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Top programmatic takeaways from RTA Summit: From debunking myths to addressing brand safety


By Natalie Mortimer | N/A

November 20, 2014 | 9 min read

From transparency between brands and agencies, to educating the industry on the nitty gritty of the programmatic space, The Drum takes a look at the key points the advertising industry as a whole should take away from day one of ACI's Real Time Advertising Summit taking place in London this week.

The term programmatic is not helpful

Programmatic ad buying has shaken up the online ad world and turned it on its head for good measure, but there’s still a huge amount of confusion around what it actually is. This is somewhat the fault of the ad-tech industry, according to Havas Media chief exeuctive Paul Frampton, who asserted that it has created a haze of bewilderment and cluttered the space with acronyms.

“The term programmatic is particularly unhelpful,” he said. “I would ask that anybody who is going to speak today thinks big in terms of this topic. So think about the opportunity for advertising; this is not about just media; this is not about just technology; it’s not about just data; the opportunity is to change the way advertising operates and the operating model for brands.

“Often we get tied up in our abbreviations and three-letter acronyms in this industry. The programmatic space has got more three-letter acronyms than any other digital or advertising space. Everyone needs to demystify the space to make it accessible.”

Echoing Frampton’s opinion was Chris Dobson, executive chairman at programmatic media marketplace Exchange Lab, and former executive vice president and general manager of advertising at BBC Worldwide.

He said the industry should “talk in the language” of clients and brands when explaining the space.

“It’s about what clients want. Paul [Frampton] talked about three-letter acronyms and at Microsoft [where Dobson served as UK commercial head] we were the masters of that.

"The reality is you’re supposed to be answering marketing questions and you’re supposed to be answering brand questions, so talk in the language of the advertiser. [Think] what are they trying to achieve and show how you’ll achieve it.”

Transparency, transparency, transparency

The word on almost everyone’s lips was that sought-after holy grail of programmatic trading; transparency.

There has been much discussion and pleas from the publishing world in particular around the lack of transparency in programmatic pricing, something that client services director at The Trade Desk, James Patterson, said needs to addressed, and should involve agencies and companies disclosing “win rates, where they are winning and where can be optimised” to ensure more “dynamic bidding”.

Sammy Austin, head of programmatic at, which has taken its programmatic buying in-house, claimed that one of the biggest problems around transparency is that there is actually confusion about what the term means.

“A lot of the time there are assumptions around what it actually means,” she said. “And for me transparency is quite closely aligned to honesty. I was at a conference a few months ago and there was a conversation going around about viewability, and one agency said, ‘what should I do? One of my client's campaigns has got 50 per cent viewability, if I tell them that they’re not going to spend with me anymore’.”

The secrecy and lack of communication around the limitations of programmatic, continued Austin, has led to a mistrust that is driving advertisers to start thinking about bringing their buying in-house to avoid such scenarios.

The difference between transparency and disclosure was an issue that web video ad firm Videology’s UK managing director Rich Astley raised, who argued that businesses shouldn’t feel forced to reveal all of their information.

“Everyone should be transparent about the way they do business,” he said. “But I think there’s a big difference between transparency and disclosure. For me, being a technology company, you have to be transparent in terms of how you’re transacting and the way you’re doing business and your service models, but that doesn’t mean to say necessarily that you have to be fully disclosed.

“I think there are certain things that are fundamental to every business, agencies included, and they don’t have to talk about every single cost they are taking on board, but they do need to be transparent about how they are transacting in the ecosystem. There is a lot of confusion around that point.”

Education breeds success

So how to debunk the myths and spread the programmatic word to the industry masses? The simple answer, according to’s Sammy Austin, is education, which she said is an ongoing process at the price comparison site, across all departments.

Austin referenced her previous point (above) about the problems surrounding the transparency of viewability, and the compulsion from agencies to keep rates from brands, and said that if they were educated from the start the dilemma would not arise.

“If that client had understood that viewability is an industry-wide issue, and they understood what the measures are being taken to improve it, then I think if you tell them they’ve got 50 per cent viewability they’re not going to be as shocked or surprised, because they know that other advertisers and brands are facing the exact same thing…. [they should be] educated from the start.”

Mobile programmatic is where it’s at

The spend in mobile programmatic is becoming “inarguable”, according to Andrew Morsy, vice president of sales, EMEA at mobile programmatic company StrikeAd, who referred to Google and Facebook as trailblazers in the space.

He called the opportunities for geo and hyper-local targeting as “the nirvana” of mobile and urged brands to start flowing money into mobile real-time advertising and embrace the different strategies that advertising on the platform requires.

“You’ve got to go in with both feet because it’s a big, big win for brands,” he said. “Rich media is something you have to embrace on mobile, because banners on mobile will become a thing of the past. Google and Facebook are already there so you can bet your bottom dollar if those guys are doing it it’s the right thing to do.”

Morsy pointed out the benefits of mobile advertising, including the fact that ads are displayed solus on mobile websites and apps meaning they have high viewability.

Brand safety in the RTB environment

One of the biggest fears that brands have when entering the real-time bidding (RTB) environment is that doing so will see their ads served in unfavourable contexts or beside questionable content. Oxfam is just one example of a brand that fell victim to this when its YouTube ad appear against an ISIS recruitment video.

There is, however, a way to avoid such pitfalls, according to Gareth Shaw, commercial director at advertising technology platform PulsePoint, who made a rallying cry to the industry to unite to become “agents of change” and offered tips to those on the sell, buy and tech sides.

For the sell side, Shaw advised treating programmatic partners as if they are an extension of their own team and to debunk the myth that RTB is a “dumping ground” for remnant inventory.

For tech companies he urged they invest in human and machine verification filters and that they share best-practice black lists with partners.

Finally for the sell side Shaw said it should work with certified partners and “change the culture of chasing cheap clicks and low-cost reach, and be prepared to pay more for premium inventory; you’ll be surprised by the results”.

Shaw touched on “the elephant in the room” that is fraudulent traffic, and which he argued is threatening to devalue the industry, which is predicted to serve almost 50 per cent of ads through programmatic in 2014.

“The IAB predicted 47 per cent of all display ads will flow through programmatic technology yet despite this rapid growth, the perceived risk around ad fraud and the fear of where ads are placed and a lack of transparency means that in a second IAB report they identified 58 per cent of European marketers still don’t have a programmatic strategy in place, which I find staggering.”

However, he warned that of the brands that are embracing programmatic they are increasingly challenging their partners to quantify and qualify where their ads are placed, which although a positive thing, is actually throwing up a different kind of problem.

"This is causing a sub set of the problem," he said. "Because what happens when they [brands] challenge their partners about where the ads are going to be there’s no other solution at the moment other than to come up with white lists, walled gardens and private market places.

"Private marketplaces are great when used in the right way but a white list isn’t, a white list cuts a campaign off from one of the main advantages of using real-time bidding and that’s the liquidity of supply."

The Drum is media partner for the RTA Summit.

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