Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The NDA Roundtable: Is programmatic poised for an image overhaul?

It is time to reclaim ‘programmatic’ from the middlemen and bad actors in order to deliver on its promise, say industry experts.

They believe that a combination of unscrupulous practices amongst a minority of players, immature metrics and a lack of industry education has led to programmatic as a whole getting a bad rap – even though it is poised to revolutionise digital advertising for the better.

New Digital Age brought together seven people working in the field for a roundtable on the channel’s future as part of December’s Programmatic Month.

Amelia Carter, Programmatic Specialist, William Hill; Lara Izlan, Director, Advertising Data & Analytics, ITV; Tanya Field, Co-founder and CPO, Novatiq; Raphael Nataf, product owner of Bcovery;Tim Cronin, VP of Sales, AAX; Emma Jensen, Programmatic Director, Digitas UK and Matt Smith, Programmatic Demand Director, VIOOH debated the issues with NDA editor Justin Pearse.

Says Izlan: “There is still a lot of promise and equity in the word programmatic, but we need to reclaim it quickly. We need to return programmatic to its original promise.”

She says that a decade ago the appeal of programmatic for her was that automation would help buyers and sellers connect more efficiently “without all the wasted middle ground”. “If programmatic still means all of that, which I think it does, then we have to deliver on it, especially now that it is going to power advertising in emerging channels, like CTV, audio and OOH. We need to bring it back to its roots.”

Smith concurs, particularly with programmatic’s role in emerging media, such as digital out of home. He says: “There is a massive misconception that programmatic has just been picked up from one media and immediately adopted in another without adjustment for the nuances of that channel.”

“As OOH is a broadcast channel in a public forum, there are not the same concerns around audience fraud, brand safety or unknown inventory when buying OOH programmatically. We show advertisers exactly where their ad has played, down to specific frame locations, eliminating any doubt about the audiences reached, the environments and time of day/day of week.”

“Issues that plague display such as bots are not applicable due to the broadcast, public nature of the OOH environment, and existing OOH regulations dictate the locations that can be used for certain creative executions (such as HFSS), ensuring brand safety.”

Continues Smith: “I personally get quite frustrated when I see the negative press about programmatic, as it assumes all programmatic trading acts the same, which is incorrect.”

Phoenix from the flames

For Field, programmatic has the opportunity to “rise like a phoenix”. She says: “I actually think programmatic has been damaged by the actors that have misused it rather than by the promise of what it is supposed to deliver. And I think that’s a really big shame, because I think the promise of programmatic, if used properly, is exactly the right thing. he issue is the tarnish has come from the people that have misused it.”

Carter says that brand programmatic teams do have a good understanding but believes that those marketers from a traditional media or brand background “don’t know the moving parts of programmatic” making it difficult to understand. “We do a lot of educating internal stakeholders,” she says, adding that as the channel gets more complex this will become more critical still.

“As programmatic evolves there are a lot more additional moving parts, meaning that some people may need further clarity on media creatives such as connected TV or audio and how their activity should sit within programmatic and the added value it brings. A lot of people don’t even know you can buy this inventory programmatically.”

It can be a similar story agency-side, too, says Jensen. She joined from account management because of the “amazing promise” but soon realized the role wasn’t just about the trading and the planning but “the educational piece as well”. “That was something drummed into me as a young programmatic trader that, whilst it’s not necessarily going to be a fight, there is always this educational piece that you need to ensure that your clients are up to date, that the wider agency is up to date.”

She believes that the industry must focus on the mainstream aspects of programmatic, as well as the niche, by bringing in traditional traders to understand how each channel can work together, and where programmatic sits within the planning world.

Cronin believes a focus on the term automation will help. “That was the goal of programmatic, so I do like the word automation,” he says. His biggest concern is that of supply and demand – that the system needs to be improved as programmatic is brought to other new media formats. “It has been about enabling too much targeting so that a publisher could sell 1000 targeted impressions at a good CPM, while millions go unsold. This overfocus on targeting really has hurt premium publishers in our industry.”

Nataf concurs. He believes that the “over-complexification” of today’s ecosystem has also stymied programmatic’s maturity. He says: “Whether brand, buyers or publishers themselves, they have wanted the latest targeting technologies, they want the latest segments to really fit that niche targeting but in the long run, they lose hundreds of 1000s or millions of impressions by not targeting a wider audience.”

How the programmatic industry is, can and should be maturing will be covered in part two of our series.

As Jensen concludes: “Now is really the time that we can shine and say we are one of the best channels that is out there. Just look at where we were five or 10 years ago.”