How agencies can become the glue that holds the programmatic players together

A breakfast briefing on programmatic advertising held in partnership with The Trade Desk delved into the role agencies play in forging transparency, in-house programmatic media buying, GDPR and the Chinese programmatic video scene.

Jeff Green
Jeff Green

As transparency issues often only arise when the numbers do not deliver, it is more crucial than ever for advertisers to address issues below the surface with the ad networks and the DSPs whom they rarely engage directly, a recent panel discussion on cross-industry collaboration in programmatic advertising suggested.

Adrian Toy, VP of digital, Melco Resorts & Entertainment found the more he looked into programmatic practices the more questions he had. “What processes are they going for, how are they selecting the sites, how are they shifting the money, how are they doing the bidding strategy, how are they making sure…All these things when you start dwelling into it, then you realise they haven’t been doing it, so you got whoa, you should dig for more information,” he said. The briefing was held in partnership between The Trade Desk and Campaign in Hong Kong last Thursday; Campaign’s head of content Robert Sawatzky moderated the panel.

(from left) Robert Sawatzky, Adrian Toy, Jeff Green and Yean Cheong

This could perhaps dispel the assumption that advertisers are largely ignorant about technology, and Toy maintained that advertisers are most keen to know the people, processes and products along the whole chain, and are curious to know why one DSP is chosen over the other. “How do I know my agency doesn’t have a good relationship with The Trade Desk, and is that why they don’t put more money into it? These are the questions I want to know,” Toy quipped to the laughter of the audience.

Yean Cheong, head of Cadreon, APAC, IPG Mediabrands, agreed on the need for more transparency in practice, beyond transparency in pricing, and maintained that Cadreon shares the score cards on its DSP partners with clients. “So basically all that has got nothing to do with so-called planning, [or] execution of campaign,” said Cheong. “As a client, they need to know we are constantly having conversations with our partners, putting them in check, also making sure that they are fair, playing it right and making sure that they [the brands] are safe.”

Jeff Green, CEO and co-founder of The Trade Desk reminded advertisers that they get what they pay for and the need to shift from the mindset that media buying is merely placing an order, from the old days of calling up the paper and asking for the rate card. “The elephant in the room for a long time, between the agency and the brand… Brand wants the cost of media buying to be almost zero - I pay you for the creative, media buying is done for free - partly because of the legacy the way agency works,” Green said.

Building on that, Green strongly believes that brands cannot afford to take programmatic media buying in-house, although a few big names such as Netflix and Unilever have paved the way. P&G is not only spending less on programmatic, but has also recently pledged to bring programmatic media-buying in-house.

Nevertheless, Green pointed out that P&G engages The Trade Desk for programmatic media buying for its global markets even though it has “double digit number of people” in the conglomerate’s headquarters in Cincinnati running programmatic buying. “If you have 20-ish people in Cincinnati, and they are very quantitative, shouldn’t they be establishing strategies, and working with a dozen agencies that you use, giving you clear directives on what to buy? There’s so much more that we can be doing with data together,” said Green.

However, Toy shared why brands are keen to bring programmatic in-house, beyond cost and transparency issues, . “Sometimes you need quick results, programmatic is one of the few levers in the digital mix where you can do that, we do want to have that ability,” he said, adding that Melco would like to carry out some programmatic buy in-house in the future.

“As a brand, there are cases where it is better to have a look at some of the approaches, in terms of making sure we got the insight, we control the inventory, to make sure we understand what is happening,” Toy said. Meanwhile, Toy explained that Melco does not use programmatic buying when it wants to target a particular group of audience, but goes back to publishers such as the high society title Tatler if it wants to reach out to affluent audience, for example.

Cadreon’s Chong confirmed that clients have indeed asked about resources in-house, and said she would encourage clients to start with doing in-house analytics of first-party data. “A lot of times, we can’t actually with the primary data, because it’s their CRM data. I would say that this functionality of getting the right campaign mix and execution, down to the right choice of partners have to start with data, what is available, whether it is from the client side or the partners,” said Chong. “We actually work with not just first-party data, but second party data, I would say that definitely, we need to be able to have this open conversation to get the right balance of them.”

GDPR concerns

As expected, a discussion on advertising would not veer far from GDPR and the recent data scandals engulfing Facebook. On the two issues, Green believed that Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony at the US Congress left more impact on data privacy than GDPR did.

“Mostly it is scaring the shit out of big players, US senators demonstrating to the rest of the world their ignorance of technology. Those two things made it so that everybody has to respond, how to make sure that they never have to sit where Mark has, it happens to have a huge impact on the way Google has made policy decisions over the last couple of months including the way they interact with GDPR,” said Green.

Likewise, Green pointed out the quid pro quo nature of the internet makes sure that publishers and the advertising industry will never go out of business. “I don’t believe cookies would go away, I don’t believe tonnes of people are opting out,” said Green. He called out on publishers to do a better job in making the transactional nature of their business clear to consumers.  “Publishers have to do a better job explaining, I have to show you targeted advertising in exchange of content, if you don’t opt in to receiving cookies, or allow me to target advertising, you can’t visit my site, because that’s the way I make money. That will force a better dialogue on what the quid pro quo of the internet is and everybody is better off for it,” said Green.

Looking East

Meanwhile, Green is bullish on The Trade Desk’s expansion into China, having relocated to Hong Kong earlier this year to be closer to the market. Yet he remains pragmatic of the approach, due to the different network structure and existing players in the Chinese market. The Trade Desk announced its partnership with Alibaba’s Youku and Baidu last year.

Speaking to Campaign, Green said The Trade Desk’s most compelling pitch to the BAT giants remains the inventory and increased spendings from big international brands. “We don’t think the BATs are getting their fair share because the biggest brands in the world are reluctant to spend with them. By us becoming a safe place to put their data, we make it easier to spend on their platforms,” said Green.

He was convinced that the CTV (connected TV) scene in China presents an advantage, unlike in the US where Netflix and Amazon have taken out the video ads. “Most of the products in China have ads in them, in fact the ad experience is pretty bad, and so many people got connected TV and they are swimming in inventory,” said Green. “Essentially not only are we trying to partner with Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba, we also think video is the place where they are missing out the most, Tencent is mostly performance advertisements,” he added.

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