programmatic

Living in the Light.


Indulge me.  I’ve been at this since the very beginning of web advertising (1994) and I’m seeing patterns.

Each massive, tectonic shift in our business has been preceded by an equally massive economic or cultural upheaval.  The dotcom bust of 2000-2001 ended the era of site-by-site buying and ushered in a period of extreme targeting and data enhancement.  The housing crash and recession of 2008-2009 effectively kicked off the programmatic era that we’ve been living for the past 9+ years.  Now we’re living through the third major upheaval…and it, too, is setting us up for a very different world.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Salesforce DMP. Salesforce DMP allows you to capture, unify, and activate your data to strengthen consumer relationships across every touchpoint. Find out more here.

Consider this:  in the past two years we’ve seen (1) the ANA’s release of the K2 Report on Media Transparency in June 2016; (2) P&G’s top marketer Marc Pritchard call out the industry’s dirty supply chain in January 2017; (3) The New York Times and the Guardian break the Cambridge Analytica scandal; and (4) the launch of the General Data Protection Regulation – GDPR – by the European Union.  Oh, yeah, we had a little Brexit, a US election and more than a little foreign hacking.  Don’t look at these as singular events, but rather as a pattern.  A big one.

So what, then, is the new look of our industry?  What will it be like to do business in the next era?   What rules might we follow?

Welcome to our time in the sun.

As I told an audience of programmatic and automation leaders in Nashville earlier today, I believe we’re already starting to live into an age of radical transparency.  Over the next several years, you won’t find anyone wearing a grey hat: there will only be heroes and villains.  It may feel selective, it may feel unfair, but it is very definitely here.  So how does one build an automated media or marketing business at a time like this?

  • Stop aiming at compliance. That bar is too low.  Focus instead on making clarity and fairness into core values for your organization.
  • Celebrate your newfound commitment. I’m looking forward to seeing a sign on someone’s office wall that says “485 days of being squeaky clean.”
  • More is no longer better. Better is better.  Get used to the idea of a smaller, better internet, one filed with real people, real attention and real connections.  When you eliminate the fraud and the stuff nobody really wants, this is what we’ll have.  It will be a great place to work.
  • Don’t benchmark around the scoundrels. What someone else may get away with is not the point.  Don’t pander to the least among us.  Instead aspire to be the best among us.
  • Work through the pain. Quickly.  Yes, there is economic pain to be endured.  But it won’t be more endurable in 12 or 18 months.  And in that time, you might find your world collapsing around you.  Time to rip off the band-aid and do the right things.

Like it or not, we all live in the light today.  All can be seen and everything will be made clear. And it will be a time of reinvention, of leaders, of new ideas.

I can’t wait.


The RFP: Back from the Dead?


According to Digiday’s Lucia Moses, “media buyers are ditching the much hated RFP.”   Clearly this was meant to be a crowd-pleasing idea:  both agencies and clients reportedly can’t stand them anymore, and to sellers they’ve been the nasty habit they just can’t seem to kick.  I think it all sounds a little too good to be true.

The RFP is the Freddy Krueger of the digital buying-selling process.  It’s the friend from college who crashed on your couch “for a night or two” but ends up staying for 10 months.  It’s the annoying song that’s stuck in our collective heads.  In theory, we all want to be rid of it.  In spirit and practice it’s still very much with us.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Salesforce DMP. Salesforce DMP allows you to capture, unify, and activate your data to strengthen consumer relationships across every touchpoint. Find out more here.

Yes it’s true that there are fewer digital RFPs being sent out (a look at Seller Crowd will back this up) and fewer winners in the process.  Programmatic buying has rightly taken a big chunk of those transactional dollars out of the system, and consolidation into the hands of Facebook and Google has taken more.  But the RFP is still very much with us: it’s just migrated.

