'If I leave my agency tomorrow what can I take with me?' – Nestlé digital lead Gawain Owen on data ownership in programmatic advertising

Nestlé has outlined an advanced programmatic road map which will see it push for its own data management platform and programmatic technology. Its digital lead Gawain Owen tells Jessica Davies why his biggest question when it comes to working with agencies is “if I leave tomorrow what could I take with me?”

Programmatic trading has courted controversy since its inception. To date it has been the domain of agency networks, tech giants such as Google, and numerous independent tech vendors all jostling for space. Yet the majority of brands have remained unconfident of the area – held back by a lack of understanding of the technology and how it can benefit their business. Until now.

The contrast in today’s digital landscape is vast. Brands are increasingly taking ownership of programmatic trading and challenging their agencies on exactly how their budget is being used in the area. Much still needs to change for this to be the dominant model, but the very fact that brands are becoming ever more savvy in the area can only benefit the digital ecosystem as mistrust and confusion regarding the the method of trading – issues which have previously held back spend – begin to erode, to make way for a new order.

Nestlé is among the brands to boast an advanced approach, having spent the last 18 months embedding programmatic trading into the heart of its business, to the extent that its brand managers and its most senior management understand the tech and how it can drive efficiencies for the business. It is now eyeing the next stage in its road map – the holy grail for marketers – how to establish its own data management platform (DMP) and ultimately how to ensure it owns the technology that powers its trading.

'Some of these agencies are like Japanese knotweed'.

Speaking to The Drum, Nestlé’s digital lead for the UK and Ireland, Gawain Owen, says the future for brands in the programmatic trading landscape will be ownership of the technology. However, he stresses that this future trend is not due to any mistrust in how its agencies manage its operations, but rather a pragmatism all brands must consider when it comes to establishing sustainable data strategies, such as an in-house DMP would yield.

Nestlé has a strong relationship with its major agency partners and vendors, which include VivaKi and TubeMogul, both of which Owen stresses are “excellent” at managing its operations and which it trusts completely. However, he likens some agencies to the invasive plant species Japanese knotweed.

“When an agency owns stuff it’s hard to get rid of them. Some of these agencies are like Japanese knotweed – they do everything for you. So my question to myself is always ‘can I leave tomorrow? What can I take with me if I want to do that?’

“If a brand sees programmatic is their long-term future they should start to understand today that they are in a procurement business, and there are periodic agency reviews. If they were to change their agency, what could they take with them and what would they lose?

“If they were two years into programmatic and they did an agency review and the agency said ‘you’re taking nothing with you, we own all of it’ – that business would either have to stay with them or start again. So, I would urge every brand to ask the agency – and it’s not because we don’t trust them – but just ask ‘if I leave tomorrow – what do I take?’.”

Agencies will always be necessary partners for brands according to Owen, but all businesses need to evolve, and a future in which brand-owned DMPs are more commonplace will also force tech vendors to adapt accordingly. Having previously largely dealt with clients and publishers through the agencies, they will need to question whether they have the required support systems and teams to work directly with brands.

“Everyone needs to change. Agencies need to change their ways of working. Network agencies are key to our business. We work with VivaKi and they do an amazing job for us – whether it is buying traditional or digital media – but they all need to look at how they are structured. They are very good at buying TV, but they don’t own the TV company, so when you translate that to programmatic, they have fantastic teams, but the future is about owning the technology. There will come a time when clients will own the technology.”

He describes programmatic technology as an “enabler” using the analogy that his wife, who works for an airline, is in effect an enabler in the same way. “Her staff concessions mean I travel cheap, but at times it doesn’t always work out. Each brand has their own challenge, but the biggest problem is that there are brands that don’t think they’re a sales organisation.

“Direct response is sales, everyone out there whether it is Reckitt Benckiser or our Dulce Gusto – it’s all sales – if they don’t sell product they sell the business plan. So a brand manager needs to understand that they have got to drive their growth. Whether we like it or not – technology is bringing data to the table. At times we like the data, at other times we might challenge the data,” he adds.

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.