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Digital Trading Awards Manifesto: What are the main challenges facing the programmatic industry at the moment?

By The Drum Team | Editorial

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June 4, 2015 | 7 min read

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The programmatic industry is constantly evolving. As part of The Drum’s Digital Trading Awards Manifesto, we ask industry insiders how it’s changing and what agencies and brands need to look for on this shifting landscape.

In the first of a series of three articles delving into programmatic, we ask: What are the main challenges facing the industry at the moment?

Martin Stockfleth Larsen, chief marketing officer, Adform

The main issues at the moment for advertisers are ones of quality and visibility. What quality can I expect when I buy inventory using programmatic? To date, the need to drive revenue via programmatic placements has often led to quantity over quality in terms of supply and this situation is starting to be redressed as the marketplace matures.

Big brands are beginning to invest much more heavily in programmatic and they have some challenges when it comes to putting the right metrics in place. Up until now, direct response campaigns have dominated programmatic buying, with revenue-based conversions that are relatively easy to track and measure.

Arguably, programmatic isn’t built for brand campaigns yet, making measuring the effectiveness of brand campaigns a bit trickier. However, an increase in brand spend via programmatic and increasing demand is putting pressure (and creating opportunities) on tech providers and publishers to provide the right sort of programmatic solutions for brands moving forward.

Niall Hogan, UK managing director, Integral Ad Science

The main challenges are it’s too complicated and with too much choice. Take verification as an example: there are over 15 different companies offering viewability tools and benchmarks and 10 companies claiming to tackle ad fraud.

Add in brand safety and you have a very complex mix, when all advertisers are really concerned with is overall quality.

Paul Gubbins, head of programmatic, EMEA, Millennial Media

The evolution of mobile programmatic in particular over the past 12 months has been a significant development for the digital trading industry, but if we are to continue a positive trajectory there are three specific areas of focus we need to address.

The first is education, on both the buy and sell sides. There are still some that find themselves confused by the ecosystem and what it offers, so both sides of the ecosystem need to look at how the benefits of mobile programmatic – in tracking, data, and inventory quality/transparency – are effectively communicated.

Secondly the issue of cross-screen, namely what does it actually mean and how is it being deployed? Programmatic allows advertisers to run always-on, real-time campaigns efficiently, that’s a given. However, a joined-up cross-screen advertising strategy should shift the focus beyond clicks and impressions to better understand consumers across multiple screens.

Finally, and one of the key areas for mobile programmatic in 2015, we have mobile private marketplaces (PMPs). Here we need to ensure that brands understand the benefit in mobile, ensuring that Deal ID is being adopted and bidders upgrade to Open RTB 2.2 and 2.3 quick enough to offer deals and native to their licensed partners.

Nick Reid, UK managing director, TubeMogul

Over the last three years, programmatic has marched steadily into the minds and workflows of agencies and brands in the UK. As with any emerging technology, programmatic has had to surmount challenges during its evolution.

As we've moved into 2015, the rise of major ad technology firms and their efforts to lock advertisers into a single tech stack has become the hottest topic of conversation. While these companies spin a good story about ease and efficiency when everything happens under one company's proverbial roof, the reality is that inherent conflicts of interest and vendor lock-in make these dubious choices for advertisers.

James Brown, UK managing director, Rubicon Project

The primary challenge facing the industry is one of demystification. There’s still an awful lot of confusion out there about who operates in this space, what they do and how they do it. Educating the marketplace is the key to helping brands participate in the automated advertising space.

For our part, at the end of last year we launched Rubicon Project University, a series of events aimed at dispelling some of the myths and confusion our customers encounter on a daily basis.

If the industry is to hit the kind of growth figures being forecast, we all need to be better educated around the operational improvements and cost efficiencies that programmatic is capable of delivering. We should always remember that automated advertising emerged at a time when ad networks were dominant. In fact, in many cases it has supplanted the network model as a more transparent, efficient and beneficial model for buyers and sellers alike.

Just as then, trust and confidence are key: we need to ensure that the marketplaces that we all trade in are as 'well-lit' as possible for clients.

Cameran Harman, head of demand sales, EMEA, LiveRail

Mobile usage is continuing to skyrocket but ad spend has not yet caught up. We're in the midst of a period that will be looked back upon as a turning point for media consumption and consequently, advertising technology.

Being able to accurately measure return on ad spend and target across devices is key for both publishers and advertisers to find success in today's fragmented market – and to ensure ad spend catches up to where people are spending the most time. We're seeing a shift from focusing on impressions to a focus on people, as their time with digital media is now spread across multiple devices.

Amit Kotecha, head of marketing, Quantcast EMEA

As advertisers start to get to grips with programmatic trading, their focus is shifting. Now that programmatic is more of a mainstay in the digital space and as the technology develops, advertisers are asking more questions. For example, viewability; advertisers want to know if their users are seeing their ads, this metric has led to more brand budgets flowing through programmatic which is positive.

That same notion extends to brand safety. This can only come from giving advertisers more insight about who is seeing their ads and where they are seeing them. This is creating huge challenges for vendors and agencies as the industry scales and more ad impressions are bought and sold every day.

One of the key ways in which to solve these challenges is education. The more the industry understands the technology and the nuances the easier it will be for the challenges to become opportunities. We are all still in the discovery stage, the more curious we are the more we will find out.

This article was first published in The Drum’s Digital Trading Awards Manifesto on 27 May.

Appnexus James Brown Rubicon Project

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Rubicon Project is an online advertising technology firm based in Los Angeles, California.

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Integral Ad Science

Integral Ad Science (IAS) is a global leader in digital media quality. IAS makes every impression count, ensuring that ads are viewable by real people, in safe and suitable environments, activating contextual targeting, and driving supply path optimization. Our mission is to be the global benchmark for trust and transparency in digital media quality for the world’s leading brands, publishers, and platforms. We do this through data-driven technologies with actionable real-time signals and insight. Founded in 2009 and headquartered in New York, IAS works with thousands of top advertisers and premium publishers worldwide. For more information, visit

Millennial Media

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Quantcast is an American technology company, founded in 2006, that specializes in audience measurement and real-time advertising.

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AppNexus is an American multinational technology company whose cloud-based software platform enables and optimizes programmatic online advertising.

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