Tag Archive: ad tech

  1. Apple is retiring its iconic iTunes in a move reflective of a changing industry

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    Apple is retiring its iconic iTunes in a move reflective of a change in industry

    Back at the beginning of the millennium, the music industry was in a serious state. CDs were in decline as consumers digitised the way they consumed music: but they were doing it for free via Napster and other pirate websites.

    And then, in 2001, the industry’s knight in shining armour appeared, in the shape of Steve Jobs. He announced the birth of iTunes at the Macworld Expo, heralding a music revolution. The era of MP3 music was here, and over the next six years Apple would sell more than 100 million units of the iconic iPod with which to listen to those MP3s. Apple was at the pinnacle of its success, having redefined what music ownership looked like: no longer physical records, tapes or CDs, but a world of songs in your pocket.

    In the 18 years since its launch, iTunes has become a media behemoth, a one-stop shop for users to consume not just music, but movies and TV and, latterly, podcasts too. But over the last few years, downloading has been eclipsed by a new kind of access: digital streaming.

    A new contender in the market

    In 2008, just a year after the launch of the first iPhone and when iTunes was at the height of its powers, a small Swedish start-up called Spotify launched its music streaming service across eight European markets. Its two-tier model – free to the consumer ad-funded, and a premium subscription option – gave users on-demand access to stream millions of tracks. Music streaming was still in its infancy, accounting for just 1% of global music revenues in 2007, and Spotify’s initial growth was good but unremarkable. By 2013, they had 30 million active users and 8 million premium subscribers.

    It is the six years since 2013 that have seen a seismic shift in how music is consumed. By March of this year, Spotify’s user base had skyrocketed, with 217 million active users and 100 million premium subscribers around the world, a number which looks set to continue growing. By opening up the streaming market and persuading users to give up ownership of their music, Spotify has arguably redefined the music industry, just as Apple did when it persuaded users to give up physical ownership.

    The consolidation of Apple

    iTunes’ download model was starting to look clunky and old-fashioned. In 2015, Apple launched Apple Music, its streaming service which it hoped would compete with Spotify and other broadcasters with its three distinct components – on-demand streaming, radio and Apple Connect, which allows artists to upload songs, videos and photos for followers. Since then, as streaming has increasingly become the norm, there have been rumours that iTunes would be wound down.

    That finally came to pass this week, as Apple announced at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose that it would replace iTunes with standalone music, television and podcast apps. This will align Apple’s media strategy across the board: iPhones and iPads already offer separate apps for Music, TV and Podcast, and Mac/Macbook users can expect the same.

    However, the move is symbolic as well as practical. As Amy X Wang says in Rolling Stone, “by portioning out its music, television and podcast offerings into three separate platforms, Apple will pointedly draw attention to itself as a multifaceted entertainment services provider, no longer as a hardware company that happens to sell entertainment through one of its many apps” – and that’s increasingly important as iPhone sales have started to slow.

    Consolidation moves reflecting the wider market

    This move towards entertainment services is being seen across the technology and communications sector: we’ve seen the tech giants buy up rights to live sport, while AT&T acquired Time Warner for $85bn and Disney bought most of the 21st Century Fox empire, fending off an offer from Comcast. This trend is of course being driven by changing consumer behaviour as internet connections over 4G and now 5G accelerate – allowing for uninterrupted streaming of music, TV and films. We’re seeing the effects of technology on the media and communications industries, and lines between these sectors will continue to blur. This blurring of boundaries will then pose another issue on how they can all be monitored & assessed both separately and in totality.

    Image: Shutterstock

  2. Changing the rules of the internet: can Zuckerberg turn around Facebook’s fortunes?

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    After a difficult year, Facebook is looking for solutions

    Facebook is facing heavy scrutiny from people and governments across the world after a range of transgressions: the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the hiring of a PR firm to attack George Soros, the departure of 10 top executives and the livestreaming of the Christchurch terrorist attack among them. These and other issues have forced Zuckerberg and his senior management team to appear before governmental committees and the press to explain exactly how they are going to change. This was all reflected in Facebook’s share price, which peaked in July 2018 but had plummeted by 40% by the end of the year.

