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Why don’t we buy digital media the same way we buy a flight?

By Reza Behnam, Co-founder and executive chairman

March 29, 2018 | 8 min read

A fragmented media marketplace should be an opportunity, not a headache for advertisers. It’s time to leverage the tools that unlock a smart aggregated view and buy media the same way we buy flights, argues CtrlShift’s Reza Behnam.


Think about the last flight ticket you bought. Chances are you went to a site like Expedia, Skyscanner or Kayak to do a search for the best possible deal then filtered out results based on flight times or preferred airline (and price).

So why don’t we plan and buy media the same way?

Digital media today is a diverse albeit fragmented space, along with the advertising technology landscape that plugs into it.

Most campaigns require at least three buying platforms to reach their audiences. On top of Google Display Network and Facebook, media buyers will employ a minimum of one, if not multiple, DSPs, ad networks, or private marketplaces to help them target consumers outside of walled gardens.

In terms of monitoring campaign performance on the back-end, effective cross-platform analysis and real-time optimization remain difficult and elusive. The different platforms are not integrated and no consolidated view provided.

Moreover, marketers do not always have access to the complete performance insights and trading strategies implemented by the agency or trading desk. Agency or trader turnover often results in these insights and valuable knowledge getting lost altogether.

P&G chief brand officer Marc Pritchard's now famous call to arms for media transparency was sparked by what he called “a moment of clarity.” Since then, many marketers have accelerated their own plans to clean up media supply chains and regain control – seeking clarity into just how their dollars are being spent.

Fighting fire with fire

About 61% of the martech companies identified by Scott Brinker at Chief Martech in 2010 were acquired over the past seven years — many serving as key components in today’s major “marketing clouds.”

But that hasn’t led to widespread consolidation, with 5,000 marketing technologies populating the landscape today. The introduction of new technologies may be lamented as the source of today’s problems, but I hold firm in the belief that technology can and will be a major part of the solution.

There will always be new players, with technology and services for brands to leverage in the quest to win hearts, minds and wallets. All we can do is place our efforts (and budgets) in solutions that make the most sense and carry the most promise for solving the right problems.

The problem for marketers when it comes to digital advertising is: how do you optimize advertising spend and consolidate visibility in a disparate, fragmented and walled up landscape?

The emergence of online aggregators has revolutionized the distribution of products and services, from travel to insurance. All share the same mission: To offer consumers inundated by choice an easy way to find the right deal for them.

In a fragmented, commoditized environment, the player who aggregates, organizes, and gives sense to clear decision-making criteria — through reviews, filters, and such — adds real value in terms of efficiency, transparency, and competitive dynamics. The aggregator levels the playing field in the favour of the user.

In the context of digital advertising, this would translate into marketers having control over their campaign platforms, ad inventory, data, and insights. If they need to put the brakes on any platform or channel, they should have the option to quickly reallocate budgets without losing time negotiating new contracts.

It also puts real-time planning and execution back into the game. Dealing with multiple platforms means you lose the ability to act in real time unless you have an aggregated reporting, analysis capability and the ability to tweak things and reactivate the marketing campaign.

This brings me back to the question of: why can’t we buy digital media the same way we buy flight tickets?

Unlocking transparency with a unified view

Dealing with audience fragmentation and walled gardens is now the norm for any digital marketer, and so is the frustration over the lack of visibility and control.

It’s time to take a serious look at solutions that unlock a unified view of all media investments. This digital media investment and trading hub should provide two-way access to, and complete visibility of, all relevant automated buying platforms available.

It should provide brands with an understanding of how human traders interact with these buying platforms and the effect their trading tactics have on the outcomes they desire.

With the added functionality of predictive intelligence and machine learning providing dynamic insights and recommending optimization strategies, marketers can gain a comparative advantage in scale and precision against the traditional outsourced, siloed trading desk.

Imagine a mar-tech world empowered by such an opportunity— the presence of a transparent, agnostic “smart aggregator” that allows you to reach the desired audiences through any inventory available automatically. Imagine a world where you deploy a purely agnostic but holistic approach to data sources and segments (audiences) as well as inventory sources and publishers: no more walled gardens or dead-ends of any kind.

It’s not wishful thinking; these tools do exist and can help. At CtrlShift, we have built an intelligent media management and buying application called The Hub, designed to plug this very gap. We’re also not the only ones in this space, with companies like Visto, Centro, and Adobe's Media Optimizer all active in the pursuit of a shared mission to help advertisers find clarity in a highly fragmented digital landscape.

To combat the lack of transparency and control, smart solutions that rewire the essential components of the mar-tech ecosystem in their favour are needed.

With smart aggregators in play, marketers can focus on the things that matter and not waste time trying to figure out how to get the most out of every dollar spent – just like how today’s travellers can focus on their destination and not worry about getting ripped off.

Reza Behnam is the co-founder and executive chairman of CtrlShift, a global audience solutions company.

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