Remarks at ICOM 2015 in San Sebastien

I-COM Global Summit: Panel Discussion on Leveraging Big Data to take Programmatic to the Next Level – Chris O’Hara, Krux Digital, Eric Picard, Mediamath & Tom Simpson, MediaQuark

Leveraging big dataChris O’Hara, VP Strategic Accounts, Krux Digital, USA, Eric Picard, VP Strategic Partnerships, Mediamath, UK and Tom Simpson, CEO, MediaQuark, Singapore were speakers and David Smith, CEO & Founder, Mediasmith, USA was moderator in Leveraging Big Data to take Programmatic to the Next Level. This discussion had no presentation.

2015 is the Year of Programmatic Branding

MuchWinWith companies like Kraft and Kellogg’s starting to leverage the programmatic pipes for equity advertising, we are starting to hear a lot of buzz about the potential for “programmatic branding,” or the use of ad tech pipes to drive upper-funnel consumer engagement.

It makes sense. Combine 20 years in online infrastructure investment with rapidly shifting consumer attention from linear to digital channels, and you have the perfect environment to test whether or not digital advertising can create “awareness” and “interest,” the first two pieces of the age old “AIDA” funnel.

The answer, put simply, is yes.

Online reach is considerably less expensive than linear reach, and we are starting to have the ability to reliably measure how that brand engagement is generated. Marketers don’t just want an “always-on” stream of brand advertising that comes with measurement – they also need it. With attention rapidly shifting from traditional channels, investments in linear television are starting to return fewer sales.

But most marketers are just starting to gain the digital competency to make programmatic branding a reality. That competency is called data management – the ability to segment, activate and analyze consumer audiences in a reliable way at scale.

The most fundamental problem with digital branding is that it is truly a one-to-one marketing exercise. If we dream of the “right message, right person, right time,” then matching a user with her devices is table stakes for programmatic branding. How do I know that Sally Smith on desktop is the same as Sally Smith on tablet?

Cross-device identity management is the key. Device IDs must be mapped to cookies, other mobile identifiers and Safari browser signals to get a sense of who’s who. Once you unlock user identity, many amazing things become possible.

Global Frequency Capping

One of the reasons programmatic branding has yet to gain serious ground with marketers is because of waste. This is both real, including all those wasted impressions due to invisible ads or robotic traffic, and perceived, such as impressions that are ineffective due to frequency issues.

Smart technology and market pricing solves the first problem, while data management solves the second. Assuming the marketer understands the ideal effective frequency of impressions per channel, or on a global basis, a DMP can manage how many impressions an individual sees by controlling segment membership in various platforms. Let’s say, for example, the ideal frequency for cereal advertising aimed at moms is 30 per day across channels. The advertiser knows showing fewer than 30 impressions reduces effectiveness, while more than 30 impressions has a negligible impact. Advertisers using multiple channels, such as direct-to-publisher, plus mobile, video and display DSPs, are likely overserving impressions in each channel and possibly underserving in key channels like video. Connecting user identity helps control global frequency and can save literally millions of dollars, while optimizing the effectiveness of cross-channel advertising.

Sequential Messaging

If “right person” technology is enabled as above, the next logical step is to try and get to “right place and right time.” Data management can enable this holy grail of branding, helping marketers create relevance for consumers as they embark on the customer journey. What brand marketers have dreamed of is now possible and starting to happen.

Dad, in the auto-intender bucket, is exposed to a 15-second pre-roll ad before logging into his newspaper subscription on his tablet in the morning. The message is reinforced by more equity display ads he sees in the afternoon at work. And while checking messages on his mobile phone on the way home, he receives an offer for $500 off with a qualified test drive. After Dad hits the dealership and checks in through the CRM system, he receives an email thanking him for his visit and reminding him of the $500 coupon he earned.

These tactics are not possible without tying user identity and systems together. Doing so not only enables sequential messaging, but also the ability to test and measure different approaches through A/B testing.

Cross-Channel Attribution

How about attribution? It’s impossible to perform cross-channel attribution without knowing who saw what ad. At the end of the day, it’s really about the insights.

Procter & Gamble is famous for spending millions of dollars every year to understand the “moment of truth,” or why people choose Tide over another detergent. Although they know consumer segmentation and behavior better than anyone, even the biggest brand marketers struggle to gain quality insights from digital channels.

Data management is starting to make a more reliable view possible. Brand advertising is just another form of investment. Money is the input. The output is sales and, just as important, the data on what drove those sales. In the past, brand marketers relied on panel-based measurement to judge campaign effectiveness. Now, data management helps brands understand which channels drove results and how each contributed.

