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.


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.


Right Left RepeatAt the AppNexus Summit I attended this week, the vast majority of the “publishers” in attendance were actually the programmatic and yield leads for their companies, and not CROs. It reminded me that we still live in a somewhat segregated world, and that this Drift posted in 2011 still rings true.

Many publishers don’t have a revenue strategy: most have two.  And that’s something that’s just got to stop. Most revenue people — CROs, EVPs and SVPs of Sales — are probably right-brain dominant.  They and their teams get out of bed ready to tell creative, persuasive stories about value….to leverage that which is special and scarce….to integrate marketers into their environments, and earn a premium for doing all this.  Once all the creative, right-brain stuff is over, that which remains unsold and uncommitted moves over into the left-brain world; a world filled with algorithms and decisions about supply, demand, price and yield….a world where we manage staggering abundance.

This week’s Drift is underwritten by Krux, which helps marketers and publishers worldwide deliver more personal, more valuable advertising, content, and commerce experiences, improving revenue performance and deepening engagement across all consumer touchpoints. Clients include companies like Kellogg, Time Warner, Meredith, BBC and Ticketmaster, with enterprises achieving 10x return or higher on their investment. Visit to learn more.

Many publishers have created dual strategies to serve these environments.  The CRO and sales team drive the right-brain direct sale effort.  The left-brain effort is largely outsourced to a huge cast of players (it takes a village) who manage what is collectively called “the remnant strategy” or “secondary market.”

But as I’ve been reading in Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind:  Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age,” there are no pure right brain or left brain activities:  the two sides of the brain are constantly working with and informing one another.   And so it must also be with revenue strategy.

The next stage in the evolution of strategic sales leadership will focus on the synthesis of primary and secondary sales channels.  The sales leader will break down the walls segregating direct sellers and indirect channels.  Those channel partners who would serve the publisher will no longer act like a back-channel, but will instead become ever more curious and participatory in the publisher’s total revenue strategy.  Insights from the secondary channel will inform the actions and choices of primary sellers;  and the value driven by the primary seller will set meaningful parameters and goals for the secondary channel. Left brain speaks to right brain; and vice-versa.

Every publisher talks about wanting more control.  But what many do not yet realize is that control is not about power, but rather about balance.  And seeking balance through a unified revenue strategy is an active choice you can make today.

What do you think? Are publishers getting any closer to the kind of balanced revenue strategy that I called for in 2011? And do you think they even need to? Leave your comments below.

Binge-Watching Programmatic.

Binge Watching ProgrammaticI don’t know how we’d mark the beginning of the programmatic age in our business – I’m sure someone must have a record of the first time the word was uttered. But whenever it was – six, seven, eight years ago? – it marked the beginning of us all watching the story play out episodically; in weekly installments over many seasons. We saw story lines rise and fall; characters come and go. And if any of us went back and watched season one today we’d barely recognize the cast and would be a little jarred by the production design.

Let’s imagine for a moment that the whole programmatic saga – multiple seasons – were available for download on Hulu Plus or Netflix and we got to pull up the covers and binge-watch the whole thing over a long weekend. I wonder how differently we’d see the story.

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A loosely connected and lightly organized network of quants emerges from the backrooms of the soon-to-be-doomed ad networks with a radical plan for stripping away the romance and illusion from advertising and selling in a purely mathematical, algorithm-driven approach to buying, selling, informing, distributing and attributing value to ads on the web. A fever-dream of wild financial speculation follows in which venture capital flows in to irrigate a world driven by real time bidding. Agencies organize experimental business units that draw a lot of interest and attention. Incremental programmatic companies spring out of the ground like mushrooms after a soaking rain.

Then we wait as not that much really happens for a few episodes.

Real time bidding on open exchanges suddenly loses all the steam it ever seemed to have. Everyone who’s ever run a trading desk ends up walking away from the model, and the big agency holding companies explain that it never really was about having a trading desk anyway. We decide we never really liked that whole relationship with big open exchanges anyway – it gave us all sorts of icky infections like non-human traffic and non-viewable impressions that we still can’t shake. Private exchanges (or was it private marketplaces? Oh who remembers?) Now that’s what we’ve really been talking about all this time. We’ll just buy and sell the good shit and use lots of data to help us make it even better!

Then we wait a little more over a few episodes that seem to lag and get a little confusing.

We get a little nostalgic about the early episodes and so we start to re-introduce some old story lines. If you liked the early days of programmatic display, wait till you get a load of programmatic video….programmatic mobile….programmatic native (really.) And you know, while we’re grooving on the oldies, let’s go way, way back: Turns out that content is really pretty cool after all. No, no…not the garden variety come-to-my-website and see what I wrote kind. Custom content and branded content and viral content and socially-optimizable content… can you give me a scoop of programmatic with that?

All caught up now. We can’t wait for next season, but we just know we’re going to hate watching just one episode a week!