IAB Programmatic Marketplace.

By Stephani Estes
Vice President, Digital Strategy and Implementation Director

This week, the IAB held its 2016 Programmatic Marketplace. Here’s a recap of the biggest discussions.

Learning to DEAL: The Programmatic Marketplace coincided with the IAB Tech Lab’s announcement of DEAL, the new primer for publishers seeking to stem the rising tide of ad blockers. DEAL works in partnership with LEAN, the recently released primer for digital ads. With DEAL, the IAB encourages publishers to:

    • Detect ad blocking, powered by open source script provided by the IAB
    • Explain the advertising value exchange to site visitors
    • Ask for changed behavior, specifically turning off ad blockers
    • Lift restrictions or limit access to content based on ad blocker usage

The message to publishers was to value your audience through DEAL, and set the ground rules for advertisers through LEAN. This is just the latest step in the IAB’s war against ad blocking, but what remains to be seen is how quickly publishers will onboard both DEAL and LEAN.

Content and Creative Matters: While there was much discussion around data (what would a programmatic conference be without lots and lots of data talks?), there was also a significant focus on content. Ruud Wanck of GroupM Connect kicked off the day by positing that the next wave for programmatic is making compelling content. Now that it’s easier to reach the right audience at the right time, we need to start engaging those audiences (or, as Wanck put it, “stop making rubbish content”). Loren Grossman from Annalect echoed this idea in his discussion around programmatic creative (the most interesting presentation of the day, in my opinion). Grossman advocates for developing the audiences first, and then create custom messages through flexible, dynamic creative assets. Focus on creating personalization that matters, then measure lift on the back end. Put another way, make ads that are more relevant to users, and you’re likely to see much better results. What I love about this is the idea that campaign data shouldn’t live and die within the walls of the analytics or media departments – it can be just as powerful and functional when looped all the way through to the creative department as well. Dynamic creative optimization (DCO) has evolved beyond the IP address, and there’s a whole host of data available to create better, more relevant content. Beyond the primers of DEAL and LEAN, better-informed content is another key tool for combating ad blocking.

Expanding to New Channels: The biggest development discussed was the recent NBCU announcement on NBCUx for Linear TV, referred to by Walt Horstman from Audience Xpress as a “watershed moment” for programmatic TV. Despite this forward progress, there are still major questions around how this will work in practice. There was definitely a dose of healthy skepticism from other speakers (primarily those from the buying side of the table) about how truly programmatic this offering will be – with some going as far as to say the term “programmatic TV” isn’t fully accurate, and using terms like “data-driven” and “smarter” TV in its place. Although NBCU claims this offering will truly be national in scale, others believe national programmatic is still a long way off, if even viable. Michael Bologna of MODI Media posits that any “programmatic” TV will still likely be focused on local markets, where the greatest opportunity for efficiency from automation exists. Given how new this space is, most applications have been, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, complements to linear TV. The programmatic pipes are indeed starting to expand outside of conventional digital channels, but it’s a slow process and we’re still in the early days.

The Era of Collaboration: As a disruption to the old ways of media buying, programmatic has had a major impact in the way sellers and buyers work together. It’s no surprise that in a bi-partisan summit like this one that the word of the day on this front was collaboration. Mac Delaney from Merckle evangelized that the old-school negotiation approach of the past, where buyers beat sellers into submission over rates, have evolved into a new era of collaboration and partnership. Jim Norton from AOL emphasized that the old-school sales approach of golf outings and lunches as relationship building has given way to the idea of sales reps as “digital doctors”. On these two points I could not agree more – and the undercurrent of this idea of collaboration is technical expertise. Ask any media planner/buyer who their go-to contact is on the sales side, and I’ll bet you a pony they’ll give you the name of their ad ops person. It’s no longer enough to be a relationship builder – collaboration means providing value, and buyers value someone who is an expert on their platform, and can bring that technical expertise to the conversation. Partnership across the desk is less about rates (although those still matter), and more about how to best leverage a digital platform for client goals. Even if we’re moving away from IOs and into programmatic pipes, there will still continue to be a role for human beings who bring expertise on how to best use those pipes.

Header Bidding: This was by far the meatiest topic of the day, and it was clear that there are still a lot of questions about this on both sides of the desk (here’s a good primer for what it actually is). Here’s my best synopsis of what was a very complex conversation about header bidding:

      • It’s growing fast – something like 70% of the comScore top 500 have implemented header bidding technology on their sites. Sam Cox of MediaMath attributes this to the higher CPMs yielded through these tags (which, as of last fall, appears to be true).
      • Buyers are still not sure about the value that it adds – Kristina Goldberg from MediaVest called out the importance of buyers ensuring that they’re using header bidding strategies in the right way.
      • Implementation matters – Shields emphasized proper placement of tags to minimize latency and ensure equitable treatment across partners. The IAB Tech Lab is currently working on standards and guidelines for this.
      • DSPs will need to be prepared – header bidding leads to higher queries per second (qps) for DSPs, and they need to invest in infrastructure to be able to accommodate that volume. As Cox put it, there’s more hay in the haystack.

There were many other items discussed around header bidding (the idea of a futures market for programmatic media, the header bid wrapper as the new SSP, etc.), and I could probably spend a whole blog article on this topic alone. The bottom line is, we’re still on the back side of the learning curve on this one. There’s clearly some healthy skepticism on the buy side, so I anticipate buyers moving selectively on this strategy. Of course, by the time there’s broad understanding of it all works, there will be a whole new yield management technology for us all to learn and debate.

Some final thoughts:

  • There was a conspicuous absence of discussing fraud in the programmatic space. This continues to be a major issue, and while the industry has made progress in tackling fraud, there’s still a perception (fueled by some realities) that programmatic is a synonym for supply chain risk.
  • There was a panel discussion on cross-platform programmatic measurement, but to be honest, it felt a bit like throwing the whole kitchen sink at the wall to see what sticks. While it’s true there is no one size fits all approach to cross-platform measurement, I’m hungry for a discussion that talks about what data is most important, and how to get that data. Erica Schmidt from Cadreon did share an interesting study about the impact of viewability (specifically time in view) on campaign performance, and this was the most practical application of measurement from the day.
  • The Town Halls at the end of the day were a really great venue for attendees to sit together and have deeper discussion on specific topics. I love that the IAB started adding these, and since I failed to take notes during mine (hey, it was a lively conversation…and there were cocktails provided), I’m really looking forward to their recaps.
  • And thus sums up my highlights from this year’s marketplace. What were yours?