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The walled garden – don’t be tempted

In Communist Russia, stores often had just one thing to give you, whether you wanted it or not. I have heard stories told of people queuing up with vouchers, not knowing what they were going to receive once they got to the front of the line, only to end up with a roll of toilet paper, a jar of pickles or a bar of soap. To get everything they needed for their home, they would have to queue again and again.

Digital marketing, trumpeted as a world of intense creativity and limitless possibilities, now faces the prospect of a similar scenario as brands are being expected to queue up and take whatever is given to them from large-scale suppliers – only, in this case, we are giving it the soothing title of ‘the walled garden’.

The walled garden is a tempting destination filled with access to vast amounts of data and premium inventory that any media buyer would love to secure. But what is the cost?

When programmatic video ad buying was introduced, it was seen as a solution for planners and brands to deliver real-time optimisation across multiple channels. It made workflow more efficient, reduced the time spent to book campaigns and permitted of-the-moment reporting that resulted in less wastage and stronger ROI.

If walled gardens are erected by media owners, we run the risk of losing the efficiencies that have made programmatic so attractive. Brands and agencies will either have to put all their ad spend into one network and risk missing large sections of their target market, or they will need to execute campaigns across a range of walled garden networks, essentially nullifying the time and efficiency benefits that programmatic has provided.

Other dangers include:

  • Inability to frequency-cap across different inventory sources or shift money between them easily
  • Potentially forced to share and store your sensitive customer data with a company that may only let you use it on their network
  • Complexity reconciling different, proprietary data sets for targeting, optimising, billing and measurement

Additionally, there are concerns that it would be a challenge for a platform to remain neutral when selling inventory. As Heineken USA’s senior media director Ron Amram told Digiday last month, he didn’t want to use a company’s adtech platform when purchasing the same company’s inventory because: “It’s a conflict of interest even if there’s no malice or manipulation, and I don’t want to put (a company) in a (that) situation.”

So why are walled gardens being allowed to proliferate? It boils down to two reasons – perceived simplicity and the fact that marketers are often incentivised to use them. It’s very tempting to work with a media company’s own platform as it is designed to increase efficiency when dealing with their product. It doesn’t hurt when you get preferential rates, either.

But, you’ll always need more than one platform to drive your brand messaging and going with an independent platform doesn’t mean you won’t buy from your key media providers anymore. It means that you’ll be doing it alongside other platforms, regularly monitoring results and optimising your spend. Independence = control. And as the advertiser, this is something you shouldn’t blindly hand over.

As AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong said at the 2015 AdExchanger Industry Preview event: “When you close systems off, open systems will continue to leapfrog closed systems.”

So how can a smaller brand prevent itself from getting trapped in the weeds? Education and independence are key. Consider building a bespoke adtech solution for your company by cherry picking or partnering with best-in-class options that don’t have an interest in where an ad runs or what data you use.

People want selection, service and access to open markets. Don’t be tempted by the walled garden – for it is a silo in all but name. In my opinion, a public park, open to all, is a much better solution.

Nick Reid, UK Managing Director, TubeMogul



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