    The conclusion? Facebook must focus on real, meaningful evolution in order to ensure a prosperous future – and that’s just what they appear to be doing.

    More cooperation between governments and tech companies

    After months of appearing before government committees and journalists around the world, in March this year Mark Zuckerberg seemed to finally kick off the evolution that his organisation so urgently needs. Having rejected demands for increased regulatory oversight of Facebook for years, in an editorial in the Washington Post Zuckerberg called for more cooperation with governments to deal with the problems posed by internet platforms and emergent internet technologies: “By updating the rules for the internet, we can preserve what’s best about it – the freedom for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things – while also protecting society from broader harms”.

    Changing the rules of the internet

    Zuckerberg argued that there were four areas that would require deeper cooperation between tech companies, governments and regulators: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability. Measures he suggested included the creation of an independent body to review Facebook’s content moderation decisions and the formation of a set of standardised rules for harmful content; regulation for common standards for verifying political actors; a focus on creating laws that address advertising for divisive political issues; and GDPR-type regulations across the world. Nick Clegg, the head of Facebook’s global affairs and communications team, spoke about how “the way that the rules are drawn – or not drawn – will be quite different to how they are drawn in ten years’ time… and I think big tech companies have a choice: either they play ball and they try to play a responsible role in that debate, or they try to duck it all together.”

    Practical changes for the Facebook platform

    Facebook hasn’t stopped at promoting cooperation between tech firms and governments: the evolution strategy has also extended to a series of changes, announced in April, that ‘put privacy first’ because ‘the future is private’. These changes include encrypting Messenger messages and fully integrating the Messenger platform with WhatsApp; trialling a ‘private like counts’ feature; and ways of sharing content without a permanent record. Furthermore, the company is rolling out ‘FB5’, an aspirational redesign of the platform that puts the spotlight on what Facebook would like to be – thoughtful, meaningful and calm. The Groups functionality will be central, and there will be an increased focus on Marketplace as well.

    Other ideas for how to control Facebook

    The challenge facing those governments and regulators with whom Zuckerberg wants to work to create a new, brighter internet is massive. Siva Vaidhyanthan notes that “regulators are trying to address Facebook as if it’s like companies they have encountered before. But Facebook presents radically new challenges. It is unlike anything else in human history – with the possible exception of Google.” Governments are trying: the UK, for example, proposed a duty of care standard for platforms to ensure they filter harmful content, and the US government is expected to issue a $5bn fine for the violation of a 2011 order preventing the distribution of user data to companies such as Cambridge Analytica. But Vaidhyanthan compares this approach to dealing individual weather events rather than tackling climate change. Others have suggested more radical approaches: Facebook’s co-founder Chris Hughes called for Facebook to be broken up because “Mark’s influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or government. He controls three core communications platforms – Facebook. Instagram and WhatsApp – that billions of people use every day… The government must hold Mark accountable.” Meanwhile, US senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren proposed dramatic antitrust regulations, and a Bloomburg article suggested that, as social media has been proven to be addictive, it should be regulated in the same way as the tobacco, alcohol and gambling industries – and not the communications industry.

    Radical solutions for a brighter future

    The issues that Facebook faces are dramatically different to, and more important than, those faced by any other company, and they require dramatically different solutions. The varied approaches announced by Facebook in recent months are collaborative, radical and positive, and we at ECI Media Management look forward to seeing them come to fruition.

    With increased transparency in the Facebook marketplace, response from consumers is likely to be varied. Users, Governments and Corporations alike should clearly understand how their data is being used by Facebook to target Ads.  Changes to transparency and the required investment into security, will no doubt impact the firm’s profits. As customers and co-operations learn more about the result of their time and investment into the platform, initially it is likely demand for the Ad space will see a minor drop, before companies become educated on how to utilise on this newfound transparency. At ECI Media Management, we recognise the value and immense scale of Facebook, which will be crucial to monitor as it moves into this new era.

