AOL ad boss Phil Duffield: 'If programmatic is to thrive, then all facets of the industry have to talk to each other'

Phil Duffield, head of advertising, international, at AOL, discusses what the IAB’s latest OpenRTB updates mean for programmatic creativity, consumer choice and tech interoperability.

Last week the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) Tech Lab announced updates to its OpenRTB 2.4 protocol and the OpenRTB Dynamic Native Ads 1.1 extension for public comment.

Wait, come back. Don’t switch off now. I get it, when you hear the acronym “RTB” (real-time bidding) and start seeing multiple version numbers flying around, it’s easy to move onto the next article – and I say that as someone that’s worked in ad tech for most of my career. However, regardless of whether you’re a brand, agency or platform, this is important.

You need to pay attention, and here’s why:

What is OpenRTB?

For those of you maybe not as au fait with the initiative as the various IAB Working Groups around the world that support it, OpenRTB is the standard protocol that enables programmatic transactions and allows platforms to “talk” to each other. It is a key enabler of the programmatic ecosystem.

Indeed, programmatic trading has only been able to scale to the extent it has as a result of OpenRTB, which has provided a common language for all facets of ad tech to trade on, along with new and innovative ad formats that can be traded programmatically.

These updates on to OpenRTB protocols are vital to the continued development of programmatic trading, particularly with latest improvements that help with issues of interoperability, creative formats and consumer choice.

What do these updates mean?

The 2.4 version of OpenRTB offers, in the IAB’s own words, “a myriad of improvements,” including skippable video ads and support for digital audio.

Video “skippability” support is a big new addition for both advertisers and consumers. Video advertising is on the up and up, and consistently delivers higher engagement rates for advertisers. However, skippable video demonstrates to consumers that we respect their time by providing choice, and can deliver profound value. A viewer who chooses to watch a full video ad is a highly qualified viewer. That’s not to say pre-roll doesn’t represent the same value; it is more suitable for certain advertising objectives than skippable video. But, now that both are enabled by OpenRTB, we’re able to facilitate a great choice and take programmatic trading further still.

Digital audio support is a big new creative win for OpenRTB 2.4. Much like the introduction of version 2.3 last year, which debuted a ground-breaking industry standard allowing for the purchase native ads through RTB, this new addition is not before time and will enable new ad formats to be traded programmatically. As with native, audio looks set to become an increasingly important ad format for creative execution in digital advertising, which will in turn encourage brand spend and adoption of programmatic trading.

In addition to these main updates, the Dynamic Native Ads API 1.1 marks the first update to OpenRTB native ads since their introduction last year.

This particular update includes improvements demanded directly from the market, including creative element standardisation with the creation of two new fields: “Context” (the type of content surrounding the ad on the page), and “PlacementType” (the format of the ad being purchased). It also provides further clarification of native ads sequence, which enables DSPs to bid for specific slots within the feed.

Particularly key to these areas is mobile. Speaking to my new colleague Paul Gubbins, who recently joined AOL via our acquisition of Millennial Media, he said, “As mobile continues its dramatic growth in advertising, these updates will further facilitate the growth of ad spend programmatically, but also crucially the delivery of ever more relevant advertising to a targeted audience. Mobile’s uniqueness is its ability to tell stories about consumers through data, and these updates will help to make those stories and targeting opportunities even richer still.” I couldn’t agree more.

These updates will also all help publishers to improve the performance of and yield for digital inventory that is traded programmatically, especially through private marketplace auctions.

Getting tech to talk to each other

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this latest OpenRTB is how it will further enable everyone across the industry to work together to advance the effective delivery of programmatic.

As we move into 2016, ad tech has become ever more fragmented due to the rise of marketing technologies. As such, enabling the different players to talk together with a common language through improved interoperability is going to be crucial, allowing the different data and execution platforms to communicate with each other effectively. If programmatic is to thrive, then all facets of programmatic trading - supply-side platforms, demand-side platforms and exchanges – have to talk to each other to attract value and benefit for both the end user and advertisers.

By continuing to work together as both technology and the industry evolves, we will soon reach a stage where programmatic will serve as a critical component of how all digital advertising is traded.

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