The most effective marketing still needs to be guided by humans, says The Trade Desk’s Matt Harty

The Trade Desk's Matt Harty on the importance of humans in automation

Despite working for one of the programmatic industry’s most successful businesses, Matt Harty believes that we need to remember the importance of humans within a future that promises more automated media trading.

Speaking alongside The Drum Digital Trading Awards, of which The Trade Desk is the headline sponsor, Matt Harty, senior vice president of Asia Pacific, reiterated The Trade Desk’s view that humans are essential to effective media planning.

The theme of the awards of the Asia Pacific inaugural year is clarity and transparency and for Trade Desk, which has recently announced a slew of announcements in this area, the two words represent key strategic investments going into 2018.

On the theme of the awards, IAB Singapore’s Miranda Dimopoulos said clarity and transparency mean everything, while Integral Ad Science’s APAC MD, Stephen Dolan, said conversations around clarity and transparency were, at times, emotional for clients.

Additionally, IPONWEB general manager for Asia Pacific, Ryan Pestano, said for the digital and programmatic ecosystem to have a virtuous cycle of growth in Asia Pacific, more local tech, data and media need to be fostered. From a video point of view, Unruly's Phil Townend called for the industry to stop viewing video strategy as a one-size-fits-all approach.

Digital spend varies across markets in Asia Pacific but what level is the investment in the market(s) you look after and how has that changed?

Jeff Green (our CEO) sees Asia as the key strategic theme for the future. Currently we are investing in Asia more aggressively than anywhere else in the world. We just opened our eighth office in Asia – by way of comparison, we only have four in Europe!

When you look at the biggest marketplaces for digital advertising, you can see why our strategy is so heavily invested in Asia. The biggest digital ad market in the world is the US, but the next biggest markets are China and Japan. If we are going to be a global business, we need to be exploring all the opportunities we can in the second and third biggest markets - it’s a no-brainer.

Asia has been regularly touted as an important investment market for the company post-IPO, how is that going? What can we expect from the next year?

I’m really happy with our progress, but of course there’s much to be done. Next year we will be looking to expand into other markets, but I can’t reveal details of where just yet. As well as considering new geographies of course we will keep investing heavily into our existing offices and growing the teams there, building on our knowledge and expertise.

I also expect that next year we’ll make great progress on expanding our engagement with data and inventory partners – both finding new partnerships that help our clients, and growing existing relationships. We are keen to develop local partners to help them build their client base and improve our overall value offering to platform users.

How mature is the understanding and adoption of automated trading and data-driven advertising?

Well, first of all can I say that, globally, we don’t really buy into the idea of ‘automated trading’ – the most effective marketing still needs to be guided by humans. Humans might not have the number-crunching skills to compete with a computer, but we have something far more important, which is relevant experience that can be used in both creative and analytical ways. Here’s a simple example: A computer needs to be told – and will constantly re-test – the hypothesis that women are far more likely than men to buy cosmetics. A marketer of cosmetics (or indeed any human) doesn’t need to be told this or spend any time testing the idea. It’s human experience that guides the computer or software to allow it to make the smartest and most efficient decisions for a campaign.

I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent! It’s just something that we as a company always want to emphasise. In this brave new world of AI and data-driven marketing, humans are and will remain in the driving seat.

In terms of understanding, it really depends on the market. Some are advanced, some are nascent. Quite a few are at varying degrees in the middle. We are doing what we can to encourage growth and understanding in all markets.

What can the industry do to help increase these investments?

It comes down to the actual brands being engaged with programmatic and understanding what it can do. Agencies are receptive to our capabilities and most of them understand the technology pretty well too. So when we pitch the agencies, there is an element of preaching to the choir. We need to be reaching the brands better to engage them on programmatic and normalise our ideas, so they don’t come out of left-field when agencies pitch them to their clients.

The theme for the awards programme this year was clarity and transparency - what do these words mean to The Trade Desk?

I’m delighted with the theme you’ve chosen this year, because it represents the very tenants of our business. We firmly believe that the future will be fully transparent, and we’ve built our core proposition to reflect this reality.

Tied really closely into this is our advocacy for an open marketplace. What we mean by this is that our clients should be able to choose their platforms, inventory and data partners and providers according to what suits them best and drives the best outcomes. If you take our platform for example, we offer a number of ad safety partners and third-party data providers that clients can choose from.

We recently announced a deal to buy Adbrain, a cross-device technology partner. While obviously we think Adbrain is a great cross-device solution, clients using our platform still have the freedom to choose any cross-device partner they want. That’s what I mean by an open marketplace. It’s the freedom to make the decisions that are right for your campaign – the opposite of a walled garden!

What positive moves are you seeing in Asia Pacific around clarity and transparency? What is The Trade Desk doing?

Well first of all it’s good that people in the region are talking about these issues, investigating them and bringing them to light.

In the US, we’ve recently announced a partnership with White Ops that I believe has the potential to change how the industry tackles fraud. White Ops and The Trade Desk will co-locate servers and data centers in North America, Europe and Asia, to scan every biddable ad impression in real-time. When a non-human impression is identified by White Ops, The Trade Desk will block that impression from serving. The intent is this technology will be applied to every impression The Trade Desk bids on that runs through White Ops, on a global basis.

In a year's time, when looking back at this theme, how do you hope the industry will have evolved or progressed?

Change is incremental. The industry has been changing for the better, in a process that has been going on for many years now. Eventually we will look back on what is consuming the industry now as the dark ages. But realistically I don’t think that’s going to happen in a year.

One of the biggest barriers to transparency is the walled gardens. Until they open up there’s never going to be true transparency in digital advertising. And the problem is, as long as walled gardens exist, other players will feel like it’s okay for them to do it as well.

In a tenuous link to transparency, if you were invisible for a day, what would you do?

Can I choose the day? If so, I might time it to coincide with the annual strategy day of my competitors. Then I could go and sit in their offices and learn all about what they are planning. On a slightly less devious note, if I had to fly that day I’d upgrade myself to first class or maybe hitch a ride in someone’s private jet. And of course, help myself to all the premium stuff along the way!

The Drum Digital Trading Awards Asia Pacific took place on October 27 in Singapore and saw businesses including Entropia, Xaxis, Adcolony, KFC, PHD India, Unilever and Big Data for Humans scoop some of the prizes.

Charlotte McEleny

Charlotte McEleny is The Drum's Asia Editor, charged with finding all the interesting industry news and insights from the Asia Pacific region. During her year in Asia, she's covered topics as wide ranging as industry overwork to artificial intelligence, and interviewed top CMOs such as Alibaba's Chris Tung, and world famous creatives such as Rankin.

Based in Singapore, she travels the region regularly, attending and presenting at many top events, such as Spikes, Ad Week Asia and Innovfest.

Prior to her role as Asia Editor, she spent 10 years working across the London marketing trade magazines, even picking up an award for Best Digital Team at the PPA Digital Awards during her spell as digital editor at Marketing.

All by Charlotte