    Image: Shutterstock

  3. US senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren takes on Big Tech

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    Embattled tech firms face a new challenge

    There’s no denying that the tech giants are having a hard time of it at the moment. There have been the scandals that we’re all so familiar with: Facebook is still dealing with the fall-out from the Cambridge Analytica affair as well as accusations that it allows interference in national elections, while earlier this year Google once again had to face the wrath of angry advertisers whose ads had been run alongside inappropriate content on YouTube. They’re also facing numerous legal challenges from national and EU lawmakers in Europe over issues such as privacy, fake news, tax and competition – and of course there is GDPR to contend with.

    Into this rather bleak landscape strode Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic candidate for the US presidential election in 2020. In a blog post Warren laid out a plan to break up the tech giants, namely Amazon, Facebook and Google, by forcing them to divest some of their biggest acquisitions and money-spinners.

    Why is Warren proposing such radical antitrust measures?

    So what are the reasons that Warren gives? There are two key ones: in her view, the big tech companies damage small businesses and innovation which stifle healthy competition. In effect, she believes that Facebook, Google and Amazon in particular have too much power over the economy, society and democracy. Facebook scored an own goal by promptly removing her ads around this issue from the platform. It later restored them, but they had neatly illustrated Warren’s point for her (!).

    What would these antitrust regulations mean?

    The implications of Warren’s proposals are huge. She would pass legislation designating platforms with more than $25bn in revenue as ‘platform utilities’, which would be banned from owning both the platform and the participants at the same time. This would mean that, for example, Google would need to spin off Search, with Amazon doing the same with Marketplace. Perhaps even more dramatically, Warren also claimed that she would appoint regulators to reverse mergers that had already been completed – including Facebook’s purchase of Instagram and WhatsApp, and Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods. This would lead to a world where Facebook would be competing with Instagram and Amazon’s power over sellers – and buyers – would be curbed significantly.

    Warren wants to implement these measures to “restore the balance of power in our democracy, to promote competition, and to ensure that the next generation of technology innovation is as vibrant as the last”. She points to the antitrust case involving Microsoft in the 1990s which forced the ‘original’ tech giant to behave with increased restraint into the new millennium and, argues Warren, paved the way for the growth of the very giants she now wants to shrink.

    Are there alternative ways to promote competition?

    Warren is not alone in wanting to address the huge power held by the tech giants, particularly as the public feels increasingly uncomfortable about the amount of power they wield, but she is the first to have crossed the threshold to an antitrust solution. Of course, the chances are that Warren will not be the next President of the United States (she’s up against many other Democratic candidates, not to mention the incumbent) and, even if she is, many believe that her measures will be extremely difficult to implement. However, what is undeniable is that the tech firms must evaluate how they operate in order to regain trust from users and from governments. A middle ground could be, as suggested by the Report of the Digital Competition Expert Panel, which was commissioned by the British Government and led by Barack Obama’s economic adviser Jason Furman. The report recommends a new regulator to force firms to ‘rewire’ themselves so that users have more control of their data and can switch between providers; it also suggests modernising antitrust rules.

    As ever, Google, Facebook and Amazon have an uphill struggle on their hands, and they must examine their business models hard if they are to continue their success and deflect the scrutiny of governments across the world.

    Image: Shutterstock

  4. With Sizmek fading away – a monopoly is on the rise

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    The demand side ad-server is at the core of most advertisers’ online media tech stacks, delivering real time data on the most important metrics, including impressions by date, hour, viewability, fraud, brand safety, reach and frequency, as well as consumer activity such as clicks and conversions.

    In most regions, an advertiser who wants an independently audited and approved ad server catering to most vendors and formats (while also offering tools for handling dynamic creatives and programmatic media buying) only has three options; Google, Sizmek and Adform. There are some smaller companies around but on a global level in developed markets these companies have a purely nominal market share amongst major advertisers (in our experience).

    If an advertiser also wants its platform to be truly independent of the supply side, then only Sizmek and Adform would be left on the short list, despite Google being the most dominant in the industry.

