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.

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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  Equally out of date is the publisher with one “programmatic guy” who jumps in as soon as somebody says the word.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.

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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!

The Real Deal.

LEVIS RED TAG 550 JEANSOver the last decade the digital marketing business has lived through a personality crisis. On the one hand there’s the relentless march of programmatic automation. On the other, native advertising — or sponsored content or branded entertainment or whatever else we’re calling the opposite of commoditization. Throughout this whole tedious game of semantic Twister, we’ve ignored the quality we should all be striving to embody; a quality that strengthens customer commitment, forges employee loyalty and gets us all closer to purpose-driven business marketing.

The quality – and the word – we’ve been grasping for is authenticity.

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What we all do for a living may remain ridiculously complicated, but the answer may be just this simple. What consumers want from their bourbon, their coffee houses, their granola and their politicians – authenticity – may be exactly what marketers and agencies and publishers desperately crave in our world.

Whether you make blue jeans or offer DMP services, being authentic doesn’t mean that you’re the only one who makes what you make or does what you do. It means being clear and open about your process, your motivations, your beliefs. No matter how right or left brain your company is, there is something authentic and genuine about how you build your product or deliver your service; why you’re in business at all; and in what you believe as a company. Or at least there should be.

Look at two of the world’s most powerful technology companies – Apple and Google. Despite hugely complicated technology stacks and a sometimes confusing morass of products (most of which, in the case of Apple, are mass produced overseas), both companies still seem authentic to the customer. “Don’t’ Be Evil.” “Think Different.” “Designed by Apple in California.” Should any of our companies aim for less?

The thing about authenticity is that you can’t outsource it. Too often the world-class engineers who invented your product or the visionary CEO who got the company funded simply hand off the job to the marketing professionals, the copywriters or the ad agency. Too often those who sell to and service our customers are given talking points or white papers and left to fend for themselves.

Authentic isn’t what you say. It’s who you are. So who are you, then?

The Trading Desk is Dead: Long Live the Trade!

The Trading Desk is DeadThe great thing about writing 500 words about our business every week is that occasionally you end up looking smart in hindsight. Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then. Last Friday afternoon – as most of us had already started bugging out for the long holiday weekend – Publicis quietly pulled the plug on programmatic buying at Vivaki.   In an October 2013 post (“Letting Go of the Tiger’s Ears”) I wrote…

…I believe the agencies …did themselves a huge disservice by playing out of position over the last 4-5 years in the run up to “the programmatic age.”…First, there was the decision to create standalone business units in the first place. Might it not have been better to let a thousand flowers of automated trading bloom within the daughter agencies rather than concentrate it all at the holding company level? Perhaps they missed the chance to strengthen ALL the pillars of their business rather than devoting so much time and effort to explain yet another corporate brand and operating model to increasingly skeptical clients?

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I’m certainly not the only one to predict the demise of the holding company trading desk model: I said as much in that 2013 post:

“….I’ve heard people stand up at conferences and say that the holding company level trading desks will go away within a couple of years; that they’ll be replaced by client side operations (like P&G’s Hawkeye) and by a migration of programmatic bidding to the individual media agency level. Such a monolithic assessment is almost surely going to be right and wrong at the same time. These are wildly different businesses who are making different decisions. For one thing, there’s a lot of work ahead helping clients manage the nuanced business and buying decisions within private marketplaces.”

So now as we edge into 2015 the land grab abates and the real work of programmatic has begun in earnest: figuring out complex private marketplaces and programmatic direct deals and determining how programmatic lives symbiotically alongside the high margin native, branded content and video advertising. This is not work to be done in a silo by a handful of holding company execs. There’s plenty here for all of us to do.

There are fewer than 20 open seats left for The Seller Forum on March 12th in New York.  If you lead a national media sales team, you won’t want to miss key insights on video, viewability, talent, first half outlook and more.  Request your invitation today.