Diageo woos Nestle’s digital exec Gawain Owen to be first programmatic boss

Diageo is building a programmatic strategy.

Diageo has poached Nestle’s Gawain Owen to be its first head of programmatic media as it looks to take more ownership of a discipline that has intimidated many companies to date.

Owen started the role this month, meaning details of his plans for the business remain under wraps for now. However, it stands to reason that Diageo will be looking to exert greater control over programmatic buying as its statement about its latest hire suggests.

It read: “Gawain Owen joined Diageo in November 2016 as head of programmatic media for Diageo Plc. In this newly created role, Gawain will be responsible for building Diageo’s programmatic capabilities and developing new and exciting partnerships in this field.”

The move ends Owen’s four-year stint at Nestle, which he joined as direct response media manager before going on to lead digital marketing for the UK and Ireland.

That Diageo has opted for a marketer like Owen, who was one of the first brand side marketers to talk about programmatic in any real depth, speaks volumes about its intent for a form of media buying it has had limited in-house expertise in the past. Part of this trepidation could stem from concerns that programmatic trading leaves at alcohol ads at risk of appearing in the wrong places such as kids’ sites and how those can buys can be linked to sales.

As an FMCG marketer Owen, is no stranger to these issues. While at Nestle, the outspoken Owen would regularly talk about the need for marketers to brief their agencies in the right way or risk the transparency and trust issues that have plagued programmatic trading since its inception. Tied to this, is his view that brand-side marketers should do more to understand the intricacies of programmatic trading rather than leaving the bulk of the heavy lifting to their agencies.

Diageo’s rival Pernod Ricard has a similar view on the role of automated advertising, having made several investments over the last year to give it more skin in the game. Most recently, it penned a deal with Tubemogul to plan, buy and measure its Australian brand advertising, with a view to move everything in-house. The point was touched on when The Drum interviewed the company’s head of digital in the UK Adam Boita, who talked up the importance of hiring experts to help on the path to programmatic.

Diageo’s greater interest in programmatic would have likely been a key part of its global media review earlier this year. Having the data-driven expertise, which sits at the heart of programmatic trading, was mentioned as a key reason why it picked Dentsu Aegis to handle its North America, Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia accounts. Meanwhile WPP’s Mindshare will oversee India and South Africa alongside Publicis Groupe’s Mediavest handling of Australia.

For more insights on programmatic and digital advertising attend The Drum's Programmatic Punch event on 8 December in London.

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