    Now there are strong indications only one independent will remain on that shortlist, as Sizmek has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US. What the outcome will be is uncertain; will Sizmek be entirely closed or parts sold off, or re-invigorated?  For the health of the online media industry, we sincerely hope for the latter option.

    But to be practical, this is yet another blow to smaller, independent suppliers in a rapidly maturing and consolidating industry under ever-increasing pressure for efficiency and value creation from the duopoly (or monopoly, depending on your delineations) of the behemoth walled gardens of Google and Facebook. Google has undeniably had the financial muscle to take user friendliness, simplicity, consistency, reliability, packaging, and customer support to heights that Sizmek has never gotten close to. Google’s virtuous circle of intense focus on user value and growing user bases is difficult for contenders to catch up with.

    Sizmek had several different versions of its ad server running simultaneously probably because transitioning clients was a complicated process – subsequently it tried and failed to charge more for the new versions which hasn’t helped its business model.

    But in all of this, are we being unfair to Google? After all, no other ad server has opened up as much to, and received as many accreditations from, the MRC. Vetting by an independent and globally trusted media measurement organization has concluded that Google’s reporting is trustworthy. Still, its market dominance is troubling, not so much what led to that dominance or the abilities it affords it. Too much of the fate of the online media industry is dependent on the will of the giants.

    If Sizmek really falters, where will its clients turn? Those that made a conscious choice for independence and still want to, could turn to Adform (MRC approved) or one of the new generation of growing platforms who are seeking this accreditation. For others we suspect it’ll be the easy but less inspiring way out.

    Image: Shutterstock

  5. The effectiveness battle: performance marketing versus brand marketing

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    One of the key themes at DMEXCO earlier this month was the effectiveness of performance marketing versus brand marketing, and the related tension between offline and online marketing.

    A trending topic

    A week or so ago, ECI attended DMEXCO in Cologne, and there was a lot to take in from the 1000 exhibitors on over 100,000sqm of exhibition space! We shared our summary of what we learned straight after it finished, but there is one topic that particularly piqued our interest that we explore in more detail in this article. That topic? The trends and debate around the effectiveness of brand marketing compared to performance marketing and the related tension between offline and online advertising.

    Short-term results versus long-term relationships

    As online media generates a vastly larger amount of data than traditional media, and much more rapidly, it is tempting to find ways to obtain higher click and conversion rates from digital campaigns. Marketers and their bosses have always been under pressure to prove the impact of marketing and, ideally, to cut out the parts of a media plan that aren’t working as hard as others. Performance marketing is a relatively new term for short-term, sales-driving online marketing that often uses layers of data and targeting to ensure that as few impressions as possible are served to people who are unlikely to register a conversion that can be attributed to the campaign in question. Performance marketing therefore contrasts directly with traditional brand marketing, for which TV is still a key channel. Brand marketing techniques are the result of decades of academic research which have concluded that high brand equity – and resulting long-term sales growth – are the result of moderately frequent messaging that resonates thanks to evocative creative. Those fundamental truths have not changed with the invention of online media spaces. However, it might never be possible to prove a direct and independent cause-and-effect relationship between a specific ad impression and a sale. So while brand marketing is great for building consumer relationships, it’s difficult for any responsible marketer to turn down a form of marketing that actually has the word ‘performance’ in it!

    The word on the street at DMEXCO

    At DMEXCO, the advantages of both brand and performance marketing were covered in detail – with tools to support the latter dominating the exhibition floors of the expo, while the advantages of a more sustained brand marketing strategy were extolled on the stages of the conference. There has long been feisty and fascinating debate between marketers about which should be given the lion’s share of a marketer’s budget, especially their online media budget. At the DMEXCO debate entitled ‘How marketers can be enlightened, empowered and enabled in a mobile world’, the MMA’s Chris Babayode explained how conversion attribution modelling accentuates the tension between performance marketing (the champion of last touch attribution) and brand marketing (which looks better when using multiple touch attribution).

