Programmatic: Overwhelming for brands but worth the fight

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 13 March 2019
Brian Gleason

Consolidation in the ad tech space has dramatically helped tame the amount of “noise” in the marketplace, says GroupM’s Brian Gleason.

Gleason, speaking to AdNews while visiting from the US, says the group’s forecast for the next 12 months looks better than it has in the last two years, attributing this to a “resurgence” in terms of leaning back to programmatic.

The head of the media group’s performance marketing division, Performance Media Group, says there has been a lot of “bad actors” in the category in the past, relating to supply chain optimisation and brand safety.

However, overall, it's “very difficult to argue with the efficiency that programmatic provides”, both in a digital and addressable world. 

“Programmatic is in itself not the answer, it's the ability to bring data and use data to engage with the audience to understand and measure that interaction as much as I possibly can,” he says.

“People may still have worries about measurement, but they are getting more out of programmatic than they ever did anywhere else - it’s a vehicle that is certainly the most efficient way to do that and I don't see that changing.”

Zoning in on the TV category, Gleason says the medium is no less important than it ever was just because consumers have changed the way they view it and this shouldn’t be perceived as a negative.

“Look at TV as an example, depending on who you're targeting, the way to consumers via TV has changed.

“However, it's not less important than it ever was because of the value of content, it’s just the way that we consume it is changing.”

Gleason, who was former global CEO of GroupM trading platform Xaxis and its data division MPlatform before taking on the expanded Performance Media Group remit in 2018, says that is why addressable TV is “so powerful”, allowing a clear return path to understanding and interpreting consumer behaviour.

“The makeup of these people is very different than what you traditionally see but it’s not just about having the machine, there has to be analytics and interpretation of the data,” he says.

“Other people can bring that to life and that's the biggest change, the ability to see this so quickly in real time. That's fascinating now.”

Addressable TV has been a major focus for GroupM, with the launch of Finecast in October 2018, as well as other media groups globally, to overcome the slump of TV ad bookings and shortcomings of linear TV targeting.

While the landscape is already much more complex than it was two years ago, Gleason sees it getting harder still, but brands need to embrace the change.

Gleason’s Performance Media Group remit includes overseeing addressable TV offering Finecast, native advertising platform Plista, programmatic arm Xaxis and in the US, digital retail media business Triad Retail Media and programmatic services venture Emergent.

He says there are very few brands who have someone who can understand the full gamut of ad tech and data offerings, but not because there's not a desire to, but “it's just overwhelming and changes so quickly”.

“The challenge for brands today is dealing with the fluid nature of media. If you're a brand, trying to figure out how to engage with a consumer now is much more complex than it ever was in the past,” Gleason says.

Measurement race

Gleason sees his core challenge as grappling with measurement, adding that with the many “walled garden” digital platforms, such as Facebook and Google, it makes tackling measurement “incredibly challenging because each one of them wants to have their own scoreboard”.

“Imagine the Olympics if you have everyone running different races and measuring different things," he says.

“Maybe the race is longer in one and shorter in the other and there are different stopwatches in terms of how they measured it so there is then differences in who you would say won. If we can't measure, it's very difficult to have that extra metric of performance.

“If everyone tells us a different metric, you have to be able to pull out whatever you can as close to that KPI to measure in an appropriate way and that takes an analyst to do it. It's a major function. They have to be able to understand.”

Despite not being able to fully breach the walled gardens, Gleason says hiring top talent and the scale of parent company WPP, helps work around such measurement issues to reach the best outcomes.

“We're constantly working with the walled gardens to make sure that we can take data in and out of their environments and one of the benefits of working for a large company like WPP is our voice is often heard.

“You may not get always what you want but the new currency of scale, if you will, is how accurately we can measure.”

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