Pixability's MD on alleviating the walled gardens ‘tension’ and solving marketing industry needs

Pixability’s Chris Bennett on alleviating the walled gardens ‘tension’ and solving marketing industry needs.

The power players Google, Facebook and Twitter are quite comfortable in their walled gardens, reaching mass consumers across various platforms, at a phenomenal scale. Brands and advertisers have to play nice, but how can they get the most bang for their buck?

Video advertising technology company, Pixability plays the middleman between the two by helping brands and agencies choose the best platforms for their campaign needs. But as Chris Bennett, managing director at Pixability explains, handling the relationship between the two has inherent complexities.

“On the one hand, we are solving a marketing issue for brands, but then, equally, on the flip side, we are continually talking to our platform partners like Google, YouTube and Facebook to understand how they are solving some of these industry needs,” he says.

The fact that these platforms “won’t necessarily play nicely with each other” is fueling the tension, according to Bennett. He says Pixability helps brands by stepping in, independently, to “look at the best way of connecting and engaging with consumers irrespective of which platform it is”.

Another source of tension is how brands tackle everyday business challenges alongside wider industry issues. In a bid to show some transparency, Facebook and Google agreed to third-party verification of its metrics in February this year. But, for Bennett, while walled gardens are notorious for being “coy and cagey” about allowing advertisers to scrutinize their buy, the truth is in the numbers.

Referring to Pixability’s latest report findings on walled gardens, he says: “The viewability on the walled gardens is two times higher than the open web. When it is scrutinised, it is as strong as you would expect.”

And despite concerns about the “murky media supply chain”, online advertising spend is still on the up, with two-thirds of advertisers committed to increasing online ad spend. In a study published by the Guardian, Facebook and Google attracted one-fifth of global advertising spend last year – almost double the figure of five years ago.

The conversation then turns to the issue of brand safety and the role of machine learning. Earlier this year, the screws tightened on Google following revelations of ads appearing alongside inappropriate content on YouTube. For Bennett, the human eye is a crucial part of the campaign process.

“We use machine-learning tools to interrogate the YouTube ecosystem to identify the highest quality brand-safe content but then, before we push any campaign live on behalf of a client, we will always have a human pair of eyes look over channels and placements to make sure that what the machine has told us is reflective of what the brand requires,” he explains.

Increasingly, brands are starting to show an appetite for implementing machine-learning techniques to enhance their campaign performances. The Drum’s report on machine-learning in April highlighted the increasing importance of data scientists in the near future to make sense of all the data generated from brands. Is this something Bennett is seeing too?

Bennett says he was surprised to see a senior agency executive 12 months ago at a data conference in Europe and asked her why she was spending three days of her time there. She responded by saying her biggest challenge in the back-end of 2016 into 2017 was to hire 100 data scientists for her company’s business through the European market.

For Bennett, this says it all in terms of the shift that is happening towards more data-driven techniques. He also sees it as a big part of Pixability’s future.

“Data science is an important part of our business and I don’t see that changing. I only see it getting bigger in the future. We have data from YouTube going back nine years and that pool of data gets bigger on an hour-by-hour basis.”

Finally, when asked what more the tech giants could be doing to alleviate advertiser and brand concerns around the walled gardens, Bennett has this to say: “I think demonstrating a real appetite to solve advertising concerns around these issues – like standardisation of some metrics around video views – can only help the media planning process and can only bring them closer to their customers.

“These companies are very advertiser-friendly already. They do a lot for clients. I think there’s tension between maintaining platform-specific data inside the walls – which I don’t see changing any time soon – while still leaning into industry issues such as viewability and brand safety. That’s where we are going to, increasingly, see them play friendly,” he concludes.

Following the furor around misreported figures, Facebook has released new metrics to give advertisers more insight into consumer behaviour. Read about it here.