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The BIG 6 learnings from 2014 Adtech

First published in Campaignlive US – click here for article.

In a year dominated by headlines of transparency, fraud, agency trading desks and advertisers “taking it in house,” we should not lose sight of the incredible pace of acquisitions, IPOs and investments. In all these seemingly endless and haphazard investments, we have seen a few patterns form — some just starting out while others completing the circle.

Completion of the ad stack

Probably the largest amount of ground was covered here. After the first big move last year by AOL buying Adap.tv, we saw a flurry of activity. Yahoo bought BrightRoll and Flurry; Facebook bought LiveRail and relaunched Atlas. AOL, Yahoo and Facebook are all live or creating their DSPs so if you want to buy their inventory you need to use their DSP. All these moves are designed to allow the big players to compete with Google and offer a full stack to the market place. More importance is being attached to being able to demonstrate targeting abilities across channel and platform, and this is where the battlegrounds will form.

One view to rule them all

As well as the platform and infrastructure play, we have seen massive moves afoot to deliver user identification both in terms of interests and where they are consuming media. The cookie is dying, slowly, everyone can see that and the realization that owned, logged in, registered data is the new cookie. Much hand-wringing occurred when Facebook bought WhatsApp. No revenue, no ad model, what are they doing? Well one, they needed to buy up the competition as they did with Instagram, but two, it massively expands Facebook’s pool of registered, logged-in user data. Everyone now wants to create a unique set of data insights around consumers, and I am afraid that is setting us back a little: Advertisers have a right to get a single view of their customer and not be forced to work with multiple siloes.

2014 — year of video

I know, it was meant to be the year of mobile (maybe it was really), but it turned out that video stole the show. A strong IPO from TubeMogul, Videology partnering with Mediaocean and Turn launching a TV offering, BrightRoll being bought by Yahoo, LiveRail by Facebook showed just how important video has become to advertisers and media-owners alike.

If it is not the media side of it, it is the structural side: Comcast bought up Freewheel in a move sure to take it toward programmatic, and the U.K.’s Channel 4 opened up VOD to selected video DSPs. Whether it is connected, on demand or in stream, video has well and truly taken center stage. Next year is the year of mobile. Definitely. Really.

Enterprise marketing solutions look to ad tech

The likes of Oracle, IBM, Salesforce and Adobe have for years looked in the other direction when it came to media and ad tech, but 2013 and 14 have seen that change considerably. There have been some major plays this year: most notably Oracle buying BlueKai, but Adobe and Oracle have also signed major agency deals and continue to feature heavily in the discussion of merging marketing tech with ad tech.

The ups and downs of IPOs

What a year for IPOs! I think everyone was taken aback by the volume and pace of the IPOs this year. Rubicon began strongly and gave the market some confidence. TubeMogul followed, and there was talk from DataXu as well, although that has not materialized. RocketFuel and Millennial IPO’d but to less success, and they followed Tremor and others in falling dramatically from their first-day float. Some of the business models are being questioned on the basis of market position, their real added value or even whether their businesses are built on the hard and never-ending work of the bots.

Internet of things as bought by Google

From left field comes a raft of purchases that prove the tech giants are looking well beyond the banner. (That’s dead, right?) Facebook bought Oculus Rift; slow on the social-gaming ride, Facebook simply jumped one step ahead. Google has bought into Nest, the household wireless heating/ home control system. Samsung bought Smart Things, another platform for controlling the home, and finally Google bought a drone company. There were more, but you get the idea. I recommend you read the book The Circle by Dave Eggers about a social-media company that becomes part of everything in our lives and slowly erodes privacy … Then look at some of these purchases.

Marco Bertozzi is President of AOD, EMEA and North American Client Services with VivaKi.

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12 Months of Adtech reviewed

In 12 months the Ad tech market place has gone totally crazy, impossible to keep track of it all and the money invested is off the scale, but below I highlighted a few stories and events in the last 11 months that I noted. I will have missed others for sure!

There has been some negativity around the space with transparency being a hot topic and whether advertisers want to take this all in house, but those headlines have distracted from some incredible market changing investments, purchases and alignments. Enjoy the reminisce!

January

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The Partridge in a Pear tree for Yahoo was Enrique Decastro, bringing him in on a huge salary and being presented as a saviour for the organisation, driving sales and value for the business. Unfortunately January saw that particular partridge being shot. Quick acting by Marissa to be fair to her, but an unlikely choice in the first place according to many. More recent news has seen Lisa Utzschneider fill that space, coming in from Amazon.

