Agency Trading Desks. Independent trading desks. RTB Networks. Data networks. Managed service Desks. We have significantly added to the ecosystem in the last few years and on balance for the better I think. Of course there are concerns about transparency and who is doing what and the advertiser is being taken for a ride so on, but in totality we now see a more sophisticated digital ecosystem than three years ago which is a good thing.
However with that comes a need for everyone to refocus. There is a whole auditing, pitch consultant business, advertiser organisation business that is focused on Agency Trading Desks. I think part of the issue around Agency Trading Desks is that they are all different. Some are an extension of the agency, some are more akin to a department within an agency, some are out there in the extreme like Xaxis that has changed so significantly that it really no longer sits in the bracket at all and everything in between.
So when it comes to pitches, auditors, advertiser evaluations of the space they obsess with agency trading desks but not the wider market. My business and that of a company like Rocketfuel or Criteo or Quantcast are the same, we do the same. Plenty of people will argue the good and bad of both including me but for now put that aside, fundamentally we are the same, we cook with the same ingredients – the end plate of food looks and tastes different but we do the same. For that reason we compete with these companies, spend that we could argue should go to us goes to those companies and independent trade desks. So for me, we should all be judged the same by advertisers. The same rules should apply, if those rules are based on genuine concerns of an advertiser about their media investments then why would they not?
So why don’t we start with what is asked of us? What do the agencies and advertisers want of us? Lets run through a few:
- They want to see results line by line with associated cpms, cpc etc
- They want brand safety – clear controls as to what we are buying
- They want to know what tech we use and why – and how much does it cost?
- They don’t want us to create large margins behind set cpas and cpcs etc
- They want auditing rights on activity
- They want private marketplaces and innovation with partners
- They want detailed costs breakdowns
Those are just a selection. Articles in the past have commented on how the ATD is not held accountable but that is a falsehood. The pitch process would argue differently as well as regular reviews with advertisers that question in detail all of these areas, we are constantly evaluated on one level or another including our toughest challengers, the agencies we work with, and rightly so.
Trouble is on any plan spend is going not just to us, but to many of those companies mentioned above and many more in display, video and mobile. These companies are not held to the same standards and I think this should be investigated further. If a guidance paper for instance gets released to advertisers on ATDs, I can guarantee it will ask all those questions above (and more) but why just to ATDs? Any such guidance and evaluations now have to be extended to a wider group of companies and end the double standards.
I sat with a large group of advertisers and time and time again the issue of brand safety was raised. One of the core tenants of AOD is protection, and that is for a good reason, we are advertiser / agency focused, we know what they expect. So why would an advertiser invest in a company that provided no transparency at all? An ad appearing next to inappropriate content is still inappropriate regardless of how it got there. Blind buys should not be acceptable to any major advertiser. Why if you are concerned about how much money AOD makes do you not care about the 50-60% margins being reported in the company accounts of some of the other companies? I could go on but my point is that we cannot attach the ATD to the agency, but rather attach the RTB/programmatic industry to the standards of the agencies and ATDs, at least those like AOD. So I hope to see from the various trade bodies and the like a stance that widens the net of companies that it recommends should be evaluated in this new exciting programmatic world we live in, and avoid people having too much cake and eating it.