Ryder Cup of programmatic – my review of US vs Europe programmatic

First published in The Drum – click here

Back in 2010 when I started the European arm of VivaKi’s Audience On Demand, I had to turn to the US for everything. Half the companies I dealt with at the time had to turn to their data centres in the US just to make a bid, something that today would be impossible to imagine.

The US led the programmatic revolution, my own colleagues kicking things off in 2008. I was certainly wowed by the work going on in the US and the sophistication with which they approached this new and complex advertising technique.

Europeans often complain that Americans just don’t understand us. Having spent five months in the US last year, I realise that the reverse is also true. We just don’t understand the sheer scale and complexity of the US market either and because of that it creates more challenges for a single country than for Europe as a whole.

People would say without hesitation or doubt: ‘Oh so how is the UK, what are you, about two years’ behind us?’ Frustrating. So often the opinion was based on scale, not sophistication, and the two are fundamentally different in a market like the US. As I consider my time there and compare it with the UK, I would say there are three primary differences:

Scale vs campaign sophistication

There are advertisers in the US who at times spend more individually than two major European markets combined. Daunting as it is, this type of scale drives innovation and startups. It powers research and learnings because budgets are so large that testing new technology and funding research is that much easier than in smaller markets. But take a narrower view of the work, the strategy, and this is where Europe starts to come into its own.

While scale equates to innovation on a macro level, smaller budgets often lead to more rigorous optimisation on a campaign level.

Let’s take something like centralising retargeting. In the space of about a year the UK revolutionised the marketplace. It was a marketplace where an advertiser routinely had 10+ ad networks and publishers each with a pixel on the advertiser’s site. They would happily retarget their first-party data, creating incredible internal competition and price inflation on their audiences as well as data leakage. This is like letting multiple companies bid on brand search terms. It would never be allowed in search so why in display?

UK advertisers realised relatively quickly the problem needed fixing – and it was fixed. The US is still pondering the complexity.

Vendor management

Vast agency networks across multiple cities creates an opportunity for publishers and media sellers to find money in any number of cracks. Policing spend and agency-preferred partners in the US is incredibly difficult. Say no to a tech company in one city, and they will pitch to your counterpart in another.

Europe appears to have a much better grasp on that process. With relatively smaller teams, overarching strategies can be put into play and monitored effectively. This may not be to the liking of some media companies, but it needs to be done to ensure best-in-class partnerships.

Invented in the US, adopted in Europe, private marketplaces (PMPs) are another of Europe’s success stories. The speed with which the UK alone created PMPs surprised my US colleagues and competitors. Building bespoke PMPs is now the norm in Europe to drive programmatic business. In the US there are still DSP providers without PMP functionality, which I find incredible.

At a dinner I attended in New York, publishers were bemoaning the lack of buyer demand. In Europe we see the opposite – publishers and agencies are driving an ever higher proportion of spend via PMPs and there is massive innovation as well.

La Place Media in France is a prime example, and another more recent is theglobal launch of Pangaea, the publishing alliance led by The Guardian but including FT, CNN, The Economist and others. This is not happening in the US, as most players consider themselves too large to need that kind of collaboration. I think this is a mistake as Google, Facebook and others are only getting bigger and stronger.

Agility and innovation

Things just seem to move faster in European markets. Ideas are put into action very quickly. Geography helps. When AOD launched in the UK, I would walk down Charlotte Street in London, dealing with just a handful of leaders. The same approach in the US spans as many as six cities, 10 agencies and an army of people.

This is not a criticism, it is a fact.  Even when you have a well-developed idea, beta-testing is much quicker in a European market as you work with smaller teams who work next to each other.

Innovation is a hot topic and one that I think we lament when we look at the hotbed of Silicon Valley and the burgeoning New York scene.  However huge strides are being made in EMEA with hot new companies emerging from Israel to Amsterdam and Moscow.

One continent awe-inspiring in scale and opportunity. One continent agile and swift.  Operating in parallel? Formidable.

Premium publisher alliances and their benefits : My piece in Drum on Pangaea

Originally posted on The Drum click here.

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Exciting news from the new consortium called Pangaea. It has been a long time coming and represents another big step forward for the programmatic industry. Another step towards the word ‘programmatic’ being a thing of the past as the whole industry normalises as regards the use of tech for the targeting and delivery of ads.

I am still having conversations with advertisers who ask if we are dealing in long tail, unsold inventory. Initiatives like Pangaea add further evidence that the concept of not being able to buy premium, or build brands through programmatically traded media is a thing of the past.

This list of publishers sounds like a starting point and I am sure it will grow. It is exactly the collaboration that all publishers should be looking at.

Important to note however that although many advertisers do not want the long tail and want to avoid fraud we are still faced with a side by side comparison on lowest CPM wins driven by auditors. Pangaea will undoubtedly be at the more expensive end of the pricing spectrum in exchanges. Advertisers can’t have it both ways. We now need to make sure they are not priced out of the market by all the things the advertisers fear most but end up accepting for the sake of lower pricing.

The other plus point for Pangaea is that the advent of technology and data management platforms has changed the dynamics for advertisers. They can now play a more central role by controlling their audiences at the centre and then execute either globally or allow local markets to plug in. Either way, having the ability to partner with a single alliance to work with allows them to act at scale in premium inventory and access strong data to enhance their own.

Being global is essential. It is vital that publishers adapt to a marketplace where advertisers are doing deals with the Facebooks, Googles etc globally as a starting point in their media planning. Scale is becoming paramount.

The alliance will also allay fears from advertisers around brand safety and fraud, a critical issue right now. This group of companies can offer advertisers a vehicle to avoid many of those issues. The combined investment in tech from Rubicon, the publishers themselves and the nature of the sites means this should be a staple part of any global advertisers plans and safe in the knowledge it will bring quality, brand safe inventory.

My press round up from last couple of months.

Rather than copy and paste individual sections of my commentary in the press, here are the links to the latest hot topics, starting most recently with the Google buying Inmobi news. Basic summary was a necessary if not perfect acquisition target.

Published in Business Insider – click here for article.

A couple of weeks back, Marketing published a post on programmatic TV and how things were developing by Charlotte McEleny. Overview was we needed to unlock the data if things were going to progress.

Published in Marketing Magazine, please click here for the article.

Campaign published my article in the magazine on the joining of creative and programmatic and how both creative industry and media industry need to up their game.

Published in Campaign – please click here for the article.

Digiday story on the evolving story of trading desks, where VivaKi are leading the way in transformation in this space. Written by Emily Siegel.

Published in Digiday, click here for the article.

Drum coverage of VivaKi announcing restructure where programmatic buying skills move into the agencies. Written by Jessica Davies

Published in The Drum, for the article click here.