    Last touch attribution of conversions for example is a common, simple method. It tends to demonstrate that methods such as search and retargeting generate a large number of conversions, leading many marketers to shift significant budget into these areas. Multiple touch attribution, on the other hand, recognizes that a click on a Google search link is not itself the cause of a conversion, and that various recent campaigns and on- and offline touchpoints should be taken into account. Multiple touch attribution can, for example, reveal what audiences and what sites will generate conversions further down the road.

    Don’t pick sides

    An interesting take on the debate appeared in an article by Mark Ritson in Marketing Week last month. It’s a well thought-through piece which we strongly recommend that any marketer

    reads, but Ritson’s conclusion is that, in fact, marketers shouldn’t pick sides: the best way forward for your business in the long term and the short term is to keep up a traditional mix of more long-term branding and more short-term sales promotion. Ritson quotes Peter Field and Les Binet’s book The Long and Short of It: you want ‘60% of your budget invested in long-term brand building and 40% on more immediate activation’.

    The effect of GDPR

    It is interesting to see how the introduction of GDPR in the European Union has further blurred the line between the trackability of off- and online channels and therefore the distinction between which should be used for performance or brand marketing purposes. Many people have stopped allowing brands to track their data, meaning there is, and will continue to be, a large market for non-trackable impressions that are therefore similar to offline impressions. This shift in supply and demand is a huge, although likely temporary, opportunity. Several speakers at DMEXCO remarked on the drop in programmatic supply after GDPR was rolled out in May this year – despite the fact that media consumption of course didn’t drop.  It’s all about choosing the right media for the right job – a truism that was illustrated perfectly by the exhibitors of some of the world’s most advanced ad tech companies using paper fliers for their marketing at DMEXCO!

    Demonstrating how online can be an effective channel for brand marketing campaigns

    An interesting case study into how effectively online platforms can be used for brand campaigns was highlighted in the YouTube-hosted event ‘How consumer choice has changed the video landscape’ by Johnson & Johnson’s Northern Europe Marketing Director Meghan Davis. She related the story of how J&J briefed a few different creative agencies to create an ad, independently of one another, using the same dental hygiene brief. All three resulting videos were then tested on YouTube and the one that performed the best was run on a wider scale. This brilliant campaign showcases how using quick-effect metrics and the flexibility of online media can improve the impact of a branding campaign across both online and offline; and demonstrates how live data can inform decisions to optimize a campaign and maximize its short- and long-term impact. We believe that this is an online strategy that could be adopted by more marketers looking at how online media can be leveraged for brand campaigns.

    As is so often the case with advertising, the answer to the brand marketing versus performance marketing conundrum is not binary. The best results lie in achieving the right balance: as Ritson says, ‘a great brand plan will deliver short-term results within the year and set up longer-term, enduring advantage from stronger brand equity and improved funnel conversions. A great brand plan manages to hit short-term sales targets while also funding longer-term brand objectives that focus on brand health metrics.’ That means just the right mix of on- and offline channels, working in harmony to drive brand equity and meet sales targets. And to achieve that holy grail, robust strategies and creative messages and visuals that resonate, backed up with insight and measured with the right KPIs, are of critical importance.

    To see how ECI can help you to obtain the perfect balance, contact us at .

    Thumbnail image: Shutterstock

  6. ECI’s DMEXCO download

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    ECI was at DMEXCO in Cologne this week: from ethical hackers to in-housing, here’s what we learned.

    Important questions and lots of answers

    ECI joined thousands of fellow ad industry professionals at DMEXCO in the German city of Cologne this week. The digital marketing and advertising trade fair and conference has become a key feature on advertisers’ calendars as they seek to understand and capitalise on the countless opportunities – and avoid the pitfalls – offered by ad tech. There are so many questions on these people’s minds – should I bring my ad tech in house? Who are the right suppliers? How can I best leverage my company’s proprietary data? If the answers to these questions are anywhere, it’s at DMEXCO – although you have to filter out a lot of noise on the way…

    We came away from our two days at DMEXCO with two big takeaways. The first is how cluttered the marketplace is and the (perhaps related) knowledge gaps, particularly among those who should really know better. The second – quite possibly a result of the first, as we’ll discuss later – is the debate around inhousing ad tech versus outsourcing it.

