Mitch Waters
Oct 21, 2019

APIs: an unlikely counter to in-housing

Among the many benefits of application programming interfaces is providing agencies with a competitive advantage to fight in-housing.

APIs: an unlikely counter to in-housing

As the digital revolution goes into overdrive, the role that media agencies play in advertising is rapidly changing. Advances in technology and the rise of ad tech have created a sense of uncertainty for agencies. But help (and hope) is coming from an unlikely source: application programming interfaces, or APIs.

Agencies are creating their own technologies, using APIs, to reinvent and futureproof their businesses. For example, by accessing more inventory, automating processes and workflows, and gaining deeper insights to extend campaign reach and optimise performance.

APIs are technical protocols that allow developers to create custom services on top of another software platform. Think of a food-delivery app which builds on the mapping functionality of Google Maps to show you nearby restaurants or help you track the progress of your food delivery.

APIs have disrupted many industries. Uber revolutionised taxi services and transportation around the world, Airbnb redefined what it means to live in and experience a country, and Amazon disrupted the entire retail industry and shopping experience. We are in the midst of a similar revolution in marketing and advertising.

The only way for agencies and brands to harness data points and scale provided by technology will be to partner and leverage APIs more effectively. APIs are the unsung heroes of the internet—playing a quiet but critical role in some of the most significant industrial disruptions of our era.

Manifold benefits from APIs

It’s not just consumer applications that benefit from APIs. Brands are turning to the technology to help them build long-term competitive advantage. By engineering their own customised solutions on top of existing technology platforms to differentiate their offerings, agencies are using APIs to unlock new creative possibilities and longer-term revenue sources.

With APIs, advertisers can use real-time data to automatically merge in-house intellectual property with external signals, such as updates on weather, traffic, fuel prices, sports results or major infrastructure project rollouts. This will help, for example:

  • A retail chain wanting to clear stock on an item to send out promotional ads to shoppers only near outlets where stock is available
  • An anti-histamine purveyor to issue discount coupons when the ambient pollen count breaches a certain level; and
  • An ice-cream vendor to call out to passers-by once temperatures soar past 35 degrees.

Agencies are also using APIs to eliminate workflow pain points with automation. Getting rid of manually updated Excel sheets is a huge gain in productivity for many agencies. Or they could create a campaign template so that their media traders can set up and manage campaigns more quickly and automatically adjust bids across different campaigns.

Data + APIs = Success

All in all, the agency of the future competes by offering innovative data strategies and better business outcomes. Savvy agencies are evolving their business model to help brands invest their adspend more efficiently with more data strategies and integrating with technology partners to streamline their operations. By optimally integrating, automating and customising how they work with their digital campaign data, they can take their digital strategies to the next level.

APIs have basically opened a new chapter when it comes to how platforms, agencies and brands interact. Relations between agencies, brands and platforms need to—and will—change, and there is value to be unlocked for each part of the advertising ecosystem. By working together more closely, platforms can support agencies and brands to uncover and understand what’s truly possible with data-driven buying strategies. Those players who remain fluid and evolve will be the agencies and brands that survive and thrive in the data-driven era.


Mitch Waters is SVP of Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand at The Trade Desk.

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