Wall Street Journal blog – In Defence of Trading Desks

This post was first published in the Wall Street Journal – to see it click here

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In Defence of Trading Desks

The World Federation of Advertisers report on programmatic trading, issued last week, has set the online ad industry abuzz. I am pleased to see clients taking a stand on transparency and some of the other issues surfaced in the report, despite being one of the purported programmatic culprits.

When Publicis launched Audience On Demand in 2008, we decided to create it as an alternative to the very murky services that were dominating the marketplace at the time, such as ad networks, that operated in the dark and sometimes pocketed triple digit profit margins in the process.

Six years later we are standing firm on our early decisions, and reports like the one issued last week suggest the market is moving in our favor.

But the fact is not all agency trading desks are created equal. And while the WFA report inaccurately tries to paint us all with one color, I encourage every marketer in the industry to take note of the questions in the report that relate to issues such as arbitrage and data. Don’t just ask these questions of your agency trading desk, however; Ask them of every programmatic provider you might be spending with today.

If a programmatic provider is working in a marketers’ best interest it should not be arbitraging inventory, it should be buying audiences and inventory transparently in real time. It should be protecting marketers’ data (it’s their data, and they should honor it as such, unless given permission to blend it). It should have a rigorous vetting process to evaluate all data and technology partners to be sure that protection extends across the ecosystem.

It should also be tireless in pursuit of viewability and quality, and it should show you how it is trying to protect your ads from fraud. I submit that an in-house option or managed service demand-side platform that buys on a marketer’s behalf will provide less brand safety than an agency trading desk. It simply costs too much to deliver extensive black and white lists, tech vetting and human vetting at a client level.

Finally programmatic providers should make it entirely clear what percentage of marketers’ ad dollars are actually spent on ad space, and it should be far, far greater than 40% as the WFA report suggested. That number is ridiculous. Candidly, a fair amount of the math cited in the WFA report is peculiar.

In general, the WFA report steers marketers toward setting up an in-house solution. It’s a viable, though difficult and limiting proposition to pursue. An in-house operation is not going to resolve all transparency issues. It might give marketers complete control, but it also results in limited visibility once the campaigns go out the door, and you are only as good as the technology you tie yourself to.

Meanwhile, if marketers outsource to an ad network, managed service DSP or non-disclosed trading desk, you have little control, less visibility and no ownership.

I hope I get a chance to meet the WFA. I would love to talk to authors of this report about their findings, where the insights were obtained and how the calculations were done. So much of the report is spot on in terms of what questions to ask, but the bias and inaccuracies need to be corrected.

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