Group M

End of Days.

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End of DaysThe leading advertiser organization in the world – the ANA — just issued a 58-page report accusing its ad agency “partners” of everything from shady buying practices to kickbacks to conflict of interest.  The ad agencies’ own trade group – the 4As – has naturally cried foul, arguing that they should have been fully involved in the investigation all along (not unlike having the defense team sit on a grand jury).  But the whole food fight about whether the report was fair or accurate or should have named names just distracts us from the big truth at its core:  The entire premise of the media agency has timed out.

It’s being argued by agency defenders that the ANA’s motive is money and control;  that advertisers are trying to squeeze even more blood from the empty stone of agency margins, and that advertiser procurement practices and policies have been destructive to the advertiser/agency ‘partnership.’  That may well be true, but think about this:  would the ANA have even considered such a drastic and destructive step if advertisers hadn’t already pretty much given up on the media agency?  The media agency problem isn’t the K2 report.  The problem is relevance and time.  The problem is rust.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Krux helps more than 180 of the world’s leading media companies and marketers grow revenue and deepen consumer engagement through more relevant, more valuable content, commerce, and media experiences. Industry analysts have repeatedly named Krux a leader and visionary in the data management space, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Download the reports today to learn more.

The simple truth is that the media agency is a transactional intermediary in an age where transactions have already been digitized and power and control have shifted from the intermediary to the transacting parties.  Travel booking once exclusively belonged to the travel agent; now it’s almost exclusively a direct transaction between the traveler and the carrier or hotel.  There are a hundred more examples of intermediaries being marginalized.  And the media agency position today has the unmistakable feel of a late stage disintegration.

Marketers, publishers, media companies and technologists are all innovating; often for the better, sometimes for the worse, but always with remarkable speed.  The media agency is increasingly seen as a high-priced toll collector who’s adding time and cost but not value to the trip.  A good friend of mine who’s been on the inside of the agency/client relationship argues that the media agency will now and forever more be in a state of perpetual review… yet another sign that the jig is up.

Group M’s Rob Norman writes persuasively about how his company is in a state of massive reinvention; that its investments and partnerships make it a fundamentally different kind of company and change the value equation.  Rob may well be right:  the ultimate spawn of WPP/GroupM/Xaxis may well be successful.  It just won’t be a media agency.  All that’s left for that model are more reviews, continued assault on margins and less relevance.

And rust.

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Programmatic: All Grown Up Now?

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Programmatic All Grown Up NowIf it’s all the same to you, I suggest we agree to write off the first five years of the programmatic era.   I mean, let’s face it:  these first few years haven’t been all that flattering.  It’s been a half-decade of adolescent excess, exaggerated fame, reckless experimentation and more than a little danger.  Who knew the B in RTB stood for “Bieber?”

Before all my Prog friends start hating, let me say what I’ve said all along:  Programmatic is not a phase and it’s not optional; it’s absolutely a hard trend that will reshape the entire business of marketing.  That it’s so fundamental and serious is all the more reason we’ll look back on these early years the way we look back at 80s haircuts and the contents of our old mixtapes.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic Advertising Systems, an advertising technology company focused on delivering innovative software that streamlines and automates media workflow for marketers, their advertising agencies, and publishers.

When Programmatic first came on the scene, we went through a period of wild, unmitigated excitement… even though most of us couldn’t fully understand what we were so excited about.  All we knew was that anybody who could spell “RTB” got a spot on the LUMAscape and a pot of gold at the end of the journey. Call this period “RTBieberFever.”

After elation there is always backlash.  And so there was.   The technology and business was harder than we’d been led to believe, the revenues more sluggish and unpredictable.  We all learned to say “Programmatic is about more than RTB” but most of us weren’t really sure what to say next….beyond blurting out song titles like “private exchange” and “programmatic direct.”

Finally, of course, there was trouble with the law.  The exchanges became our own version of Dade County, filled with non-viewable and fraudulent impressions and – no doubt –sketchy guys on broadband houseboats jobbing the system.  Suddenly Programmatic was on trial in the media.

But I’m happy to say the story has a happy, if decidedly more boring, ending.  While technically complex, Programmatic was always a very simple idea at heart:  If you just agree that (1) two terminals will ultimately make an electronic trade of inventory for dollars and that (2) the decision to buy (and/or which creative to place) will be influenced by first or third party data, then congratulations…you’ve just defined Programmatic.  Everything else was about specific strategies, tactics and channels.  And that’s where the grownups come in.

Last week’s announcement that Group M will no longer buy on open exchanges — choosing instead to pursue private exchange relationships with publishers – is just the latest sign that Programmatic is settling in and becoming part of the background music.  In the three to five years ahead, I predict that Programmatic specialists on both sides of the table will fade away; that more than 90% of all online ad transactions will be executed programmatically;  that programmatic trading and buying will become vastly de-centralized; and that the word Programmatic itself will fall out of use.

It won’t be as exciting as RTBieberFever, but it will end up being a whole lot more important.

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