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The Exchange Lab’s Chris Dobson and DTA Judge Discusses How Programmatic Has Shed Its Former Reputation For ‘Remnant’ Inventory

As The Drum gears up for its second annual Digital Trading Awards (DTAs), created to reward best practice and transparency in the digital ad ecosystem, DTA judge and executive chairman of The Exchange Lab, Chris Dobson outlines what the remaining challenges are for advertisers and what he expects from entrants.

What are the main challenges in programmatic trading marketing currently and why? 

As programmatic trading continues its upward trajectory there are some key challenges that advertisers need to overcome and embrace to ensure its success. As more companies enter the market it can be difficult to differentiate between them. The key is to focus on objectives and then drill down into what they actually deliver. Programmatic is a crowded and often complex industry, however, we should start to see it become more streamlined as the market consolidates through mergers and acquisitions. Programmatic companies need to communicate their propositions through clear and simple language to avoid alienating marketers.

Scalability presents a real challenge, as many companies do not have the capability required to scale effectively. Running one campaign separately across multiple demand-side platforms (DSPs) involves high levels of manual set-up time, so multi-platform management systems are required to achieve the best efficiencies and performance at scale. This is becoming a wider market issue and we can see many of the larger agencies adopting the multi-DSP route.

To what extent has transparency improved in the value chain over the past year? 

Transparency has rightly become a discussion point within the industry and as a result awareness is increasing. Brand safety issues such as viewability and ad fraud are now being openly discussed and tackled, and the introduction of cross-industry regulation is reassuring. But transparency means different things to different people. When marketers refer to transparency, they are often talking about agency and vendor relationships, while others talk of privacy. There is still work to be done on definition and clarity, but what it ultimately boils down to is the need for honest and open discussions between agencies, vendors, and advertisers.

What could marketers be doing better to maximise their programmatic investments?

Marketers should whole-heartedly embrace the opportunity that programmatic provides to test, learn, and apply insights to strengthen campaign strategy. They can also examine how data can be used more effectively – first and third party data can provide a better understanding of customers and the touch points they interact with to deliver increased ROI. This is really the promise of programmatic – empowering clients by providing them with the tools to directly link their CRM data to media spend and complete the customer cycle.

The rise in popularity of the multi-platform approach allows marketers to stay at the cutting edge of technology and the changing consumer device mix – and after many false starts it really is the year of mobile. By utilising multiple DSPs through one access point, the strengths of different platforms across geography and device can be leveraged.

What’s the next big thing in programmatic trading? 

We will continue to see consolidation within the marketplace. It is an inevitable evolution against the backdrop of the boom in ad tech we are witnessing, which has gained momentum over the last few years.

As programmatic becomes mainstream and the number one choice for media trading, it is time for marketers to become creative and explore the opportunities it provides. Programmatic technology allows marketers to deliver impactful creative to the right audience across multiple devices, at scale. The next ‘big thing’ is real-time trading across multiple inventory sources, offering much greater visibility of what decisions are being made on behalf of clients and then finally, the inclusion of TV into the programmatic landscape.

With DR budgets becoming tapped out, to what extent can the progress in (linear) TV programmatic trading help shift brand budget into programmatic?

I would not agree that DR budgets are tapped out. It is estimated that nearly half of US ads bought in 2014 were traded programmatically and considering the US is the lead market, there is definitely still potential for further growth.

Brand advertising spend will follow DR budgets migrating to automated trading, as until recently significant brand spend has not been allocated to programmatic channels. But this is changing rapidly as marketers embrace the creative opportunities associated with automated media buying and more premium inventory is becoming available due to increasing publisher confidence.

We are seeing the move towards linear TV programmatic trading – for example, inventory was auctioned for the Super Bowl XLIX. And although it happened in advance rather than in real-time, it was still a market first. It is inevitable that programmatic TV will eventually happen as the efficiencies and insights it delivers provide numerous advantages. Automating this process will deliver scale and allow deeper audience analysis and insights, so in reality the mechanics of linear TV trading are not so different to the digital space – something I know from experience. The common themes mean the transition will be far less difficult than might be imagined, especially given most TV publishers are already heavily committed to the multi-screen digital delivery platforms.

To what extent should publishers pool their programmatic platforms to achieve greater scale for premium private marketplaces? What opportunities could be created?

By sharing anonymous data, premium private marketplaces (PMPs) allow publishers to gain better consumer insights and subsequently deliver more value to advertisers – ultimately pushing up publisher yield prices.

As programmatic advertising budgets continue to increase, releasing premium programmatic inventory will only benefit publishers by creating further opportunities to sell. The fact is that PMPs provide control and comfort for publishers.

How much progress has programmatic trading made in shedding its image of ‘remnant, cheap’ inventory? How much further must it go?

I think we have moved past the preconceptions that programmatic trading offloads ‘remnant, cheap’ inventory. In 2014, we saw many large brands go public with their programmatic strategies, including luxury brand Burberry. This move helps to dispel the myths surrounding programmatic and instils confidence in other marketers to explore the innovation and benefits that it offers. Publishers hold the key to moving forward in the battle to combat the misconceptions by making more premium inventory available to programmatic traders, which they are doing in ever increasing quantities.

What are the remaining barriers to marketers adopting programmatic trading? 

Programmatic trading has somewhat unfairly attracted a reputation of mystery and misunderstanding. With that in mind, education is a key entry barrier that needs to be conquered for programmatic to reach its full potential. Terminology should be clear to ensure marketers fully understand the benefits programmatic trading can bring to a campaign. The industry needs to speak the language of the marketer and not in three letter acronyms.

The programmatic industry is still in its infancy, so experienced employees – especially data analysts and traders – with the appropriate skill set are in high demand. As we see the industry mature this will evolve and training will become more easily accessible.

What are the next wave of opportunities programmatic trading can provide in the overall marketing landscape? 

Without a doubt, the biggest opportunity is to move towards a single view of each user across the media landscape, looking at the entire consumer journey and the various touch points, providing the ultimate attribution model.

True adoption of cross-device marketing is also an opportunity to be explored; once TV is aligned we will be able to capture all major media touch points within attribution. We have already seen progress with smart TVs and streaming devices but once this extends to linear TV, we will no longer view devices in isolation, enabling a holistic view of a consumer’s device usage.

What will you be looking for from entries during the judging stages?

For an industry that is evolving at such a fast pace, it is essential that entries reflect the speed of change and demonstrate forward thinking. I will be looking for solutions that can be delivered at scale – a key challenge that the industry needs to conquer. By using a multi-platform approach, campaigns can offer a truly targeted approach.

How did you get into digital trading/advertising industry?

My media background – I was a client with Land Rover initially – has predominately been in TV and my first professional media role was as business development manager at Thames TV back in 1987. I have since worked with multiple broadcasters including MTV Networks Europe, before making the transition to digital with Microsoft in 2001. Most recently I held the role of executive vice president and general manager of the BBC Advertising Division at BBC Worldwide where I had the great opportunity to bring together equally strong global TV and digital assets to really scale the multi-screen publisher approach across the whole advertising mix.

It was an easy transition to my current role as executive chairman at The Exchange Lab, as it was clear for me to see the opportunities programmatic advertising offered the digital media industry as a whole. For me it has the significance of the next major industry milestone – akin to the rise of digital, search, social, and mobile through the last 15 years.