It is early days for truly reliable cross-channel attribution modeling, but we are finally starting to see the death of the “last-click” model. Smart marketers use data to author their own flexible attribution models, making sure all channels involved receive variable credit for driving the final action. In the near future, machine learning will help drive dynamic models, which flex over time as new signals are acquired. We will then start to see just how effective – or not – tactics like standard display advertising are for driving upper-funnel engagement.

Is 2015 the year for programmatic branding? For marketers that are leveraging data management to enable the best practices outlined above, the answer is yes. The more accurately marketers can map online user identity and understand results, the more investment will flow from linear to addressable channels.

[This post originally appeared on 1.4.2015 in AdExchanger]

If it’s Not Programmatic Premium, Then what is it?

CountryAndWesternI recently returned from an exciting IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Phoenix, where a packed Arizona Biltmore resort was host to over 800 digital media luminaries. On the tip of many tongues over a two day session was “programmatic premium,” the term our industry is using to describe the buying of digital media in a more automated way.

One particular “Town Hall” type meeting was particularly spirited, as leaders sparred over what “programmatic” meant, whether or not publishers should be using it, and how agencies were leveraging it. Here is what I heard:

We are calling it the wrong thing. Like it or not, the term “programmatic” is tied to the concept of real time bidding. This is natural, given the fact that the last 5 years in ad tech have largely revolved around DSPs, SSPs, and cookie-level data. This creates a problem because, when you add the word “premium” into the mix, you have a really big disconnect. Most folks don’t really consider the large majority of exchange inventory “premium.” Doug Weaver said we should just call it “process reform,” since we are really talking about removing the friction from an old school sales process that still involves the fax machine. Maybe the term should be “systematic reserved” for deals that happen when guaranteed buying platforms (like NextMark, Centro, and MediaOcean) plug into sell-side systems (like iSocket, AdSlot, and ShinyAds) to enable a frictionless, tagless, IO-less buy. It is early days, but I suspect this may be what people are talking about when they utter the term “programmatic premium.”

Private Exchanges Seem like a Fad. For programmatic premium to take off inside of RTB systems, something like having “Deal ID” and “private exchanges” need to be implemented at scale. Yet, for all of the conversation around programmatic premium, I heard very little about private exchanges, Deal ID, and the like. I really think this is because of publishers enjoy having RTB as a channel for selling lower classes of inventory. They are getting better average CPMs from SSPs than they were getting in the network era, and they can experiment with who gets to look at their various inventory and play with floor pricing—a much higher level of power and control then they recently enjoyed. But do they want to sell the good stuff like this? The answer is no. They do, however, want to find ways to get out of the RFP mill that makes the transactional RFP business they manage so cumbersome and people-heavy. Again, that seems to be in the domain of workflow management tools, rather than existing supply-side platforms. If any of the many publishers at the conference were leveraging private exchanges to sell double-digit CPM inventory to a select group of customers via RTB, we didn’t hear a lot about it.

Agencies Love Programmatic. We heard programmatic perspectives from many major agencies throughout the conference, mostly in bite-sized chunks in networking sessions. When asked whether large agencies had less of an incentive to create efficiency in media planning and buying (since they get paid on a cost-plus basis), some agency practitioners admitted this was true but offered that “times were changing quickly.” Clients, having access to many highly efficient self-service buying platforms for search and display (and some, like Kellogg Company, having their own trading desks) there is a lot less tolerance for large billable hours related to media planning. It makes sense; the easier it is to plan a campaign, the cheaper it should be. Marketers would like a bigger chunk of their money going to the media itself. That said, we also heard that agencies are being pushed hard on meeting KPIs—and that even goes for brand marketers. Meeting those KPIs is easier to manage in a programmatic world, and that means pressure to buy through DSPs, rather than emphasizing guaranteed buys. That means lower prices for publishers, and probably necessitates plugging higher and higher tiers of inventory into RTB systems.

We Got Both Kinds

Like the honkytonk saloon in the Blues Brothers that offers “both kinds of music—country and western,” we have to accept two types of “programmatic premium” right now. The first is the notion of buying real premium inventory inside of today’s RTB systems through private exchanges. The second is the notion of buying reserved inventory in a more systematic way. Both approaches are valid ways in which to create more efficiency, transparency, and pricing control in a market that needs it. We just have to figure out what it’s eventually going to be called.

[This article originally appeared in ClickZ on 3/6/2013]

Rise of the Machines

Where do People Fit into a World that Promises Endless Media Automation?

Ever since man tied a rope to an ox, there has been a relentless drive to automate work processes. Like primitive farming, digital media buying is a thankless, low-value task where results (and profits) do not often match the effort involved. Many companies are seeking to alleviate much of the process-heavy, detail-oriented tasks involved in finding, placing, serving, optimizing, tracking, and (most importantly) billing digital media campaigns with various degrees of success.