Now that avails and standard ad units are off the table, buyers are using the RFP process to ask for things like custom videos, content marketing ideas, influencer campaigns and social posts.  If anything, this is worse.  Now a buyer can ask an unlimited number of questionably qualified publishers for things that are really difficult and expensive to bid on.  And sellers are taking the bait.  The arrival of every RFP – never mind how speculative – becomes like a crash cart rolling through the trauma unit of an ER.  Creatives, account management, pricing, events and talent are all dragged in to save the patient – who still expires 80-90 percent of the time.

The RFP was a weak idea when we were trading standard ad units for dollars.  In the content marketing era it’s a full-on dumpster fire.  Any seller who’s not connecting – proactively and directly — with clients and agency leadership is part of the problem.  Any publisher who’s ignoring the P&L of the weekly creative RFP lottery is mortgaging their future and tossing their most valuable resources – their ideas and the creativity of their people – into the wind.  Agencies won’t stop using the RFP.  Sales organizations can only control if, when and how they respond.

Qualify.  Qualify.  Qualify.


Saving Programmatic.


Last week in this space I suggested that one unintended outcome of our decade-long dance with programmatic buying was the dark, dangerous alternative world we’d brought into being.  Borrowing an analogy from the Netflix series Stranger Things, call it “The Programmatic Upside Down,” rife with fraud, bots, hate speech, fake news and every other means of foul beastie.

In a speech last week in Los Angeles, I suggested that while an uncritical devotion to “tech for the sake of tech” had opened the breach to this world, it was people who would help close it.  Here, then, are the four types of people we should endeavor to find, groom, hire and deploy in the programmatic world of the next five years.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by Digital Remedy, a digital marketing and technology solutions partner to publishers, advertisers, and influencers. Digital Remedy delivers performance-based and cross-channel solutions to increase monetization and operations potential of any organization while exceeding standard KPIs. Visit Digital Remedy to learn more.

The Activator.  Ironically, those who plan and build programmatic stacks and strategies can be too closed in their thinking and too slow to act on new insights and improvements.  The Activator is the executive who can not only explain why, but why now.  He or she can create urgency around meaningful change and development from the outside – who can lay waste to the kind of group think and inertia that assure many a programmatic strategy will bear poisoned fruit.

The Fixer.  The role of The Fixer is also to disrupt the destructively myopic processes and decision making of the group.  Except he or she works from the inside out.  The Fixer is willing to call out the bad outcome the group might not be considering…to ask the hard question.  Blessed with a good strategic mind and highly-evolved pattern recognition, The Fixer can help the group abandon the path that leads into The Programmatic Upside Down.

The White Hat.   A few years ago, Chief Privacy Officers were all the rage.  Perhaps the next five years we’ll see the emergence of the Chief Hygienist….The White Hat.  An unwavering advocate of transparency and quality, The White Hat invites scrutiny from meaningful third parties and holds the organization to the highest standards.

The Integrator.  For most of its existence, programmatic has run along its own parallel track alongside creative solutions and direct sales.  Clearly those tracks are starting to cross now, which leads us to the need for The Integrator.  He or she will be the one who plans and sells programmatic solutions as part of a larger marketing, creative and business mix.  The question will no longer be “how much should we spend programmatically?” but rather “how will programmatic solutions help us scale and deliver all of our unique benefits to marketers?”

Your organizations – publisher, agency, marketer, tech provider – will call these archetypes by scores of different titles.  But know that you need them…now and for the rest of your existence.  They are what stand between you and technology run amok.

Read my original article on 212NYC’s new thought leadership newsletter, The Scryer.


The Programmatic Upside Down.


There are no serious spoilers in this post, so if you’re not yet finished with season two of “Stranger Things” – or if you’ve not seen the Netflix show at all – you’re safe.  I’m giving nothing critical away by telling you that the core of the story revolves around a dark, frightening dimension that’s a reverse-mirror image of our world; a place that’s slimy, cold and gray and full of dark corners and scary things.  It’s called “The Upside Down.”

