This year is going to be a pivotal year for many at Dmexco in Germany. After the vino-induced hangover of Cannes the sense of urgency to close deals and stand out on the conference floor will be palpable.
For Dmexco attendees and industry watchers, there are a few key areas to think about when speaking to vendors this year and where to show legitimate interest...
SSPs and exchanges
The sell-side this year will be loud, big and bold in their claims. This part of the business has faced considerable headwinds over the last 24 months and thankfully, those clouds have passed for many and it is a great time to be working at an innovative SSP once again. You just need to look at the recent Rubicon and Teleria earnings reports for evidence.
If Supply Path Optimisation (SPO) is front of mind during your SSP meetings, I would look beyond the usual standard ‘take’ queries and auction mechanics, to areas such as ads.txt and sellers.json: what percentage of their supply is ads.txt compliant and do they plan to support sellers.json? Index Exchange recently put out some good material explaining the importance of this IAB Tech Lab initiative. Feedback from this line of questioning will help you to quickly navigate around those knee-deep in the trenches of arbitrage and go direct to the exchanges that have 1-1 publisher relationships. It’s important to note that resold supply isn’t necessarily bad, but it is important to understand its origin and the publisher and privacy-based permissions that come with it.
Many SSPs are in the process of activating the ‘agile’ culture they once promoted on sales decks to build as quickly as possible for that new golden ticket mobile, sorry, I meant OTT! Worth noting, OTT comes with its very own and specific requirements, be cautious of any sell side vendors that originated in display and say they also now offer “OTT”. Ask about what custom features they have built or acquired to support this unique environment? Then go and speak to the CTV first SSPs and compare feature sets.
The transparency trend
Transparency is no longer a dirty word in 2019 and more brands and agencies are asking their sell side vendors for raw auction logs so they can better understand how to extract incremental value from the relationship, and if there are any practices going on that shouldn’t be. Ensure your SSP can pass raw logs manually or via API to you or an appointed blockchain vendor to interpret the jargon. There are some decent white papers out there on the value of SSP logs and what can be done with them, go and check them out.
With TCF 2.0 pending from the IAB, GDPR and CCPA everywhere we look and the ICO watching from the wings, it feels like the concept of RTB and data-driven advertising is becoming more endangered by the day.
Ask sell side vendors about their plans beyond the cookie. Which of the many ID consortiums (ID5, TTD ID, Identity Link etc) do they support and why? What targeting packages are they offering beyond identity? If you are a publisher with lots of Safari traffic, how will your SSP partner help you drive fill if ITP prohibits any type of audience-based targeting on Safari impressions surfaced to their connected DSPs?
This year, we are going to see the top legacy display SSPs talk new formats such as audio, OTT and DOOH as they fight to differentiate beyond cost, features and service. Mobile SSPs will champion the benefits of ‘parallel bidding’ AKA header bidding for in-App (Which has the potential to be a mobile game changer, just so you know) and Video SSPs will promote their CTV capabilities and also the benefits of unified auctions for both in and outstream formats, like the recent UnrulyX and Ozone partnership in the UK. I also think we’ll see more talk around the benefits of running sound-off video executions over sound-on as browsers move to prohibit auto play and sound on ads.
Think about how your SSP partner can help you to continue to get the true value of your supply in a world without a cookie? Work with those dedicating R and D to this problem today, not when it’s too late! Are they really open? Do they support auction log portability? Is the SSP you are considering SPO friendly? Are DSPs likely to buy around them? Does the SSP support all potential partners you already work with? Ozone, TAM, FAN, Exchange Bidding (AKA Open Bidding) et al.
Can the SSP provide you with a product road map? What feature releases will keep them attracting DSP demand for your supply?! Think bid shading etc
Are they supporting new transaction models such as programmatic guaranteed?
How are they encouraging publishers to adopt Ads.txt?
The buy side
This year we will see a presence from DSPs with valuations of over $11bn right through to smaller operations that are still raising their series A and B rounds.
I am constantly amazed at how smaller activation vendors can build features that blow away their bigger competitors. This year, I think you are going to see three types of DSP vendors in Dmexco: the well established global names; the smaller challengers that are predominantly on their series A, building bespoke features to challenge the status quo, and ad networks that realise there is a shelf life on their model and its time to pivot to SaaS.
If you are a big brand considering in-housing, find vendors that fall into the first two categories and avoid the others.
Most DSPs used to be connected to the same supply either directly or via an intermediary (BidSwitch etc). But these days this isn’t always the case. Some do deals with SSPs to be preferred bidders under the guise of SPO partnerships, some are pushing into new regions like China and others find themselves in the fortunate position to have been recently acquired by companies that provide access to scaled and exclusive OandO supply.
As a marketer, it is important to feel comfortable that your selected DSP can enable you to target your existing and new customers on any screens. Ask your DSP for an explicit inventory list across emerging areas such as CTV, DOOH and audio; could they support your asks today or would you have to go to several DSPs as your new partner can't provide the reach you need?
DSP data and identity
If the DSP you are considering is not owned by one of the GAFA-sized companies, push hard on their ability to still support RTB and data-driven advertising in a world without a cookie. What is their plan to be GDPR and CCPA compliant?
What ID consortium do they support and what type of targeting do they plan to make available over the next 24 months? Have an honest conversation and ask their CPO’s perspective on the issues at play: are they informed? Have they seen customers affected post ITP? What are their recommendations around targeting on these types of supply to their customers?
If it’s a DSP that has been acquired recently, find out what is exclusive to them and the benefits of you selecting them over their independent competitors?
Much like the interior of a car, many features on the front end of a DSP appear to be the same. But to really understand how a DSP can work and to appreciate its mechanics, you’ve got to look under the hood. Understand how unique value can be derived for your individual seat, what features are available to create custom bidding logic? How can the commercials work in your favour? SaaS versus percentage of media. There are some good packages available if you ask the right questions.
As the industry migrates from a 2nd to 1st price auction default for clearing in SSPs, many DSPs have built features that offer a service referred to as bid shading. The purpose of this feature is to protect buyers from paying the entirety of their 1st price bid. Try and ascertain if this is a feature that is baked into the cost or is there an additional fee to be added if you select this feature?
Although it feels like the term ‘programmatic guaranteed’ has been around for years, it is still a relatively new way to transact for buyers and one that is starting to get more traction as brand budgets flowing through OpenRTB increases and the appetite to replicate the IO’s stability (pricing, volumes, context, audience) Vs the volatile nature of PMP’s ramps..
In short, there has never been a better time to be looking for a new activation partner. Signals like ads.txt and sellers.json are for the first time truly empowering buyers to make extremely strategic decisions around supply partnerships (SPO) and new pricing models and custom features around bidding algos means you can now find a DSP partner that is finely tuned for your needs, Vs those of your competitors.
If anybody wants to discuss or correct any of my thoughts, you’ll find me in Barney Vallely’s, I will be the guy repeatedly asking the staff to turn up Oasis on their Jukebox! See you in Cologne.
Paul Gubbins is the programmatic lead at Unruly.