Why the digital ad future is a lot brighter than we think
Kantar Media's Alex Kuhnel says that despite the hysteria, programmatic has done great things for the industry - and will continue to do so.
One of the strongest messages to come out of the Dmexco conference last month was that advertisers and agencies need to better understand the importance to the individual of the mobile phone and that it is a much more personal, emotionally-invested piece of kit than other digital devices. For that reason, targeting consumers via mobile requires careful thought and creative dexterity to get right.
Nothing highlights the importance of this better than the present worries gripping the digital ad industry at the prospect of a rash of popular ad blocking apps created in Apple's latest iOS 9 operating system.
A recent IAB study revealed that 15% of Brits who go online use ad blocking software. However, it is important to remember that ad blocking is not a one way slippery slope but a game of cat-and-mouse, with every tech-led innovation (such as iOS 9) combated by business-led innovations designed to neutralise ad-blocking (by companies such as Sourcepoint).
It's not always the content that is the sticking point, it's often the communication
There is a deeper theme behind this existing hysteria, which is the challenge of effectively engaging consumers with ad content on digital devices. If this worked better, we wouldn't be using conference time trying to work out how to make consumers view ads that we think they will take proactive steps to block because they find them so alienating and intrusive.
Indeed, better ad content is an important part of engaging consumers online. However, sometimes as an industry we are guilty of viewing this issue from only one viewpoint. Even the cleverest, wittiest, most compelling content is wasted if it is being seen by the wrong audience, or in an inappropriate context.
Programmatic has done some great things for the industry and it can continue to do so
First of all though, we need a bit of perspective. Just look at the unprecedented success of programmatic advertising over the past five years. It has been sweeping all before it and right about now accounting for the bulk of all online advertising in the UK.
That doesn't happen by accident. The efficiencies and commercial uplift it brings to campaigns are well recognised and more recently it has evolved exponentially into premium publisher content and multi-channel campaigns. Its ongoing growth is assured, at least for now.
However, like a celebrity who rises quickly before being subject to opportunistic exposés in the press, programmatic has come under some growing scrutiny for its ability to meet some of the key commercial needs of players right across the media value chain.
Some of these issues have been well documented in recent months - fraud and ad viewability are often cited as particular concerns, engendering a feeling of powerlessness over the campaign wastage.
The challenges are very real, but so are the solutions
But there is another key challenge which the digital media industry is particularly keen to address in order to keep the programmatic juggernaut rolling onwards in a manner that suits its collective bottom line.
It is the question of context and branding requirements. In cookie-led campaigns, the inventory where an advertiser's ad is being placed is not always clear, creating anxieties around the ads appearing in contexts that don't fit with their carefully crafted (and expensive) brand positioning strategy.
Related to this is the challenge of reaching the relevant target in the first place. Programmatic campaigns built on cookies and geo-demographic metrics will not always provide the level of targeting granularity the advertiser really needs to efficiently execute their campaign.
What if the advertiser needs to reach consumers who have a particular point of view that does not translate to website visitation, or consumers who do not watch a particular programme on Channel 4, whose ad breaks they have already carpet-bombed?
Be clear about the audience, be clear about where to reach them
The most effective solution to reach for is an adaptation of something the traditional media industry has been exploiting for many years. First of all, it involves building an in-depth, highly articulated target audience by drawing upon a comprehensive range of insights into consumer behaviour and characteristics. That answers the targeting issue.
The next step is identifying which sites the target are particularly likely to visit and how they engage with them, in order to build an understanding of which sites offer the best mix of reach and efficiency - providing much needed visibility to campaigns.
This could also entail data matching an in-depth consumer audience to identify the best cookies to reach them online and then buy domain-level placements to build the foundations of the media plan. All of this relies on leveraging high-quality, trusted data which both the buy and sell side of the industry can exploit and use as a common currency.
Such emerging solutions are increasingly being exploited in parallel with existing programmatic campaign metrics to deliver better targeted, more efficient and more visible campaigns to advertisers. And if the advertisers are happy, then they are more likely to invest more in their digital advertising, to the benefit of the industry as a whole.
Alex Kuhnel is chief operating officer, TGI, at Kantar Media.
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