In other news Turn receive their belated Christmas present raising $80m as they march on as a leading DSP in the market and looking to expand beyond that descriptor and moving more towards a wider DMP, services model, some might call agency model.

Holy F*** February

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February was IPO crazy month with Pubmatic rumours, Rubicon filing, Rocketfuel all taking the plunge – some big valuations were banded around and it was the month everyone realised that the good times were back and the VCs were starting to spend all that cash they had been hoarding through the bad times – the bubble is inflating. Google buys another company, on the back of Deepmind in January, a London based machine learning company, called Vungle. We have seen the signs but Oracle buying Bluekai was a big flag being waved to show that the digital media business was being taken seriously by the cloud and consultancy companies. We also saw round one of TV disruption being won by the old school with Comcast getting Netflix to pay them for streaming services, the upstart being slapped into place.

But all the IPO business paled into insignificance when the world collectively went ‘what the f*** app’ as Facebook put down a multi billion dollar offer for the social messaging app. Cue the hand wringing about lack of revenue, too high a price from the digerati turned incredible commercial strategists. Facebook are clear on this, show us something growing fast and taking share and I will show you my cheque book (or should it be Visa Debit Card). Scale is everything in a world where data and the identification of people and what they are doing and where they are doing it becomes the most valuable asset. Or perhaps Mark is hoping to achieve the same status as Steve Jobs who was approved to appear on a US stamp that very same month.

Modernisation March

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March saw a number of moves for the future by different companies. Comcast bought Freewheel, a clear indication they are gearing up for a programmatic, data led future and could not resist the tide any longer. At the same time AOL One launched to much fanfare – the Game of Stacks now well underway with AOL taking a big step forward, We are but pawns in this incredible battle of supremacy between AOL, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and Google and there is much more to go as we see this play out. The single view of the customer across screens is a vital offering and these teams are throwing everything at it, whilst Microsoft seems to be frozen to the spot at the moment. Perhaps they need to remove their whole sales team and start again? Oh..

Finally in modernisation March we saw Conde Nast take the stage and announce proudly, albeit a few years late that they had decided that yes programmatic was something to pay attention to and they would be getting involved. Thanks for that.

April Fools?

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The first signs of trouble for the IPOs of the previous months – the city falling out of love with a number of them, seeing prices fall significantly and some below opening day. There was some scepticism at IPO but recent press questioning whether these companies were right to value themselves on the hard work of bot traffic came into play. As the curtain lifts on the methods of many RTB companies this may be a theme for the future, perhaps even hitting the FT one day…oh it did.

RadiumOne saw some ‘Rocky’ waters as their CEO was eventually prosecuted for beating his wife up. It took some time and a fair amount of industry Twitter rejection to get him ousted but it happened and then everyone moved on as he set up Gravity8 three minutes later.

As if to demonstrate two different strategies Facebook and Google both made a play for the future with Facebook launching an…. Ad Network..meanwhile in other news Google bought a drone company – was it an April Fool? well after Nest in January and now a drone maker it appears not – Internet of Everything anyone?

Merger May, Maybe not

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Publicis and Omnicom call off merger. Must be something else they can buy sooner or later surely?

Millenial and Rocketfuel taking an absolute beating on the stock market as increased speculation on their businesses and whether or not they are complimentary or in conflict with agencies rage. Google and AOL keep buying companies to further enhance their operations, Google getting into attribution and AOL into cross channel allocation, interesting that both are now toe to toe on making the stack work. It was a month where everyone appeared to be tooling up with Axium buying and Liveramp to help with data onboarding.

Qriously June

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What is the worst brand name in Adtech? Qriously of course. Apparently that was not all bad and brought some pre Cannes exposure coupled with their expensive tablet card asking for a meeting. Memorable but expensive I would say, some might say a qrious decision.

June was the month GroupM announced a withdrawl from open exchanges and that it would be done by Christmas, big claim for sure. Could someone check for me? pretty sure they are still there but there is still time.  As with every year Cannes came around and the Adtech world took it by storm – the rose looked and tasted the same, the beaches were packed with hard working media folk but the names were different, everyone had upgraded this year and the place now resembled an Exchangewire event at scale. It was a good time to be in Cannes as the money continued to flow and pay for those expensive tents and lunches. Mediamath picked up a massive 170m dollars, Twitter bought Tap commerce for 100m, Facebook bought slingshot and WPP ploughed 25m into a DMP strategy.

