Shawn Lim
Mar 26, 2024

Is it time for publishers to reassess their adtech stack?

Publishers are struggling to assess the value of multiple vendor relationships while streamlining their tech stack. Campaign asks experts in the region for suggestions on what publishers should do.

Image created by Dall-E
Image created by Dall-E

Digital advertising publishers face the dual challenge of meeting immediate quarterly revenue targets and making long-term technology investments, impacting their decision-making process in integrating multiple vendors.

In digital marketing terms, a publisher is an entity that creates, publishes, and disseminates content through digital channels like websites and applications. A primary source of income for these publishers is offering advertising spaces (known as inventory) to businesses aiming to advertise their goods or services to the publisher's audience.

The balancing act of meeting targets and long-term investment can hinder the development of a solid foundation for privacy, consumer safety, and sustainability. When evaluating their supply chain, publishers struggle to assess the value of multiple vendor relationships while also maintaining high-value partnerships and streamlining their tech stack.

For example, in the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA) study on the transparency of programmatic media supply chains, it was found that the current average number of supply-side platforms publishers use is 19. The ANA recommends publishers to reduce the number of SSPs used to a maximum of seven.

Developing a practical measurement metric for assessing the environmental impact of vendor choices, as pursued by organisations like Scope3 and the IAB Tech Lab, is also critical. Such metrics are essential for effectively balancing sustainability with supply-path optimisation.

As privacy and sustainability become increasingly important, the industry needs a more collaborative approach, utilising shared utilities and standards. The proliferation of privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) plays a significant role in this collective effort.

Campaign speaks to industry experts to discover how publishers can refactor their approach to address the ecosystem's complexity and inefficiency.

A balancing act

Balancing long-term strategic investments with short-term targets is a perennial problem for any business.

With the deprecation of cookies, more significant consolidation, and increased calls for transparency, the adtech industry is rapidly changing, and publishers are struggling to keep up.

Sonal Patel, vice president for APAC, Quantcast, tells Campaign that publishers must proactively take strategic long-term investments in people, processes, and technology to deliver superior user experience and build a robust revenue model.

She explains that technology is one piece of the puzzle, and publishers should work with innovative vendors who share their ethos towards privacy, brand safety, and sustainability and can provide solutions tailored for publishers and content owners.

Understandably, publishers may shy away from simplifying their tech stack due to concerns around disruption, risks of vendor lock-in, and the effort of dismantling legacy systems.

However, Panel stresses a streamlined technology stack will ultimately help eliminate friction and allow publishers to focus on what they do best—creating high-impact content for consumers.

"Publishers are the backbone of the Internet and should be celebrated by consumers. However, they may not feel validated by the advertising ecosystem because of the constant tsunami of tech change encroaching on their legacy systems," explains Patel.

"At their core, publishers are websites that attract consumers to engage in their web real estate. Consumers will continue to change and influence the laws that improve the future of web browsing and drive organisations to re-evaluate their partnerships."

Patel continues: "While it is best to have solid and trusted relationships with vendors, publishers must develop a plan on what tech decisions must be made to meet business priorities."

Hannah Mirza, founder and chief executive at The Responsible Marketing Agency, adds that layered technology, by all means, presents a sustainability issue, and publishers are under pressure to streamline. 

Mirza warns publishers to be careful in the process, whether they are creating the next monopoly or oligopoly ecosystem of suppliers. 

"As clients streamline, their SSP solutions and publishers strip back their supply to fewer touchpoints; it's a certainty," Mirza tells Campaign. "As an industry, we need to project the three-year outcome of these consolidations and not just the short-termism of the challenge presented."

Assessing the actual value of multiple vendor relationships

The bigger the tech stack, the bigger the cost. According to the 2020 Isba Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency Study, publishers only receive 50% of advertising revenue, with technology costs accounting for 11% of overheads.

Patel says publishers must determine what 'high-value' means to them before looking to cull or add to their list of vendors that fit the bill. In many cases, it's not always about the money a publisher spends on its vendors.

"Streamlining is essential, but sometimes partnerships last simply because the parties mutually enjoy the problem-solving, the ways of working, and the mutual collaboration," explains Patel.   

Hitoshi Maruyama, managing director of publisher growth at Anymind Group, notes that publishers may use monetary impact as a measurement factor and critical performance indicators for near-term results.

Maruyama tells Campaign that challenges exist on the qualitative side of assessment, such as publisher-vendor synergy and the scalability of future cooperation.

"Therefore, a publisher should assess a vendor's commitment and values to see the maximum output from any partnership," adds Maruyama.

Patel believes advertising on the open Internet can only benefit from reducing the complexity within itself so publishers and advertisers can perpetuate the power of data and sophisticated machine learning.

They are doing so by essentially levelling the playing field for the betterment of all parties involved—which itself is the mission of wanting an open Internet.

Patel explains that all players in the ecosystem should not wait for the implementation of regulation or standards but instead be forward-thinking and innovative.

"For instance, the deprecation of cookies allows the industry to innovate and solve the addressability challenge," says Patel. "Privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) offer yet another avenue for collaboration and sandboxing new initiatives, but what is essential is that people are willing to create these initiatives together."

Maruyama stresses that PETs need to be customised based on region, as GDPR and CCPA have created global confusion, resulting in differing practices within the EU and the US.

"There should be a standard guidance or threshold internationally, but technology should be developed according to local customs and the future enforcement of PETs in each region or country," he explains.

What should publishers do?

In a post-cookie world, publishers must rely on first-party data and contextual signals to deliver seamless and relevant ad experiences.

Investing in first-party data assets should be a priority for website owners, enabling them to offer personalised experiences to the right target audience to make buying easy. Marketing teams who do not already have a real-time view of where their customers are in their purchase journey with their companies need to address this issue first. 

Patel notes complex structures across holding groups compound the complexity further, and entrenched systems often become 'frankenstacks', resulting from a disparate mix of legacy and new systems merged in a haphazard array.

"But no matter how each tech stack comes together, they need to function cohesively so that relevant departments can receive the insights they need and outlays are manageable," says Patel. "[They can] leverage an AI or machine learning-based solution to do the heavy lifting. Brands doing a tech audit should consider what areas can be consolidated while meeting operational efficiencies and required standards."

According to Maruyama, the quickest solution is to partner with a vendor with vast knowledge and expertise from working publishers for their digital transformation.

He adds that supply chain optimisation should start from monetisation because it opens up the path to further discuss the mid- to long-term strategy for a publisher's sustainable growth. The publisher should then prioritise categories based on their culture, user base, and a plan for future innovative solutions.

"When selecting vendors or partners to work with, publishers should look at areas such as transparency, dependability, safety and efficiency as table stakes or areas vendors are already actively working towards achieving," says Maruyama.

"Once the table stakes are checked, publishers should assess what the vendor is innovating on and even the partnerships the vendor has developed. Do these have the same table stakes? Is the vendor developing innovations that drive new revenue or growth sources while maintaining transparency, dependability, safety and efficiency?"

These questions are essential for all publishers to consider if a sustainable, high-impact future is to be attained.

Campaign Asia

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