If economic cycles turn on average every six to eight years – growth, leading to a tightening or even recession, then to a reset and regrowth – then 2018 was the crescendo in the first cycle of programmatic. Since its early days, programmatic has improved advertising in both process and efficiency, delivering targeted advertising and reducing wasted spend, but over the last year the sector saw rapid growth followed by a peak in the challenges facing it.
The programmatic industry is now at a stage of maturity where I am reflecting on the consequences of innovation and expansion, and contemplating how we as an industry can take steps to create a more stable environment for all sides of the market. As we progress into the second cycle of programmatic, we should home in on a few core areas of industry focus.
2018 saw the GDPR come into effect, with a view to ensuring a higher level of transparency between publishers, brands, and consumers, specifically regarding the use of consumer data.
In the second cycle of programmatic, Xandr, along with IAB Europe and other industry players and their customers, has invested thousands of hours into developing a unified transparency and consent framework. We believe that using streamlined methods and language to describe the parties in the ecosystem and data – ranging from collection and use to user choice and control over the parties collecting it and how they’re using it – will help to avoid mass confusion in the ecosystem. Without a streamlined approach to user transparency and choice, advertising technology solutions will become fragmented and unable to interoperate with each other, potentially reducing or eliminating publishers’ and advertisers’ ability to choose the partners they want to work with.
No one should want to see that happen.
Transparency is a relevant topic throughout the advertising ecosystem. Any lack of transparency can be attributed in part to disintermediation of buyers and sellers, in some instances by their technology partners, some of whom are directly competing against the clients they work with.
Thankfully, in the face of fragmentation, the industry is rebuilding more direct relationships and creating a more open dialogue. Technology companies are responsible for helping their clients and partners navigate this complex ecosystem. So, for our part, Xandr is continuing to work on policies that improve supply chain transparency for both buyers and sellers, including an initiative to amend our publisher contracts so that we are able to share sell-side technology fees with buyers.
Inappropriate content or the lack of control over where your ad is placed should not be tolerated under any circumstances, as made clear by many large and vocal marketers. Viewability, ad placement, and brand safety are now table-stakes for any brand or media seller. Tools such as “guaranteed views” have improved CTR and CPMs for clients in the past, and our focus in the second cycle will continue to be on building tools that give marketers increased control over their campaigns rather than just a view on how campaigns have performed. This approach is in direct response to brands that are now demanding more in-depth insights into the “how” and the “why”, which by default improves transparency and control.
Global vs. local
The first cycle of programmatic was characterised by rapid scaling, which involved a lot of testing, learning about automation, and the development of new skillsets, largely within big global technology companies.
However, it’s becoming clear that a strictly global approach is not ideal for the growth of the second cycle. As the digital and addressable ecosystem increasingly encompasses TV, digital, video, audio, and OOH, we will need to pay attention to differences between markets, which can be dramatic in areas like regulation, measurement, trading nuances, content consumption, and consumer behaviour. As a result, these cannot, and will not, be solved by a ‘one size fits all’ strategy and data approach.
Content is the new battleground
In digital advertising, the battleground has shifted: the challenge is to win eyes on screens, and those screens can be through multiple channels all within the same household. This is resulting in a never-seen-before convergence of traditional broadcasters, telco companies, and gaming manufacturers. While consumers will benefit from the price wars and battles for their eyeballs, advertisers will need to embrace increased fragmentation for attention with a wide variety of pricing and remuneration models.
As such, brands will need consultation more than ever on their creative strategies and technology relationships, paving the way for the evolution we are seeing of traditional agencies and holding companies. For Xandr’s part, I am finding that advertisers are leaning into opportunities where they can learn more about digital buying and the programmatic ecosystem. We have been having productive conversations with marketers directly, educating them on topics like auction dynamics, supply chain transparency, and buying on outcomes.
Finally, to navigate and leverage media and content fragmentation, a layer of simplification will be critical. The second cycle of programmatic will provide less room for superfluous intermediaries, non-transparent behaviour, and distrust between brands and consumers. While it will take time for the right advertising currency, creative opportunities and consumer value exchange to emerge, we must capitalise on them when they do.
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