In a Spotlight presentation at the iMedia Breakthrough Summit, in Atlanta, Georgia, Adam Berke, president and CMO at AdRoll, led a discussion with two top agency executives, Ali Jensen, account director at Fred & Associates Inc., and Danny Huynh, SVP and group account director at Havas Media, about the increased consolidation in today's media market.
AdRoll, a performance marketing platform, is best known for its retargeting product. Its platform helps businesses to collect, understand, analyze, and act on their customer data, which results in leveraging scoring and segmentation across various platforms.
When companies are helping a brand execute in different media channels, it's important to know what those media channels are. Back in 2007 when AdRoll was founded, Google was the dominant RTB source (at around 70 percent). But since then there has been increased fragmentation, and "there hasn't been that many earth-shattering new publishers in the top 10," Berke said.
Along with this, in recent headlines, Facebook's Atlas vows to be the "source of truth for all digital campaigns" regardless of whether buying ads on the network. "A day later Google announced additional controls on third parties," Berke said. Based on this information, Berke put forth the following hypothesis: As a result of the larger players "sharpening their elbows," there is increased consolidation around who owns third-party data. Berke posed the question to the panel:
Are we in a phase of consolidation?
"We are," replied Jensen, who has a sales background before her move to the agency side. "And this is a good thing as long as there are still enough partners to choose from rather than having to go to either Google or Facebook for a full solution," she added.
Huynh agreed and added, "Consolidation makes planning and buying easier, but for the industry, there are downsides." Service levels tend to decrease, and hiring freezes happen as organizations are merged together. Huynh's company combats this with a conversion engine that consists of the company's core partners that have performed well, which protects his team from putting "all our eggs into one basket." This led Berke to the next question:
If it's valuable to have a diverse ecosystem, what are ways to find new partners and inventory sources?
Jensen answered with a campaign example, in which the client was looking to target a specific demographic. The company went with a variety of partners and found that it was most successful to work with "pure-play publishers" to create visually appealing content and assets that were pushed out on multiple network partners." By using this strategy as the foundation, Jensen was able to deliver an efficient campaign. And the biggest upside, she noted, was being granted flexibility of rights, usage, and negotiation, "which isn't always the case when going with the larger players," Jensen said.
"That sounds like an interesting combination of a very focused, custom, less scalable approach," Berke observed.
"Yes, and this approach depends on the campaign objective, but we're always balancing quality content with efficiency and how to diversify," Jensen said.
"It's always a trade-off between quality and scale," Berke added.
Huynh's said "monitoring how each channel is evolving, for instance, is helpful in thinking about partnerships in a different way." And based on the campaign objective, he added, "We'd want to investigate the different tactics that pays off for how the channel was designed to function."
"You've seemed to create a dichotomy between brand and performance," Berke observed. "So is more innovation happening on the brand side?"
"We're forcing more innovation on the brand side and holding them more accountable," Huynh said.
"So is the nature of branding inherently becoming more metric?" Berke asked.
"Absolutely," Huynh and Jensen both agreed.
The programmatic debate
Berke then approached the notion that there is a tug of war happening between the open (RTB) and closed (native platforms) ecosystems. "Some of the big players are putting walls up around their valuable data assets allowing data to flow in, but not necessarily out. Is this a trend or a pendulum swing, or is everything now programmatic?" he asked.
"Things are trending more programmatic direct -- private exchanges vs. public exchanges," Jensen said.
Huynh said to "align creative, strategy, and RTB," and to have a conversation about what can have the most optimal effect for the content.
"Your campaign is not going to work because you use programmatic or fail because you use programmatic," Berke added. "Programmatic is just a tool."
Who owns the source of truth and who owns the data?
"With some of the larger 'advertising co-ops,'" Berke said. "You put data in, and they can apply it to ad campaigns. How savvy are your clients about data ownership and what happens to their first-party data?"
Jensen said, "The level of savviness varies from client to client, and there's so much data out there, so it's my job to manage my client's expectations of what needs to be measured."
Huynh creates joint partnerships with vendors and publishers when it comes to data. He also categorizes data into two categories -- fast-moving and slow-moving -- as a simpler way to convey data findings to clients.
"Expectations have become so high in terms of measurement that it's almost unachievable, so having a system and recognizing that it has weaknesses is essential," Berke said.