    A cluttered marketplace and knowledge gaps

    DMEXCO is crowded, noisy, hot and very exciting – much like the industry that it showcases! As we found while we were there, the more you learn, the more you realise just how much there is to learn, and the effort required to keep up with the latest developments in online marketing. As is so often the case in the digital world and particularly the digital marketing industry, buzz words and phrases were swirling around – ‘performance marketing’, ‘attribution’, ‘intelligent’, ‘data’, ‘personalisation’ and ‘disruption’. Our old friend ‘email marketing’ is still up there, with general consensus that it remains an important tool. The new phrase on everyone’s lips – one to watch out for – is ‘ethical hacker’, the information security experts who identify vulnerabilities that non-ethical hackers could exploit: critically important in these times of cyber threats and security breaches. We observe, with a wry smile, that DMEXCO is perhaps the only place where the words ‘AI’, ‘machine learning’, ‘algorithm’, ‘performance’ and ‘optimisation’ can be used in the same sentence unironically.

    Despite this lack of irony, there was some healthy scepticism at the conference. Taking to the stage in the event ‘The next mission in marketing’, Philipp Markmann talked about the ‘absurd level of complexity’ in the media market, with far too many services to choose from, meaning that advertisers are overwhelmed by choice. Is this because publishers and vendors are targeting and talking directly with CMOs rather than focusing on agencies, who traditionally identified the best solutions on their clients’ behalf?

    Perhaps this is partly down to surprisingly low levels of knowledge in the industry. A common opening line from exhibitors at DMEXCO was “do you know a bit about ad tech?” We raised this with one of them who explained that a large proportion of attendees had a lower than expected knowledge of ad tech and digital advertising. AppNexus, one of the largest ad tech suppliers which was recently sold for $1.6bn, was mistaken for an app creator by more than one attendee, while one ad tech exhibitor said that they met with a media agency rep who didn’t know the difference between a first and second price auction, let alone the implications of each. There is evidence that the struggles, illustrated here, to keep up with online media markets are leading to irresponsible media buying, ultimately resulting in advertisers taking matters into their own hands by bringing their activity in house.

    In-housing or outsourcing?

    It was no surprise, therefore, that the in-housing of media buying was the subject of many of the events and discussion at DMEXCO. It’s being driven by a feeling that media agencies need to be doing more to earn their clients’ trust, but also by the understanding that marketing and sales in general, and online marketing in particular, should be closely integrated with a brand’s core business – especially when it comes to technology and strategy. Philips’ global head of digital marketing Blake Cahill, speaking at an event entitled ‘Brave the seismic shift – the future of creative digital consultancy’, recommended a mix of in-house and agency, with the latter focusing on media strategy and planning. This consultancy role would allow them to increase their fee – a glimmer of hope for agencies alarmed by clients taking activity in house. Meanwhile, in ‘The next mission in marketing’ event, speakers concluded that, in order to thrive into the future, agencies need to be experts, strategic and proactive thinkers, and reduce their complexity. Interestingly, as we reported last week, WPP’s new CEO, Mark Read, announced this as part of his strategy to future-proof the group.

    Media and creative agencies were notably quiet at DMEXCO – is that because of the problems they are having keeping abreast of developments in the space? Advertisers and publishers, as well as Google and Facebook, were prominent on the stages, while ad tech providers and publishers dominated the exhibition floors.

    But that’s not all

    Of course, discussion at DMEXCO also went far beyond whether advertisers will move their tech stacks in house and what that means for their agency partners and others. To succeed in digital advertising, marketers must ‘focus on the real consumer needs, understanding their behaviour’, as Alexander Ewig said in ‘The next mission in marketing’ talk. Rahmyn Kress, Henkel’s Chief Digital Officer and Debora Koyama, Mondelez’s CMO, also spoke about what success looks like in digital marketing at the ‘Future skills in brand marketing: how to transform into a modern marketing department’ event. They agreed that the FMCG sector is lagging behind when it comes to digital marketing, and that they – and all brands – must focus on the problem they want to solve, rather than the tools at their disposal. Kress and Koyama also concurred that data must be at the very heart of digital marketing; this is indisputable, but there was also a feeling across DMEXCO that advertisers should seek a balance between hard data and a more human gut feeling.

