users that fit that description, and access up to 1.3M impressions if I win every single bid I place. Let’s go crazy and say that I am prepared to pay $30 CPM for every single one of them (I can probably win them at $8, though). That means, this month there is the potential of $40,000 of inventory to be sold for “BMW intenders.” Add in “Connecticut” and “Men” as additional segments, and you might as well call each potential buyer on the phone, or rent a plane and drop pamphlets on their house. But wait—you could probably mail them something really nice and reach them that way. Now that sounds like a business!

Legislative Tsunami: Many fish don’t understand what “Do Not Track” and other legislation is going to do to real-time bidding. Even if you take the most conservative reckoning, you would have to admit that some sort of consumer protections need to be built into our industry. I can’t tell you how many people are fascinated—and sort of bummed out—when I introduce them to www.bluekai.com/registry Personally, I have no problem being targeted (except for the relentless onslaught of industry-specific ads I seem to be targeted with). No matter how our industry tries to spin it, the fact that I just looked at flights for North Carolina, and am being targeted by travel ads two seconds later as an “in market travel intender” makes almost everyone uncomfortable, and it’s not a winning long term strategy. We need to turn over choice to consumers, rather than convince them that we are “protecting” their data. Watch out for companies that don’t run without the fuel of 3rd party data. Conversely, bet big on companies that collect tons of 1st party (volunteered) data like Facebook…at least until the government has a problem with that too.

Premium on the Rise: Call me a Project Devil fan. With people visiting an average of 3 sites a day (one of them being Facebook), it’s kind of hard to argue with the

It's Time to Break out of Pure RTB Business Models

fact that advertising needs to be engaging on the page. Whether it’s video, over-sized RM banners, in-app ads, or sponsored apps, advertisers are looking to engage users directly, rather than drive them to a site. These opportunities are the opposite of commodity-based exchange buying. You can’t standardize them…and you can’t buy these engaging units cheaply. Advertisers are starting to rebel against the low quality of exchange-based media, and publishers are really starting to rebel against the returns they are seeing on exchanges. They want technology that helps them understand and sell their own audiences, rather than technology that disintermediates them and sells their valuable audiences for them. Maybe we finally jumped the shark with the Admeld acquisition. Wouldn’t it be nice if technology helped advertisers find the right audiences where they wanted to be found, and publishers sell their audiences for more than $0.50? Was there ever an industry that sustained itself by crushing their main suppliers down on price?

Big Guys Have More Data than You: I don’t care how many cookies you have out there on the Web. Is it 150 million? 200 million? It doesn’t really matter. How many Facebook subscribers are there? How many Google Gmail users? We have given the biggest publishers absolutely every single piece of information about ourselves (including, for some Congressmen, too much information), and shared it with our friends, and shared our friends’ data with everyone too. Where cookie-based targeting doesn’t scale, first party data targeting on sites like Facebook scales plenty. You would think the ability to reach users with such specificity would be expensive, but no. Facebook ads are the best deal in town. I have never paid more than $0.50 CPM for my audience, no matter how many “segments” I want to apply. I can’t remember winning many display media bids in for that price. If you consider that Google is just starting to get into display—and Facebook is just starting to look at display, doesn’t that make you want to change your data strategy a little bit? If your business depends on the sheer amount of your data, you may need to get a longer ruler and think about just how much scale you really have.

There are a lot of ad technology fish swimming in the RTB sea right now, and every single one of them is wet. My advice to them is to break the surface of the water for a second, and see what else is around. RTB will be a part of advertising for a long time, but it will not displace premium, guaranteed advertising. It will also look nothing like today’s RTB in a few years. The advent of private marketplaces, higher value audiences exposed in real time environments, and the emergence of smarter branding metrics (via Vizu and others) is going to turn the conversation back to premium quickly. Jump in…the water is going to be fine.

[This post appeared on 6/23/11 in AdMonsters]