The Trade Desk

Get with the programmatic

What do marketers need to do to demystify this so-called 'dark art'?

Programmatic advertising is arguably one of the most disruptive innovations that modern marketers have ever encountered. And as always when an industry is turned on its head by something new and transformative, it comes with its fair share of impassioned debate.

Campaign, in association with The Trade Desk, has implemented a far-ranging research project, surveying 500 brands, agencies and customers to discover the impact programmatic is having on the marketing landscape.

Launching this insight series, Campaign and The Trade Desk hosted an exclusive dinner round table, bringing together top-level agency figures to discuss some of the top research insights.

Moving programmatic into the long-term
One of the greatest challenges both agencies and brands have found in using programmatic has been moving it out of the tactical and into the strategic. This is borne out by initial results from the research project, which revealed that both brands and agencies focused on return on investment as a key outcome but that the major yardstick for success continued to be cost per click or acquisition.

"A key to programmatic’s future success will all be down to making sure the message is at the heart of the strategy, rather than perhaps focusing on place and time," suggested MEC’s chief strategy officer, Verra Budimlija.

Our research may have revealed that the number one future target for brands is to achieve return on investment but tellingly, priorities number two and three are targeting and scale. Is it possible that by focusing on the tool, marketers are losing sight of the strategic goal?

"Much of programmatic’s opportunity comes back to brand, to communication basics," Stuart Butler, chief strategy officer, Havas Media suggested. "We’ve just got the ability to make it so much more creative, so much more personal. It’s what marketing and communications is about – making connections with people."

This is a sentiment echoed recently by the newly installed CMO of L’Oreal’s Western European operations, Stephane Berube: "We need to stop talking about digital – it’s all about marketing."

Getting value for money
Aiming for clarity is clearly a goal for many in the industry, with topics such as ROI and brand safety scoring highly for both brands and agencies in our research. Round table attendees agreed that programmatic in particular is often seen as a ‘dark art’ and it is their responsibility to reduce that complexity for clients.

Sacha Berlik, managing director EMEA, The Trade Desk, explains: "There’s so much education of brands that needs to happen and programmatic needs this new transparency." One of the important issues was to take the granularity and complexity of programmatic but separate its value from the individuality of execution. The number of vendors, suppliers and inventory drives clients towards a raft of choices and combinations.

Stuart Butler, chief strategy officer, Havas Media highlighted the challenge of choosing suppliers in a densely populated supplier market. "It’s about simplifying it for clients, getting them from point A to point B," adds Jane Valkova, head of digital strategy team connect, Maxus.

In-house or outhouse
Getting a grip on the value of programmatic, of understanding its contribution to the communications whole and adding a general sense of feeling under control seems to be behind the growing debate around in-house versus outsourced.

While it’s true that some brands have taken programmatic planning and execution fully in-house, Berlik suggests that ‘in-housing’ is about control: "Big brands are looking for programmatic specialists and programmatic planners - not because they want to do it on their own. They just want to have some competency in-house to talk with the agency."

This is again backed up by our research, which suggests clients want visibility of the process but are happy to and, in fact, expect their agencies to control critical aspects such as targeting and brand safety on their behalf. "Clients do trust us and they want to believe in us," adds Dan Hagen, chief strategy officer, Carat.

Moving programmatic to the next stage
Data continues to be at the heart of much programmatic debate but there is a notable shift in how it’s being used. "We are still being pushed to use this data," Butler reveals, "but it’s designed to make everything more efficient but not to grow grand insight. Where we’re seeing green shoots is smart people imposing a hypothesis on the data and asking us to prove it. When you do that, that’s where the magic happens, that’s where the proper insight is."

Advertising may be informed by insights, optimised by data and served by robots but ultimately, brand growth is the result of a holistic, collaborative approach between brands, agencies, vendors and publishers.

Back row l-r Nicola Kemp, trends editor, Campaign; Sue Unerman, chief transformation officer, MediaCom; Ben Walton, head of digital, Initiative; Sacha Berlik, managing director EMEA, The Trade Desk; Stuart Butler, chief strategy officer, Havas Media; Jane Valkova, head of digital strategy team connect, Maxus; Adrian Lee, global digital strategy and innovation director, Vizeum; David Grainger, chief strategy officer, m/SIX.

Bottom row l-r Dan Hagen, chief strategy officer, Carat; Ashish Mahajan, EMEA product director, IPG Mediabrands; Verra Budimlija, chief strategy officer, MEC; Jo Walsh, global digital director, StarCom; Lisa Smith, account executive, The Trade Desk

Research results

Details of the results of Campaign and The Trade Desk’s research project will be released in an initial white paper, out in December, followed by a full research report in January 2018.


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