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'People who see advertising as a numbers game have always been susceptible to fraudsters’ - ex Neo@Ogilvy chief Richard Wheaton on transparency

Transparency is a key issue if programmatic media trading is to become the default mechanism for advertisers to seek audiences online, and is likely to be a key area of focus during the judging process at The Drum’s Digital Trading Awards (DTA). Here, one of this year's DTA judges and former Neo@Ogilvy chief, Richard Wheaton, offers his assessment of the state of the market.   

The Drum: There has been much consolidation in the space over the last 12 to 18 months. In particular, Facebook, Google, and now Verizon have been acquisitive in the space, not to mention the many ad tech players. How do you think this is likely to affect media trading in the sector?

RW: There have been acquisitions but you still cannot call this trading environment ‘consolidated’, by any measure. Just take a look at the latest Lumascape. The big players on the sell-side are building ‘stacks’ that promise an end-to-end solution, but buyers still have to deal with a range of suppliers to deliver any single brief. So traders need to play the field: you make some large commitments to media and tech partners who will give you access to better rates, tools and support, but still have to invest in new areas to innovate and maintain performance.

Much has been made of the move towards more closed trading environments, i.e. away from open exchanges, towards things such as private marketplaces (PMP), etc. at least from the sell-side. What has driven this, and do you think buyers are likely to follow suit?

RW: Many on the buy-side have been using PMPs for a long time, and have used them to convince publishers that there’s a safe, controlled environment to enter the RTB space. For agencies with leverage, PMPs are a key way of controlling inventory and price whilst still getting all of the targetting and efficiency benefits of DSPs. On the other hand, some DSPs have not supported PMPs, which has made it hard for buyers using those platforms to make extensive use of PMPs. Personally I’ve always thoughts that PMPs are a temporary solution to some of the imperfections of the DSP, but now I cannot foresee a time when they will not be vital for brands to ensure quality inventory in their campaigns.

The Drum: How much of a problem do bad actors (i.e. fraudsters, etc.) continue to play in the sector? And does this continue to significantly hold back spend?

RW: Fraud has always been an issue in digital media. Good practicioners have made a priority of finding and replicating sources of ‘quality’ inventory. People who see advertising as a ‘numbers game’, where you serve ads until you get a sale, have always been susceptible to fraudsters - and their clients are the ones who pay the bill. I don’t think it has really held back spend as much as people say, judging by the past 3 years' growth in programmatic spend.

The Drum: Ad blocking has been one of the key issues of 2015, do you think this will lead to innovation in the sector, as advocated by outfits such as AdBlock Plus?

RW: Ad-blocking defies analysis by advertisers - how do you measure a slow-growing phenomenon like this and genuinely isolate the effect of the loss of audience? The trend to blocking should make buyers wake up and see the need for better engagement strategies, but it’s more a burning issue for publishers than buyers, and that’s where the innovation will come from.

The Drum: Do you find awareness among programmatic advertising has increased among brands? If so, what has the affect on the wider industry been?

RW: Brands are undoubtedly increasingly aware of programmatic and the issues it is throwing up. The challenge for the wider industry is before us: how do we capitalise on the possibilities of better targeting and how can we increase our understanding of the customer journey? 

Entries have been extended for The Drum Digital Trading Awards, those who would still like to enter can contact organiser Katy Thomson on katy.thomson@thedrum.com to arrange an extension.

The awards are held in association with The Trade Desk and sponsored by Audience2Media, eXelate, Integral Ad Science, Rubicon Project, Sphere DigitalRecruitment and TubeMogul.

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