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Why marketers and media buyers need to start acquiring audiences, not ad space

Tony Laskar

'Can we plug-in to your platform?' 'Can we have your data?' are the most common questions Agency Trading Desk (ATD) employees ask ad tech companies. Some of you may remember when agencies were saying, 'not another ad network!' perhaps they will soon be saying, 'not another plug-in!'

The way we purchase digital media has evolved significantly since 2008, exploding to new horizons with the multitude of technologies available to us. Most people within our industry are talking daily in their offices and to their clients, saying, 'It’s all about programmatic and real time bidding.'

Programmatic is a simple and convenient tool used to purchase display, mobile and video inventory, via ad exchanges using a DSP. It is a brilliant invention, and the industry owes a lot to the founders of these ad tech companies. However, programmatic should not be used purely for convenience when purchasing ad space. I believe we should be talking about audience based targeting to our brands, not programmatic.

In recent years, a lot of agencies and advertisers have brought their digital media buying in house using all types of platforms available to them, and our ad tech innovators are becoming mere 'plug-ins' as a result. But while trading desks are certainly more convenient for agencies, are they the best thing for brands?

We often hear of the aches and pains ATDs cause brands when they buy blind via ad exchanges. Advertisers may experience financial losses due to ad misplacements on inappropriate websites, largely caused by slip ups in programmatic buying. If advertisers decide to use trading desks, they must accept that such ad misplacements will happen, it’s a risk you take when you buy blind. Placing brand safety to one side, if ads are ending up on inappropriate websites, does that not in turn mean that trading desks are not successfully acting as targeting platforms?

If you must use a trading desk, my simple recommendation would be to create a walled garden list of websites the ads will appear on. It’s the safest way to ensure brand protection and prevent ad misplacements. The problem with this is that the list of sites will be too small to effectively apply behavioural targeting at scale, not that many trading desks can do this today, and therefore they will not be able to target the most relevant audience at the right time.

The market is becoming increasingly saturated with DSPs, data providers and verification tools, to the extent that trading desks almost have too much choice. From my experience, plugging into third party data providers can marginally boost a campaign’s performance. However, it’s no substitute for the enhancement generated when human intelligence and expert knowledge is applied to a live online campaign on a platform you have built yourself from scratch. Trading desks are still in their infancy, and without relying on industry experts, are their brands really getting the best ROI possible?

As someone who understands how to predict and target 'in-market' audiences, I can confidently state that one of the most important aspects of using an ad tech company is for their application of first party data to the advertisers’ campaigns. Applying relevant data to campaigns in real time significantly increases the ROI. I founded my company Audience2Media in 2009 based around that principal. We support agencies, ATDs and direct brands on their campaigns, delivering the highest results on their media plan, proving that first party data works time and time again across thousands of campaigns we have run.

With so many amazing technologies available to agencies today, programmatic is not the only option. It begs the question, “self-service or managed service?” One point is clear, marketers and media buyers need to start acquiring audiences, not ad space.

Tony Laskar is founder and chief executive officer of Audience2Media

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