Let’s take the bleeding edge world of real-time audience buying. Trading desk managers are often working in multiple environments, on multiple screens. On a typical day, he may be logging into his AppNexus account, bidding on AdBrite for inventory, bidding for BlueKai stamps in that UI, looking for segmentation data in AdAdvisor, buying guaranteed audience on Legolas, trafficking ads in Atlas, and probably looking at some deep analytics data as well. If he is smart, he is probably managing that through a master platform, where he can look at performance of guaranteed display and even other media types. How efficient does that sound?

To me, it sounds like six logins too many. Putting aside the obvious fact that an abundance of technology doesn’t lead to efficiency (how’s “multitasking” working out for your 12 year old, by the way?), I wonder we aren’t asking too much of digital as a whole. How many ads have you clicked on lately? If the answer is zero, then you are in a large club. Broken down to its most basic level, we are working in a business that believes a 0.1% “success” rate is reason to celebrate. But the “click is a dead metric” some say. Really? Isn’t the whole point of a banner ad to drive someone to your website? When did that change?

All of this is simply to illustrate the larger point that the display advertising industry, for all of its supposed efficiencies, is really still in its very nascent stages. Navigating the commoditized world of banner advertising is still very much a human task, and the many machines we have created to wrestle the immense Internet into delivering an advertiser the perfect user are still primitive. For a short while longer, digital media is still the game of the agency media buyer…but not for long.

Let’s look at the areas in which smart media people add value to digital campaigns: site discovery, pricing, analytics and optimization, and billing.

Site Discovery

In the past, half the battle was knowing where to go. Which travel sites sold the most airline tickets? Which sites indexed most highly against men of a certain age, looking for their next automobile? What publisher did you call to get to IT professionals who made purchasing decisions on corporate laptops? Agencies had (and still have) plenty of institutional knowledge to help their clients partner with the right media to reach audiences efficiently and—even with the abundance of measurement tools out there—a lot of human guidance was needed. Now, given the ability to purchase that audience exactly using widely available data segments, the trick is simply knowing where to log in. I just found the latter IT professional segment in Bizo in less than 2 minutes. So the question becomes: how are you leveraging data and placement to achieve the desired result, and how efficiently are you doing it?


It used to be that the big agencies could gain a huge pricing advantage through buying media in bulk. Holding company shops leveraged their power and muscled down publisher rate card by (sometimes) 80% or more with promised volume commitments, leaving smaller media agencies behind. Then, a funny thing happened: ad exchanges. All of the sudden, nearly all of the inventory in the world was available, and ready to be had in a second-price auction environment. Now, any Tom , Dick, and Harry with a network relationship could access relatively high quality impressions at prices that were guaranteed never to be too high (in a second-price auction, the winning bid is placed at the second highest price, meaning runaway “ceiling” bids are collapsed). Whoops. With their pricing advantage eliminated, large agencies did the next best thing: eliminated the middleman by building their own exchanges, which we have been calling “DSPs.” So, you don’t need human intervention to ensure pricing advantages.

Analytics and Optimization

What about figuring out what all the data means? After all, spreadsheets don’t optimize media campaigns. Don’t you need really smart, analytical media people to draw down click- and view-based data, sift through conversion metrics, and build attribution models? Maybe not. Not only are incredible algorithms taking that data and using machine learning to automatically optimize against clicks or conversions—but programmatic buying is slowly coming to all digital media as well.  In the future, smart technology will enable planners to create dynamic media mixes that span guaranteed and real-time, and apply pricing across multiple methodologies (CPM, CPC, CPA). Much of that work is being done manually right now, but not for long.


Sadly, much of the digital media business comes down to billing at the end of the day. Media companies struggle tremendously with reconciling numbers across multiple systems, and agency ad servers don’t seem to speak the same language as publisher ones. The bulk of a media company’s time seems to be spend just trying to get paid, and an incredible amount of good salary gets burnt in the details of reconciliation and reporting. This is slowly changing, but the advent of good API development is starting to make the machines talk to each other more clearly. The platforms that can “plug in” ad serving and data APIs most easily have a lot to gain, and the industry as a whole will benefit from interoperability.

So, are people doomed in digital media? Not at all. There are going to be a lot less digital media buyers and planners needed—but what agencies are really going to need are smart media people. Right now, you need 4 people to manage 10 machines. In the near future, you will need 1 smart person to manage 1 platform—and the other three people can focus on something else. Maybe like talking to their clients.

[This article originally appeared in ClickZ on 4/14/11]