PubMatic's Peter Barry on transparency, the sex appeal of ad tech and bid caching

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 13 September 2018
Peter Barry

PubMatic country manager AUNZ Peter Barry shares his views on changing the conversation from transparency to quality in the industry, the backlash around bid caching and why he believes "ad tech is in rude health".

How can the industry change the narrative around transparency in ad tech?

We’ve come a long way, especially over the past eighteen months. Innovations like Ads.txt and the move to 1st price auctions are two good examples of this. In addition to this, PubMatic has removed all buy side fees and introduced a fraud free program for buyers. We are also seeing a lot of interest in a subscription model of business, which naturally lends itself to transparency. All of these measures have led to increased confidence in our industry. That said, we need to continue to innovate and improve in this area.

Do you think ad tech can move past its transparency tainted past? How would you like to see the conversation evolve?

Yes, absolutely. We are making significant progress, which is helping rebuild confidence in programmatic with buyers.  It’s important to remember that each piece of tech along the supply chain should be adding value either for an advertiser, a publisher or both. The conversation will then move to trust. While players can talk about transparency, there is a difference between that and trust in how you do business. This is a fundamental element of having productive partnerships and, unfortunately, there have been some recent examples where this has been called into question. This can really set our industry back.

The conversation is also moving to one focused on quality. Quality is multi-faceted. It includes inventory quality, advertising quality, quality of sites, audiences and content. Transparency has been key in the last 18-24 months and quality goes hand in hand with it. Addressing this will continue to develop an attractive marketplace for brands to invest in.

With the demise or shrinking of many ad tech companies, such as AdRoll and Rocketfuel, has ad tech lost its sex appeal?

Quite the opposite. As our industry matures, you can expect some consolidation and adjustments, but the recent investments, including AT&T, IPG and Salesforce, clearly illustrates that ad tech is in rude health. We saw about US$6 billion between investments and acquisitions around the middle of this year, which is very encouraging. I think we will see this pattern continuing.

People don't associate ad tech with being creative. Can these worlds collide?

They can and they do. Ad tech can be a great enabler of quality creative. Things like time of day, location and weather events mean that tailored creative can be incredibly effective, and this delivery of dynamic creative was impossible before programmatic. Dynamic Creative Optimization means display ads can be served and targeted more intelligently. Campaigns will no longer be mass-market initiatives but hyper-targeted, hyper-relevant to individuals while reaching large scale audiences. This delivers the best of both worlds – precision targeting at scale. We have recently announced a partnership with Bonzai in ANZ, which means buyers can buy engaging rich media formats at scale, programmatically. This has the added bonus of creating a better user experience on publishers’ properties, which of course is the most important outcome.

Highly visual ad experiences: Why is it so hard to get marketers to do good ads and what role does programmatic have here?

Marketers are doing lots of great ads, but traditionally we have been hampered by sub-par ad formats, especially on mobile. Now that we have moved away from stuffing a desktop ad into a tiny mobile banner, we can start doing more fun and effective stuff through rich media and channel specific video creative. Emergent ad formats, such as playable ads, offer what brands want – engagement, interest and conversion - and they also deliver to consumers something entertaining rather than interruptive. 

The continued move of brand dollars into programmatic is driving better creativity, as brands demand high impact, high-touch formats that excite audiences. As the industry moves away from a performance-focus toward a brand focus, formats, creativity and metrics will all develop to support the needs of brands.

The promise of programmatic has always been that it will automate the labour intensive stuff to allow humans to do some great creative executions. It feels like we have reached a point where that promise is a reality. This should only accelerate as we see programmatic become the norm across the majority of channels and media.

Bid caching has been in the news recently. What do you make of that?

If I thought I was buying a four-bed beach front house, paid what I thought that was worth, and ended up with a two-bed apartment, I wouldn’t be happy. That is what bid caching is. Anything that is done without transparency, clear communication and collaboration is bad practice. Honesty in how you work is critical, regardless of the industry. It’s an old adage, but people really do like to do business with people they trust.

How does it differ to creative caching?

It’s completely different and creative or ad caching simply cannot be used as a defence of bid caching. Ad caching benefits user experience when, for example, you run an auction and show a video ad at a later point, when a user completes a level in a game. This improves user experience. Bid caching does little to improve user experience, especially in a header bidding environment where timeouts are tightly controlled. Fortunately, bid caching is not common practice in our industry and it never has been.

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