The programmatic black box and alienating marketers

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 11 August 2016
This year's Global Forum is held at Sydney's Hilton Hotel

Marketers entering into the programmatic space need to question their media agencies, and question them hard. That was one of the top takeaways from the 'is programmatic living up to its promise?' panel at ADMA's Global Forum.

The session, sponsored by Rocket Fuel, touched on current trends and challenges and was hosted by CEO ADMA Jodie Sangster. It featured senior VP online, mobile and social media at, Amit Shah; GM at Cadreon Michelle Primrose; MD ANZ Rocket Fuel JJ Eastwood;
MD ANZ at Integral Ad Science James Diamond and country manager at PubMatic, Peter Barry.

On the subject of working out what tech stack or approach is best for a brand, PubMatic's Barry, who spent nearly seven years as advertising manager at the Trinity Mirror Group in Dublin before relocating to Sydney in 2014, said marketers “have to be really selective”.

“If media agencies are your first port of call - as they tend to have the experts, you have to leverage that relationship. Do a lot of your own research and read up on the space – as well as attending events,” Barry said.

“We're learning all the time. Establish what your goals are and pick the partners that work for you. There's no silver bullet and you have to remember this is an industry that's in its infancy so we are all learning at the same time.”

Challenge your agency

Diamond said while the agencies should be one of the organisations that brands should consult with, it's the marketer's responsibility to work on this, even with tech vendors directly, to understand what some of the challenges in the programmatic space are.

“Depending on how you use it or move into programmatic, you can potentially expose your brand to more risk if you don't use it properly,” Diamond said.

“Yes you are relying on an agency that probably has a lot of experience, but also not a lot of time to take care of you - I just think you need to educate yourself and be ready to challenge your agency and work with your agency to really put you forward.”

The programmatic 'black box' and alienating marketers

Primrose added there has been “a lot of negative ideas around programmatic” and the way things have been run in the past.

“It was this back box that no one knew what was inside and not a lot of people were willing to share what they were working on, but that's one of the things that's really going to change as people do want that inside information as to what's happening and where their money is going,” Primrose said.

Diamond said media agencies do need to take a more consultative role.

“We are seeing media agencies reinvent themselves a little bit at the moment, but I think it's a bumpy journey because historically they have been able to really dictate what's going to happen in the programmatic space,” Diamond explained.

He said then, as an industry, ad tech made it all pretty complicated with a lot of fancy words and acronyms and it “really alienated the marketers”, which in turn handed a lot of control over to media agencies “to run programmatic how they wanted to run it”.

“Now, what we are seeing is as marketers get more knowledge on how programmatic really works they are starting to challenge some of the decisions the media agency has made and question whether some of those declensions are always in the best interest of the marketer – which is what you would expect if they are your agent,” Diamond said.

Push it, own it, work it

Diamond stressed the emphasis is very much on the marketer to keep the pressure up and continue to educate themselves ands almost “push the agency” along that journey.

“There are some media agencies who own their own technology so it makes it very difficult when they recommend that technology, to separate the fact that they own that technology – that's something marketers need to grapple with,” Diamond said.

“That's where the marketer needs to put themselves in a position where they can make the assessment about which technology is best for them because if the agency owns that tech stack, then recommending it doesn’t hold a lot of weight. But it's also difficult for them to recommend a competitor.

“The marketer needs to take responsibility for really involving themselves in that process – or bringing on consultants to help you go on that journey.”

Primrose agree it's an important question to ask relating to what the agency owns and what are they trying to “push forward”.

“If they do own something that's going to be the first thing they recommend whether that works for you or not,” she said.

“So that's why we have taken the stance (at Cadreon) that that's not the right way to go and we won't stick to any one source - tech, inventory or data. It has to depend on what the clients' needs are - we don't have a vested interest in anything else.”

Shah however said it's important to get out of the scepticism that the agency ownership is inherently problematic and that sometimes the ownership of the stack is key, as long as it's transparent, as the likelihood is you won't be coming up against mistakes that other tech startups may be making or have made.

Future proofing the media agency

Primrose said the way Cadreon is future proofing its business is by “not just looking at ourselves as media buyers but also consultants”, as it looks how to integrate with not only existing technologies its clients have already on-boarded, but also test a lot of different platforms.

“We don't own our own technology, we just licence other peoples so we are able to pick the best out of every platform that we use and let our clients know what we are doing so they have that insight into what's working and what's not,” she said.

Eastwood said you can “test and learn” until the cows come home but it's about getting started. He said when it comes to choosing tech providers, of which there’s about 150 vendors in Australia, marketers should aim for global players that have case studies in the chosen verticals – with proven results.

Barry added that boots on the ground and being able to meet face to face in such an augmented world, is also key

Barry also agreed that yes things go wrong where the right ad is not served to the right person at the right time, but added “things are going to get better as we all get better at what we do”.

“Just select the right partners and do your research.” he said.


Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop us a line at

Sign up to the AdNews newsletter, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for breaking stories and campaigns throughout the day.

Read more about these related brands, agencies and people

comments powered by Disqus