Buy buy July

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Enough said, the boom continued and at pace. Facebook buys Liverail as its next move in Stack Wars, Yahoo buys Flurry to continue its successful push into mobile revenues, a battle it appears to be winning as we are seeing now as it overtakes Twitter in mobile revenues. Linkedin bought Bizo, a natural fit for both and makes us wonder if the sleeping giant is starting to wake up and join the fight.

Rocketfuel bought the very transparent X+1 as it starts the long road away from the darkness and into the incredibly difficult world of running a business transparently. In the spirit of transparency Turn took a turn in July and went on the offensive, taking aim at Tubemogul amongst others, it felt like an email you send late at night when slightly under the influence  – stand away from the send button. Oh no, you did again..in August.

August.

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Everyone went to the beach. Google bought some more companies.

Facebook me September!

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Millenial fights back and buys Nexage to grow out its programmatic credentials and build credibility in the data and RTB space. At the same time WPP drop their adserving business and buy into the DSP business, out with the old in with the new.

The Alibaba IPO put Yahoo into a very interesting position, as perhaps a buyer or maybe a seller? There is a strong belief that Yahoo and AOL are on a collision course and so having their P&L filled to the rafters with the Alibaba IPO cash will put them in a great position either way.

But really all everyone wanted to talk about was Atlas and the launch of their new adserving platform and soon to be launched DSP. Facebook had now made its biggest move in the Stack wars. Combining improved adserving tech with their data and soon to be launched DSP. With this move we see ever more clearly that there are likely to be some large islands of tech and everyone of those is ring fencing owned and operated inventory and how you access it. We have moved a long way from the utopia of one access point to the web and are now focused on how can we join these islands up with DMP and other technology.

Hotober

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Publicis buys RUN and invests in Matomy – something to expect as we progress and competition comes not just from other agency groups but also the very aggressive managed service offerings and RTB networks. Agency groups will need to tool up more and more and so I think we can expect more down the road. Mediamath go to prove the point and buy Upcast showing how they need to tool up as well and keep delivering new products and services cross channel and cross device. Meanwhile Videology launch a programmatic TV offering to follow Turn but go a step further in teaming up with major US TV partner.

Stack Wars is back in October with Yahoo buying Brightroll, a sensible move as you consider the purchase of Adapt by AOL and Facebook of Liverail a couple of months earlier. We now see them all with video offerings, display offerings, adserving and performance products and suites of data.  I think we are about at the right time to see them kick off. Atlas has hired a key guy in Damian Burns to lead their offering, once he has his feet under the table I think we will see some real movement.

Noooo!vember

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Headlines were:

Publics buys Sapient a huge acquisition and another one under the radar taking the advertising world by storm. An incredible team of people joining the Publicis.Sapient platform.

Channel 4 after years of resistance to programmatic have announced they are getting into the market place and will no doubt leave ITV where to go next. Either way it is clear the TV marketplace is hotting up and now we are seeing a hockey stick of activity and partnerships. Exciting times all around.

Rubicon buys two companies to help build out its direct deal automation tech..yawn. Yes you got it, we are going to take all those buys you used to do over the phone and now do it on a platform without any cherry picking or data insights. Just back to buying impressions. Back to the future.

I am sure I missed a number of big deals – list them below so we get the full picture of the comings and goings of Adtech and its sheer scale. Thanks

 

 

 

 

Buy cheap, Buy twice when it comes to Adtech

Disintermediation is a hot topic right now. Since coming to the US I have witnessed and been shocked by the extent of it on this side of the Atlantic, far more so than in Europe. It is a trend affecting the entire media ecosystem and one which if global industry trends are anything to go by, will soon impact European advertisers in the same way.

As an advertiser it is increasingly appealing, especially within programmatic to see the ‘sell’ of a standalone DSP as attractive. Tech costs are high, so minimising service fees is an incentive. The trouble is that when cost is the driving force rather than a particular strategic play, you can be led down the wrong path. The rules have changed with the rise of ad tech. Our whole business is based more and more on data which we need to manage, explore, test and learn with. The data needs to be held by the agency running the wider business, or remain in the hands of the advertiser should they choose to take the process in-house. Either way, the advertiser retains control and has the opportunity to ‘play the field’ without too many costs being incurred.

