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Rubicon James Brown Adtech

Rubicon MD James Brown outlines what he expects from Digital Trading Award entrants and why term 'remnant' is no longer relevant in programmatic


By The Drum Team, Editorial

January 22, 2015 | 8 min read

Ahead of The Drum's Digital Trading Awards (DTAs) 2015 Rubicon managing director and DTA judge James Brown outlines what he expects to see from entrants and where the programmatic market is heading.

James Brown

What are the main challenges in programmatic trading marketing currently and why?

From the seller’s point of view, the biggest challenge is resources. Despite the wringing of hands about automation in digital advertising, people are as important as ever – especially those that are digitally savvy. We’ve seen time and time again that when a seller is able to put dedicated resources with digital expertise behind their automation strategy, that’s when it really takes off.

As for buyers, the only thing holding them back in the past has been the range of formats and placements available in this channel. But through private marketplaces, which have made great advances and improvements over the past year, we have automated roadblocks, skins and other high impact formats, including IAB Rising Star units.

To what extent has transparency improved in the value chain over the past year?

The growing adoption of our platform, across private marketplaces as well as the open auction, is a testament to the increase in transparency – with buyer confidence being a clear prerequisite to that growth.

It’s my belief that buyers have become smarter about dealing with bad actors and the overall risks around buying inventory on a non-transparent basis. We have always encouraged our customers, including many of the top brands in the market, to sell their inventory transparently, protecting their direct sales with the relevant blocks and price floors. The real-time bidding (RTB) protocol has transparency built into it, with the site URL in the majority of cases being passed in the bid request. It is my hope that by this time in 2015, we will have moved beyond this issue to the extent that it’s no longer a point of debate.

We at Rubicon Project released a whitepaper outlining the steps we’re taking, both on our own technology platform and within the wider industry, to promote inventory quality and suppress suspicious activity.

Unlike other companies in the ad tech space, we take great pride in our ability to provide a transparent marketplace that gives buyers and sellers the confidence to continue to use our platform to conduct their business.

What could marketers be doing to maximise on their programmatic investments?

Some buyers are active on the open marketplace (aka real-time bidding), but are still missing out on maximising access to higher value inventory and placements that are only available through private marketplaces.

These 1:1 deals promise better performance and results, not least because of the growing range of high impact formats, roadblocks and skins only available through this channel, which I’ve referenced above. This is really exciting stuff, which some have said is “revolutionizing” the automated advertising channel.

Private marketplaces also offer preferential access and exclusivity. Being able to offer something to your clients that your competitors can’t is key – whether the deals you set up with sellers are truly ‘private’ and exclusive or preferential is down to you of course.

With DR budgets becoming tapped out, to what extent can the progress in (linear) TV programmatic trading help shift brand budget into programmatic?

Though the origins of advertising automation were in the direct response category of advertising, we have come a long way since then. Today, we’re seeing a growing number of brand campaigns transacted through our platform globally. This is especially true with the advent of private marketplaces, with publishers and mobile app developers bringing first party data to play to help marketers reach their target audiences.

It seems inevitable that TV will be sold through automated channels, as with all media. It’s a huge medium and a major opportunity to automate both workflow and execution worldwide. It will be exciting to see how it develops.

To what extend should publishers pool their programmatic platforms to achieve greater scale for premium private marketplaces? What opportunities could be created?

At Rubicon Project, we work with some very successful publisher co-operatives -- with member companies that were once direct competitors now working together collaboratively.

We are powering co-operatives in a number of markets, including France, Denmark and the Czech Republic. Part of their aim is to pool inventory and data with a view to competing at scale with the likes of Google and Facebook. And this is certainly one of the most exciting developments we’ve seen over the past couple of years in our space. At the risk of stating the obvious, the most successful co-ops have been the ones that are effectively resourced, set up and marketed to buyers. Creating a co-op is definitely not a case of “build it and they will come.”

How much progress has programmatic trading made in shedding its image of ‘remnant, cheap’ inventory? How much further must it go?

The term ‘remnant’ inventory is very 2008, and suggests that there is something wrong with inventory for remaining unsold. It has the same quality as any other inventory on a premium publisher’s site – the same audience, context etc. If anything, the term ‘remnant’ to me smacks of the old, blind ad network world that we left behind quite a while ago.

We have seen premium sellers take a more and more agnostic approach to their digital sales. By this I mean offering the opportunities for agencies to buy their inventory either through a traditional insertion order (i/o) or through our platform – whichever they prefer – as long as the return is the same for the publisher.

In short, there is no longer anything called ‘remnant’ on premium sites and mobile apps. It is simply unsold inventory.

What is the next wave of opportunities programmatic trading can provide in the overall marketing landscape?

As seen in our acquisition of both iSocket and Shiny Ads in November, we believe it’s the automation of direct orders for guaranteed advertising campaigns (what the IAB has officially termed “Automated Guaranteed”), which represents automated workflow and execution moving up the inventory stack to reserved inventory sold at a fixed price.

Automated advertising has evolved to become an amazingly dynamic trading mechanism, and automated guaranteed means we can bring efficiencies to all of the audiences we deliver, across the entire the buying and selling process. As automation proliferates across all selling channels, the opportunity for it to move into different media becomes very exciting. Any media that is “adserved,” including radio and outdoor, can effectively be automated. There is plenty of opportunity for growth.

What will you be looking for from entries during the judging stages?

When I look at award entries, typically I like to see evidence of good strategic thinking, formulation of a solid implementation plan and a really clear outline of the commercial benefits the project has brought.

Too often with award entries, I’ve seen a focus on the money side without the strategy, or vice versa, which is where many entries fall down.

How did you get into digital trading/advertising industry?

I started working in a media agency called Red Media in 1999, buying print and digital media. In those days, you used to email the creative to the media owner, then phone them up a month later for the results. And this was in the heyday of the dotcom boom! We’ve come a long way since then.

Rubicon James Brown Adtech

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