    A final observation has to, of course, come from Google. Their space on the exhibition floor was colourful, eye-catching and designed to look like a garden, complete with a wooden fence around the perimeter. A witty take perhaps on how Google and fellow tech giant Facebook are often called walled gardens for their reluctance to allow third-party tracking? We mentioned this comparison to a Google rep outside the fence, who laughed and then gave a very reasonable explanation for the fence: some advertiser heavy-weights were inside, making important deals with Google. Funny that in our world of AI-optimisation, data driving and agile bidding, business is still done over coffee and sealed with a handshake.

    Thumbnail image: Helene Kruse

  7. The power of transparency in programmatic

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    Programmatic is growing up

    Programmatic has finally come of age. It is celebrating a decade of existence with ever-increasing prominence in the advertising sector. In the US, eMarketer has projected that by 2019 83.6% of digital display ad dollars will be spent programmatically – that’s not far short of $46bn. It is also finally maturing, becoming more stable and reliable as the major players start to take responsibility and drive transparency.

    Scandals, scams, wastage and a lack of understanding

    It was not always thus. Programmatic has long been seen as the wild west of advertising: while advertisers see and have enjoyed the benefits, many have major concerns around a perceived lack of transparency, leading to issues such as wastage and a lack of brand safety. Some sources believe that up to 60% of investment in programmatic was being lost by the time it reached the publisher, while Digital Market Asia estimates that 80% of ad dollars are ‘lost’ to the programmatic chain: SSPs, third party data, trading desks, exchanges and the DSP. Ad fraud scares such as the Hyphbot scam, and the brand safety scandals of 2017 did nothing to help the reputation of the sector.  

    At ECI, we believe that a key issue has been a lack of understanding on the part of the advertisers, who often don’t know what data to request and how to scrutinise and analyse it. This allows agencies and ad tech providers to play faster and looser with their clients’ investment than they might otherwise. As they say, ‘mystery means margin’.

    Forcing programmatic to be more responsible

    In the last 12 months or so, advertisers, agencies and even governments have forced ad tech suppliers to start taking their responsibilities seriously. Armed with knowledge and the right talent, they have been taking ad tech providers to task – P&G, for example, announced earlier this year that it would slash its digital spend by $200m,

    having identified last summer that, in Q2, $100m of their digital investment had little appreciable impact on their business. Meanwhile, GroupM took heed of advertisers’ concerns by updating its viewability standards for display and video ads, and the Guardian sued an ad tech supplier for failing to disclose fees earned from advertisers that appeared on the publisher’s site.

    New initiatives are driving transparency and trust

    In short, advertisers and agencies are pushing for more control over media performance and what it costs, meaning that they are demanding better targeting, better viewability, less wastage, less fraud and improved brand safety. Suppliers are delivering, with initiatives such as ads.txt and first-price auctions providing more transparency, and mergers between ad tech vendors and content providers eliminating many of the middlemen who make the process so murky. ECI strongly recommends set-ups where advertisers have full rights to all the data related to their buying; we have established a comprehensive set of best practice guidelines on how to buy programmatically in a selective way that minimises risk and costs, while maximising value. These guidelines have been proven to solve issues around transparency, viewability and quality, often dramatically improving ROI.

    Transparency will drive success for advertisers, agencies and ad tech providers

    Transparency is a real business differentiator – not just for advertisers, but for those providing programmatic services. As is so often the case, trust and openness are absolutely critical, and those agencies and tech providers who guarantee transparency will be the winners in this lucrative area. For advertisers, the win will be in choosing the right partner for great performance and transparency, and having a thorough understanding of the data and processes.

    Thumbnail image: Best-backgrounds/Shutterstock.com