As a company 100% focused on this space we see all of the pros and cons of the different platforms. We have a whole team, called VivaKi Verified, dedicated to analysing and evaluating the different tech offerings. This gives us an unbiased view of all of their strengths and weaknesses as well as access to every opportunity. If you think about the exclusion of Google’s DoubleClick Bid Manager (DBM) from Facebook or the fact that no DSP vendor has access to Amazon or AOP, or that Yahoo stopped selling to certain Ad networks and so on, advertisers cannot afford to tie themselves to a single player. Times change and abilities increase and decrease over time. Handcuffing yourself a single provider will therefore be to the detriment of your own ability to innovate. Analytics remains the play of the day with data insights being invaluable to deciding your strategy. Companies such as ours have a view of the whole marketplace and create understanding and analytics to inform which tech to use in which circumstances. Whether you are after pure direct response or greater data understanding, the type of inventory, access to it and historical performance are all crucial ingredients.

A single Ad tech company can only give you their view. An advertiser might be attracted to cheaper options. A siloed, third-party provider might “feel” unbiased. But what happens when the market moves (which is does every day), and that advertiser is tied to a single provider? They can only move at the speed of the provider. Or they pay a significant switching cost. Yes, DSP technology evolves. But their lack of access to the ideal marketplaces may leave an advertiser handicapped. And how will the advertiser know? It is hard to measure performance without any comparison or opportunity to swap (short of making an extensive investment).

The agency relationship should give clients cross-platform, open access to all opportunities — and objectivity. Trading desks should deliver the benefits of relationships, learnings and experience with all of the best DSPs, plus perpetual evaluations of new and evolving partners. They must be able to provide brand safety, starting with the basics like full disclosure on where ads are appearing and how much of advertiser’s budget was spent on media. The advertiser may invest substantial energy into a single provider, giving them data knowledge and insights and indeed some very valuable CRM data access. The problems arise when they decide to change providers. For this reason, it is important to know what happens to campaign performance and of course your data insights. DSPs will not necessarily let clients take all of their campaign set up and data insights with them, claiming that it is not their proprietary insight. This will most certainly affect the advertiser’s ongoing performance.

The VC-fuelled pressure cooker we are in at the moment is creating the potential for disintermediation on a grand scale. Everyone focuses on the agencies and what they lose out on, but few highlight the danger to the advertiser. There is always an opportunity cost but we know that you can often ‘buy cheap, buy twice’. The end goal for an advertiser is to either use multiple parties or at least have the infrastructure in place to make the swap easily and in a controlled fashion. The ‘all your eggs in a single basket’ approach is strewn with risk and I believe that a few of the active advertisers to date who have gone all in with one party will start to realise their mistake and push back. When they do, I believe agencies with a robust programmatic offering or an integrated trading desk will be there to pick up the pieces, and as with search back in the day, weave it back into the overall media mix.

Foursquare / Swarm – a total car crash

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Today was the first day that I was bullied into downloading Swarm.

Foursquare has been an App that I have used for some time, it has been up and down but I decided that it will be a great digital scrap book of all the places I have visited and so use it mostly abroad. In recent months, especially with my time in New York, I have really started to appreciate the fact I can find recommended places to eat and drink. Even better I have started to see my friends and colleagues and whether they have eaten there before. Bottom line, it became so much more useful than just the checking in App.

Then comes the Swarm messages. A few weeks of warnings, every message telling me I should download Swarm because it’s great! I will love it! Well I am now witnessing one of the biggest car crashes of modern App / digital times. In fact I am flabbergasted that anyone thought this dual App approach was good. So basically my user experience today was to be forced to download Swarm. I go back to recommendations on the restaurant we had pulled up at in foursquare and then I wanted to check in, so they throw me back to swarm, I then click on user comments and I am flung back to Foursquare, who then asked me if I wanted a sneak peak at their new Foursquare lay out?! It was the worst planned process I have ever seen from a company that was relatively bedded in to the social marketplace.

The user experience is a disgrace – if you have to flip back and forth between Apps then it’s likely you only need one. Could they really not make that work? Most user backlash has focused on the fact that they search for places, find them and check in. Natural flow of events. I know the sales speak, they need to grow their user base, capitalise on their opportunity and not be hamstrung by checkins but this is not the way to do it. The reason is there are so many ways to get recommendations and by splitting those two elements you have now thrown foursquare back into the pool of competition to search for nearby places to eat. Before they were gathering a loyal base who were becoming more and more active and using both recommendations and checkins together now they just pissed them all off.

I have seen the feedback and I am yet to see anything positive. I keep reading about bravery and big changes for the better but if you have to flick multiple times between two apps, you will lose a lot of followers and Facebook will be there to clean up. I may be wrong but I will not be surprised to see checkin back within foursquare pretty quickly because today I was stung by a Swarm and feel no desire to go back to it, especially if it just fires me back to Foursquare. The only Swarm they will have are users leaving the hive.