Over the past decade we’ve all been part of the invention and growth of programmatic advertising.  While there’s no question that data-fueled automation and process reform are hard trends that will continue to grow and develop, it’s also true that – just like the scientists on “Stranger Things” – our blind devotion to technology may have blown open a passage to a dark version of the internet.  Let’s call it “The Programmatic Upside Down.”

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by Digital Remedy, a digital marketing and technology solutions partner to publishers, advertisers, and influencers. Digital Remedy delivers performance-based and cross-channel solutions to increase monetization and operations potential of any organization while exceeding standard KPIs. Visit Digital Remedy to learn more.

The internet we describe and sell to advertisers is filled with great articles and creative videos, all being eagerly consumed by attentive customers.  It’s a well-lit world with laws and crosswalks and predictable ROI.  But along with the rest of us, marketers are now seeing that our sometimes-myopic devotion to technology for its own sake has meant that their brands and messages sometimes end up in The Programmatic Upside Down.

The Programmatic Upside Down is a cold gray place of fraud and bots, of risque content, hate speech and fake news mills.  It mimics the shape and structure of the internet we describe, but it’s in no way the one that marketers would willingly buy into.

The good news?  It’s that 2017 brought its existence into focus with unmistakable clarity. We can see it and we can understand why it’s happening and what’s feeding it.  Collectively we all now have a mission:  we must now devote our business models, our technology and – most importantly – our people to shutting off access to The Programmatic Upside Down.  Devotion to purity of supply and quality of data are a good start.  Embracing the oversight of qualified third-parties to police us is also critical.

And perhaps most important is that we fully realize that there is no longer a convenient, situational middle ground:  you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.  There’s no time to waste:  The Demo-Dogs are already on the run.


Peoplematic.


PeoplematicThe dawn of this decade pretty much marked the beginning of the programmatic era of digital advertising and marketing, and the promise of smaller staffs and easy money was all the rage.  At its apex, publishers and agencies were told that the placement of a few tags was all that prevented them from making money while they slept.  Call it the dawn of the machines.

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.

We all know now that the “easy RTB” chapter didn’t last long.  But like a weekend bender, it left the place a mess, with fraud piled up over in that corner, viewability issues spilled all over the carpet and marketers walking in and disapprovingly shaking their heads.  But this post is not about denying the onward march of programmatic automation; that would be silly.  No, I’m instead questioning one of its central principles: that the rise of programmatic means the exit of people.  I don’t believe it has and don’t think it ultimately will.  Let’s call this the Peoplematic age.

In today’s Peoplematic age, programmatic spending is most certainly on the rise.  Very large pluralities of total digital spend are being booked programmatically, and by all accounts there’s even more to come.  Yet at the same time, we are realizing that buy it programmatically isn’t the end of the sentence, it’s just the first phrase.  The easy RTB chapter came crashing down because marketers demanded sophisticated data plays and access to quality content environments.  This ushered in private exchanges, private marketplaces, programmatic direct and a host of other more sophisticated strategies.  And those strategies in turn demanded talented people to construct,oversee and execute them.

The idea of a centralized trading desk with a tiny handful of people and a fancy logo is now anachronistic.  Equally out of date is the publisher with one “programmatic guy” who jumps in as soon as somebody says the word.  In the Peoplematic age, programmatic trading is something that every agency and planning team must do, and programmatic sales is something every relevant seller must engage in.  Then there are the specialists — experts in data, programmatic process ninjas and more – who will continue to appear and propagate.

I think we’ll be in the Peoplematic age for a long time because of the inescapable fact that the system just runs better with talented people overseeing it. Managed service may sound awful to a venture capitalist or investment banker, but it’s how the lion’s share of successful programmatic campaigns and programs end up happening.

It’s as though HAL 9000, the sentient supercomputer from 2001: A Space Odyssey finally becomes self-aware.  And then realizes how much he really needs Dave.