Just once in a while as all old folk do, I look back and think about what I have been through to date. In my own career I have lived through and actively participated in two revolutions of media. The first being the arrival of digital, the second being the programmatic tidal wave. Just in five years our landscape has been turned up side down, this is no small thing, this is the biggest change since TV.
As with the advent of digital there was a lot to take in and as agencies and indeed advertisers there was much to learn and adapt to from a marketing perspective. As I look at programmatic I think about the stages we have been through in just five years and I look at it from the eyes of the advertiser. As I considered this I ended up identifying a few stages:
Stage 1 - In the dark. A lack of knowledge, expertise and interest by the majority of advertisers and beyond (2008-2012)
Stage 2 - Over informed. Every conference, agency, vendor selling and 'educating' on the topic leading to confusion (2012-13)
Stage 3 - Frustrated. Who to trust, where to turn, reacting to the largest mob and protest (2014 - the lost year)
Stage 4 - In control. Acknowledgement of importance, leaders appointed, control and calm restored. A considered time. (2015 -)
Surprised by the last one? The rest seem obvious enough and easily recognised by many but perhaps the last one surprises. This is what I am seeing now, as I spend considerable amounts of time with global clients discussing programmatic strategy I see a new phase and I have to say a welcome one.
The trouble with the earlier stages was that agencies and publishers were moving at break neck speed to get ahead of the programmatic revolution. It is worth reminding people that it was 2008 that Audience On Demand started, just think what you were doing in 2008 and how relevant RTB and programmatic was, I think credit to the agencies for spotting this so early.
At the same time some bright publishers and middle ware companies also spotted it and started to adapt rapidly. The one area that was slower to adapt was the marketing / advertiser community and suddenly they were engulfed by programmatic without actually being structured to handle it.
That lack of structure and process meant that many marketeers felt exposed and unable to handle the information overload and were therefore susceptible to baying crowds talking about 'taking it in house' and not trusting your agencies and so on.
Joanna O Connell in the US and Brian Jacobs in the UK are two good examples of people who missed the overall point that at the time 20 per cent of the advertiser spend was going to trading desks the rest to RTB networks who were excused of any rigour or investigation and that was always a frustration of mine.
But I honestly believe we have reached Stage 4. Stage 4 is very encouraging because it involves the advertiser taking back the initiative and not just listening to the conference crowers, they are taking control. I have seen in just a few months advertisers appointing people to lead the programmatic efforts of their businesses, people who can truly dedicate time and effort to the space and establish a real and deep understanding of the topic.
I was on a panel in New York last year and I said that many of the hot topics around transparency had been a distraction for advertisers and indeed they had wasted a lot of time when they could have been progressing strategically, the reason I said that was because I knew that when an advertiser was empowered and spent the time to dive into the topic, they often came out realising that the issues could be solved quickly and then return to working together on a strategy.
As anyone who has been around the block a little knows, an educated client is a good client, contrary to what you may believe when you are starting out on your career when you think a client who does not understand a topic puts you in a strong position, we know the opposite is true and that is where we are getting to now.
Our conversations are becoming more detailed, much bigger in ambition and scope and for the first time challenging the total ecosystem, not just agency of records. As more questions are being asked by clients, the more they realise that billions of dollars are being spent on companies that have been hood winking them and continue to do so. It is no surprise to see many of the RTB networks and managed service DSPs struggling. As one of the financial analysts said 'we were wowed by their algorithms but discovered they were just arbitraging media.'
There is still much to play out but I am also sensing that many advertisers as they dig deeper into the topic are discovering that there is a lot to do to be successful and owning a DSP contract will not solve that, if anything it will just add cost. They are now understanding that no one tech partner can solve their programmatic needs and their agency still has a huge part to play, taking it in house is a big ask.
As ever some will, but my sense is as calm descends and the advertiser becomes expert they will see the world as being more complex than an independent consultant standing on a stage saying 'take it in-house it's easy.' Interestingly they never suggest taking the search business in house first for some reason, so 2005.
Marco Bertozzi is president of global clients for Publicis-owned VivaKi.