Robert Sawatzky
Dec 20, 2018

MediaMath’s open strategy in Asia

MediaMath is staking its reputation as an advocate for programmatic transparency to win Asian customers while looking to IBM to help gain an edge.

MediaMath international managing director Dave Reed
MediaMath international managing director Dave Reed

MediaMath has been busy recently, launching its ‘guaranteed viewable market’ in the US and Japan last month, with plans to roll it out in Australia and Southeast Asia over the new year.

The ‘rolling rollout’ takes time, since placing a 100% viewable fraud-free guarantee in each each local market requires working through all potential issues with data suppliers. But already, Asian clients have been responding positively to the press, asking when they can have it, notes Zachary King, MediaMath's Asia commercial vice-president.

“Is it likely more expensive than longtail highly-fraudulent zero transparency? My guess is ‘yes’ and we don’t care. You should end up with better financial terms,” argues Media Math international president Dave Reed.

The demand-side platform (DSP) has also been actively lobbying to clean up the adtech ecosystem. In October, it sent an open letter to its 50 directly integrated suppliers, spelling out supply-side abuses it will no longer tolerate and consequences for those trying to manipulate auctions through things like duplicating bid requests, masking domains and bid caching.

King has also been vocal in advocating for more transparency in programmatic auction dynamics, arguing recently in Campaign that first-price bidding can bring some much-needed trust.

An open door policy opens yet more doors

Positioning MediaMath as a beacon of transparency on things like bids, views and data usage in what is now often pilloried as a ‘murky digital supply chain’ has obvious appeal for frustrated advertisers who are tired of demanding to know what they’re paying for and whether their digital missives come with side-effects on their consumers. 

And as data consent legislation like GDPR is spurred by consumer disgust by the onslaught of digital marketing, Reed sees absolutely no point in swimming in anything but the same direction… and in front of competitors to profit from the opportunities.

“The consumer is just extremely dissatisfied with their experience online and anyone, including ourselves, who’s gotten high-frequency low-relevancy attack remarketing will know what that feels like,” he told Campaign on a recent trip to Singapore.  

“If you let people be totally open on consent and what their choices are, you then get this great ability to lateral all kinds of products off of it. Guaranteed viewable is just the first iteration of that.”

By working with all available tools like ads.txt, blockchain-ready supply with PGP signatures and direct connections to end users without hops through all supply-chain players, platforms like MediaMath now have enough confidence in the publisher, user and marketer’s intent to feel comfortable enough in making guarantees. 

“We think we’re in a good place to be the open-version of identity and allow our partners and clients to share in that,” Reed says. “Then you can build different marketplaces off it as well.”

One such avenue is data co-opting. One of MediaMath’s clients is an FMCG brand that shares data openly with retailers on their platform to get data back. Clients could also gain the ability to create their own curated marketplaces of media.

Two directions in China

The ability for MediaMath to differentiate itself as a leader in open, transparent platforms may be critical to its success as rival DSPs also look to Asia as a growth region.

In a game-changing move last month,The Trade Desk announced integrations with major Chinese plafotrms like iQiyi, Youku, Baidu Exchange Services and Tencent Social Ads, opening up the massive Chinese consumer market to global advertisers.

Until this move, China’s completely different digital ecosystem has been a barrier for Western technology and ecommerce platforms looking to gain entrance to its mainstream markets. 

“Great, awesome for them,” Reed concedes. “It’s not our primary focus right now.”

Reed also suggests that The Trade Desk’s position as a publicly-traded company may be driving them to be more aggressive as they strive to meet quarterly expectations. As a privately-owned company with a fresh US$225 million in funding raised this past summer, MediaMath has the luxury of taking a slower and safe approach for now, Reed adds.

Few platforms, however, have been able to lead across Asia’s dynamic markets by playing slowly and cautiously with limited offerings. So MediaMath is hoping its partnership with IBM can give it an edge its competitors don’t have.

Getting bigger with Big Blue

Just over a year ago, the platform struck a deal with IBM to work with Watson on AI-powered campaign optimisation. In early pilot testing this year, the partnership claims to improve campaign performance by 35% and boost win rates by 70%. 

There’s no official product yet, but in October they announced an IBM Media Optimizer powered by MediaMath was coming soon with the ability to bid intelligently using not just online user data but also with unstructured attributes like weather patterns and offline data that’s plugged into Watson.  More adtech and martech stack solutions with IBM are also on the way, they say.

MediaMath international MD Dave Reed & CTO Wilfried Schobeiri at Cannes, June 2018

When Campaign last caught up with Reed at Cannes, along with CTO Wilfried Schoberi, AT&T had just bought AppNexus and there were rumours that IBM was about to buy MediaMath outright. The two agreed such a deal made sense strategically but was obviously out of their hands. 

Now that SAP has bought Qualtrics it’s inevitable that those rumours will only resurface as the big technology consultancies scale up with martech platforms.  

“Yeah they should do it. We’re an amazing company,” Reed jokes of an IBM deal. “I’d buy us.”

In all seriousness, however, Reed and King say it’s interesting as an independent to watch different camps forming with AppNexus being absorbed by AT&T to grow, with The Trade Desk opting to go public through a Nasdaq IPO, while MediaMath instead leans on major private investors to fuel growth.

So with the big DSPs all structured differently, what might determine the winner?

“Scale, really,” says Reed.  “In every maturing industry scale end up being the most important thing.”

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