Why Programmatic’s Word of the Year Should Be “Ownership”

May 26, 2020 — by Chris Keenan    


This was the first word that came to mind when Paul Gubbins asked, “In one word, what can programmatic offer both buyers and sellers that a direct IO booking may struggle to match?” during Mediatel’s “Future of Media Trading” panel earlier this month.

The fact that we are even comparing programmatic to direct IO buys is frightening to me. But with the ground continuously shifting beneath our feet with GDPR in 2018, CCPA in 2019, the never-ending “death of the third-party cookie” and, most recently, the ISBA study which speaks to how only 51 percent of every dollar reaches the publisher, maybe this comparison is warranted? The last thing brand managers need to hear is that 15 percent of their COVID-slashed budgets cannot be accounted for due to an ominous “unknown delta.”

Eighty-six percent of brands in European countries have already partially in-housed their programmatic operations according to a 2019 IAB study. But are their technology partners truly enabling them to take ownership of their programmatic strategy?

I believe there are three key areas in which we’ll see brands take on more ownership throughout 2020. Let’s dig in.

Ownership of your outcomes

It is only appropriate to start with outcomes, as that is what every marketing team needs to prove out to secure additional, unbudgeted investment—or, in today’s times, to simply retain any of the existing commitment. It has never been more important than now for CMOs to connect media metrics to financial metrics like ARPU, LTV, churn rate and payback period. The hurdle rate for investment in marketing has only gotten higher.

Ownership of your data

Everyone has access to the same DSPs that you do, but only you have access to your first-party data. It’s what you do with it that will determine if your marketing team is a contributor to building a defensible moat for your company.

Partners have traditionally provided limited access to raw data, preventing advertisers from being able to analyze media efficacy and customer behavior on their own. One reason cited for the low 12 percent match rate in the ISBA study is that log-level data was not available, so the researchers had to instead rely on aggregated data. This is simply unacceptable in 2020.

By putting log-level data (inclusive of a pseudonymous user identifier!) in the hands of its rightful owners, brands can build a competitive advantage for themselves by developing proprietary decisioning and optimization logic atop MediaMath’s APIs. There are varying levels of sophistication and complexity, starting with custom attribution modeling, leveraging your own optimization algorithms or, ultimately, utilizing our Custom Bid Router capability, which allows brands to respond to bid opportunities via their own AI/ML environment.

Ownership of your supply chain

We are getting closer to a world in which advertisers are not beholden to a murky supply chain but are instead actively participating in one that is a curated, aligned and based on an optimized subset of hundreds of supply and technology vendors globally. All advertisers now care about quality no matter how they are executing digital marketing. To offer the level of transparency that brands deserve, you will see DSPs begin to operate differently:

  • DSPs won’t work with all partners—just the best ones who truly add value.
  • DSPs won’t tout their QPS metrics as a selling point—they will curate access to the highest quality and performant inventory.
  • DSPs won’t shy away from audit requests—they will proactively make log-level data available.

As the ISBA report points out, it takes providing absolute transparency to both brands and publishers and alignment between publishers, ad tech intermediaries and advertisers through bidirectional data-sharing. This means modernized commercial terms that hold each partner contractually accountable for providing incremental value within the ad tech supply chain. It’s also accountability to implementing the technical standards buyers require—impression-level fee transparency and alignment on the latest impression-counting mechanisms within OpenRTB—to provide them transparency into price, partners and the purposefulness of ad spend across all ways in which they access media programmatically.

The driving belief behind our SOURCE initiative is that “the sum of all parts is greater than the whole”. If a rising tide lifts all boats, no independent DSP will be able to best serve their clients by being an island. We are already working with 15+ best-in-breed partners who share the same vision for a 100 percent accountable, addressable and aligned ecosystem underpinned by modernized commercial terms and updated technical specifications. But we are only getting started.

Ultimately, it comes down to if transparency is a publicly stated priority on a technology partner’s roadmap. Have they put their stake in the ground? This is not a movement in which you can simply be a willing participant. You must be an enthusiastic evangelist for it. You must be a champion for accountability in the supply chain.

With each step we take toward a fully transparent supply chain, we will naturally see a shift away from ominous “unknown deltas” and into working media that you should demand of our industry.

Chris Keenan

Chris Keenan joined MediaMath in 2013 as part of the Product organization, tasked with building the industry's first real-time activation DMP. In 2017, he moved to London to lead the International Solution Engineering team, responsible for working with brand and agency partners to craft custom technology, service and strategy-focused blueprints for achieving business outcomes in an ever-evolving industry. Today, Chris is responsible for MediaMath's commercial operations in the UK. Chris got a taste for the digital marketing industry early on when he founded an educational resource website, CourseNotes, in 2002, which he still operates today and utilizes as his playground for testing the latest and greatest sell-side strategies. Prior to MediaMath, Chris worked at management consultancy McKinsey & Co. as part of a data-driven healthcare operations startup and was part of Johnson & Johnson's Leadership Development Program.