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Why Good Programmatic Still Needs Good Practice

Jonathan Elliott

Key Takeaways

  • Programmatic is open, democratic and empowering, but it is not a magic wand.
  • Critics of the ecosystem miss the point that it is the use of the technology that is flawed, not the tech itself.
  • Streaming services (SVOD) are returning to ads after subscription and this is an opportunity perfect for programmatic.
  • As cookieless is phased in, ad spend will remain steady.
  • Ads created by generative AI are going to be more prominent, but big brands will, for now, stay away.

Wayne Blodwell is the Founder and CEO of Impact Media.

Jonathan Elliott: You're a passionate advocate for programmatic. Why?

Wayne Blodwell: The best thing about programmatic is the openness of it. It's a very open ecosystem and very interconnected. When I was a student, I got an account with one of the big British banks, and basically, it ripped me off. I couldn't access my money for a while, and this was a revelation for me. I was like, "Oh, this is what happens. When you're a big company, you can do anything". That experience really influenced me. By contrast, programmatic is a very fair ecosystem. If you've got good ads and good audiences, the money should find its way. And because tech is the enabler of that ecosystem, I find that very exciting.

Another thing was that you could just be one person in your bedroom and be better than a media agency with 5000 people. Because you're just better at setting up campaigns, or maybe you can build AI to model the data you get access to in a more creative and clever way. I always liked that… I like the underdog, which has nothing but smarts. And I want that underdog to be rewarded. I always think that innovation and application should win, not just because you're just a big behemoth who has relationships, you know?

JE: There have been concerns about programmatic, talk of black box anxieties, about bad actors, spoofing domains of inventory, and hesitancy from the buyer side because of fears about transparency. Was that ever valid? Has it changed? How do you respond to those kinds of criticisms?

WB: Not long ago, there were a bunch of industry studies that cast a bad light on programmatic. I thought at the time that it was unfair to blame programmatic as an idea for some of the problems associated with it. I put out a tweet that got picked up a little bit - I said "blaming programmatic for bad advertising is like blaming the roads for drunk driving". It's not the infrastructure that's at fault. It's the use of it. If you're good at programmatic, you will do good programmatic. So what I'm saying is: "Just be good, just do best practice, make sure you're running on sites that you know, name sites, and you're working with tech players you know. Make sure that you set frequency caps, be conscious of how you budget, and pace your budget over the course of a day, as opposed to just putting it in there and pressing 'go.' There's a real difference between doing programmatic well and badly: it depends on the technology that you use, the people who use it, and the analysis and data behind it. If you're good at those three, you'll be so much better than people who treat it like a sausage machine and just put some money in and hope something good comes out at the other end.

If you're concerned about black box, you're not doing programmatic very well, because you can get transparency with your partners quite easily. It's like the internet. In an openly connected ecosystem, you're going to get companies who are chancers or not doing things the way they should be, but with programmatic in general, you can put more controls in now to prevent yourself from serving bad content or giving money to people in the supply chain who shouldn't get it.

There is an argument that some of those controls should be more default and technology should be put in place to ensure greater control, but I've always thought "It's your responsibility as a buyer to know what you're buying as well." I sometimes think the technology layer gets something of a hard time, when actually it is the users of the technology who should be doing more.

JE: Looking at future trends – what are the big trends in programmatic for 2024. You've talked about CTV, for example.

WB: Disruption in digital advertising is led by the consumer. A company develops something that has content on it, and then the consumer starts watching it. And then it starts having ads. Then, what happens is that AdTech enables the buyers and sellers to connect.

So, in a real-world example - companies like Peacock and Paramount Disney are creating streaming services. Some of them initially launched a subscription model, but they've realized that an ads-funded model would benefit them. So Netflix, for example, would charge $9.99 per month but now they have an ads model. So that becomes like a digital advertising opportunity - it's led by the consumer and what they want and need. Companies fulfill it. Advertising is nearly always the last thing that comes in. And then AdTech specifically sits beneath that.

That's the same in CTV, digital OOH, and digital audio – and now we're seeing things like digital cars and digital devices – all these can carry ads. If you've got a Samsung watch, now, you might get an ad.

JE: How do you think programmatic is going to play into cookieless in the year ahead?

WB: I'd say there were three trains of thought on this question. One is that there's going to be a lot of changes in the approach to strategy because both the advertisers and publishers have relied heavily on cookies to do business, but I don't think it will really impact spend. So advertisers still need to advertise to sell products or services, and publishers still need to create content that people want to consume. And so, whilst there'll be a lot of change in the approach to strategy, I don't think spending is going to be greatly affected. The analogy I use about cookieless is a horse race. There are about 14 horses in a race. And on any one day, someone's leading, and someone's not. And many companies are betting on all 14. And they're just taking a hedge on where they commit to. So that's what I mean when I say the approach to the strategy is changing, which is definitely a good thing. Because we know the cookies are not that reliable or privacy-compliant.

JE: How do you see AI, especially generative AI impacting advertising?

WB: I definitely think that computer-generated ads will become more commonplace, and being able to constantly iterate those will be something that people do. But if you are a massive brand you're unlikely to adopt those because often the output isn't quite exactly what you want or maybe you've got a brand colours you need to adhere to, or the logo needs to be in a certain place and so on. So, to some extent, it will help with testing, and I definitely see some brands adopting it in their creative strategy, but I don't see brands like Coca-Cola, Nike, or Procter and Gamble using it as the output the consumer sees.

Wayne Bloodwell has been in programmatic advertising since 2010 and held roles developing programmatic offerings at Group M, Dentsu Aegis, Havas and Interpublic Group. Prior to starting Impact Media, Wayne ran The Programmatic Advisory - a strategic consultancy based in London and New York.

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