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How to understand what adtech experts say about programmatic

Cadi Jones, commercial director EMEA at adtech software experts Beeswax, is often tasked with demystifying digital advertising for marketers. She’s now taking these efforts wider to quickly, and clearly, explain the space for those of us lacking a jargon thesaurus or a degree in rocket science.

Adtech, like the rest of the ad industry, really loves shiny new things. Things move fast. Programmatic advertising now accounts for a massive 68% of total annual media advertising spend (as per Zenith).

To the outside, programmatic might seem flighty. But these trends tend to follow either the money (for example, video in all its guises) and/or macro industry-wide factors (regulation, browser changes). The latter might impact the ability to launch other cool features and functionality.

Here's what my people are talking about – and why.

Identity

This is the big one. It’s a word you’ll hear often.

The cornerstone of programmatic advertising is the ability to reach the right audience, at the right time, in the right environment, with the right message. ’Identity’ is shorthand for identifying a user and associating them with an audience. It’s most often associated with a cookie, stored in a user’s browser or in a mobile advertising device ID, such as an IDFA in the case of in-app environments.

User identities are disappearing. Safari and Firefox instigated Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) some time ago, but at the beginning of this year, Chrome, the biggest browser in most countries hinted that it would probably do the same, then almost in a game of one-upmanship, Apple announced, this summer, that new operating system (iOS 14) would be removing the automatic access to IDFAs.

These identifiers enable so many crucial aspects of digital advertising: targeting, frequency-capping, optimisation, and attribution.

It’s hard to imagine programmatic advertising existing without them – but we have to. As always, when trouble strikes, some see opportunity. There are several.

There are universal identities. Despite being called “universal”, you might need to work with a few of them.

Meanwhile, customer data platforms (CDPs) and the like help marketers and publishers maximise the use of their first-party data – solutions are springing up.

Some players are moving away from user-based targeting resulting in a renewed focus on the benefits of contextual targeting. It’s all new, and there are no clear winners yet.

The rise of the DIY walled garden

Media brands are actively building their own walled gardens. Historically, the term “walled garden” has been used somewhat disparagingly – mostly aimed at the duopoly (Facebook and Google, who dominate digital ad spend).

For example, it’s only possible to buy YouTube inventory via Google’s DSP, DV360. This is just one of the perceived anti-competitive behaviour settings putting Google in trouble with regulators. But if you can’t beat them, join them!

Many publishers, broadcasters and also scaled buyers have realised the value of their own inventory, first-party data and insights. They’ve realised that by keeping these in their own environments, they may be able to gain competitive advantage, and offer something unique to the market, that marketers alone would not be able to create.

A few examples of this would include ITV’s Planet V, The European Broadcaster Exchange, or RTL’s AdConnect and closer to home, the Ozone Project, or the Group M and OMG marketplaces. In these examples, by working within their own environment, with the right partners, they might be able to transact on their own first-party identifiers (not blocked by ITP) and layer their own data without risking it leaking or wider implications.

Whereas a few years ago media owners who wanted to do this would have had to build their own technology in order to do so (no mean feat), now, there are a new generation of partners who offer fully customisable solutions.

Connected TV

Connected TV is top of mind for everyone involved in programmatic advertising.

While digital video has driven high CPMs for publishers and brilliant results for brands, CTV – a digitally delivered ad on an actual TV thanks to an internet connection – offers something really special: the possibility of targeted advertising on a device previously only available for broadcast. With CPMs for targeted inventory reaching close to €100 in some European countries, its popularity also reflects the ‘follow the money’ rule.

What’s particularly interesting about CTV – and a source of much discussion – is the juxtaposition of traditional media companies moving into this new opportunity alongside digital-first entities.

Embraced in the USA, CTV faces significant challenges in many European countries and has yet to offer solutions at scale. Many broadcasters are very sceptical of opening their inventory to the tech behemoths. But they are also in some cases hampered by technology, and in others so terrified of cannibalising their existing demand that they are not as open to experimentation and learning as advertisers might hope.

This is changing rapidly though, with network agency groups as well as independent technology partners demonstrating what can be possible.

We have seen a steep increase in digital TV consumption thanks to people staying in during the pandemic and this topic is going to continue to grow.

I think that’s a good point to for us to start our journey. And remember, adtech is dramatic space where in the same breath an exec can detail the world as we know it, and confidently outline how they will ’take on the duopoly’.

Cadi Jones is commercial director EMEA at adtech software experts Beeswax.