Is the future of TV ads programmatic or problematic?

Ad-buying technology is evolving fast and marketers must keep up if they are to make the most of the data-driven targeting opportunities it provides.

Mondelez ran a programmatic TV test during the Super Bowl for its Oreo brand
Mondelez ran a programmatic TV test during the Super Bowl for its Oreo brand

While everyone was focusing on the ‘big game’ recently, Mondelez International was zeroing in on big data. The food and drinks company chose the Super Bowl to test programmatic buying for the first time, using it to target TV spots for its Oreo and Ritz brands based on US cable TV audience data, via its technology partner TubeMogul.

Laura Henderson, associate director of US media and communications at Mondelez, says: "We’re committed to programmatic buying. Data-driven buying is the future of TV and media."

Data-driven buying is the future of TV

Mondelez is not the only one prophesying this future for TV. As brands seek ever-greater efficiencies, it’s no wonder it’s so attractive. The relentless predictions are reminiscent of the industry’s version of Groundhog Day: ‘the year of mobile’.

Alex Macnamara, UK managing director of advertising technology company Tremor Video, is sceptical as to whether the market is ready, but believes it is beginning to heat up.

"Convergence of TV and online video is happening," he says. "It’s not a case of if, but when, TV companies start using audience data and selling programmatically."

Second-screen is a priority

A successful trial is a sure-fire way to move the market forward and, Henderson believes, allows it to embark on a much longer strategic journey to modernise Mondelez’s TV advertising, including that for second screens.

"It was a success as, through this pilot, we were able to buy TV ads programmatically for the first time. As we are looking at second-screen as a priority for our marketing activations, this pilot gave us a glimpse into how we can buy media across screens programmatically," she says.

Once you look outside this small trial to what the wider market is doing, it’s easy to see why even the term programmatic has caused problems for brands: it means different things, depending on who you ask.

It’s easy to see why even the term programmatic has caused problems for brands: it means different things, depending on who you ask

This is why Marco Bertozzi, president of media agency Vivaki’s trading platform Audience On Demand EMEA, is more sceptical. "The first thing we need to do is define what we mean by programmatic TV. Is it video on demand? Is it over-the-top services – the actual distribution of linear TV ads and so on? If we are talking about TV ads targeted to a household in real-time, like we have with online display, then it does not exist," he says, "The question I would ask is: do we need it?"

Viewability and transparency

Perhaps not. TV ad-buying isn’t as steeped in layers and complexity as online. The issues that have dogged digital display, such as whether ads are actually viewed, or whether your brand might appear nestled between a couple of naked people, are much less of a concern when it comes to TV.

For example, Sammy Austin, head of programmatic at Moneysupermarket.com, uses technology company Meetrics to measure how many of its ads are actually seen online. She says a key reason for doing this is that "brands want to secure additional investment for programmatic; without confidence in viewability, it will be difficult to do so".

Another hindrance is the creative, according to Infectious Media chief executive and co-founder Martin Kelly. To be effective, TV ads should be able to dynamically reflect the targeting put in place, in real-time. This would require a new approach to TV ads from creative agencies and a rethink of the briefing process for brands.

Creative agencies are off the pace

"Creative agencies are so off the pace, I can’t even begin to envision that creative briefing," says Kelly. "The technology is so nascent, but it makes so much sense to be able to break the audience down by geography, or however you want to use it, and use that to power the creative."

Will it be the year of programmatic TV? No. But the industry spent about 10 years saying that about mobile before Apple, arguably, changed things. Nascent as programmatic TV is, Mondelez and the likes of Sky (with AdSmart) are making the right moves.

With parts of the industry already being left behind, it will be important for marketers to stay on pace as a clearer route is carved to programmatic TV.


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