Talking Programmatic. Repeatedly

Murph Law 25 March 2015I’ve spent the first half of this week at Ad Week Europe, where the onward march of programmatic has been plain for all to see. I don’t know how many sessions there have been on the subject, but I’d be interested to see a comparison to last year’s event. My guess is that the growth in the number of sessions spent talking about programmatic has been even more exponential over the past 12 months than the growth in programmatic trading. After sitting through at least half a dozen panel discussions on the first day, my head was spinning, and if my kids had asked me what was for tea when I got home that evening, the most likely response would have been “programmatic and chips”, so many times had I heard the word during the day.

Which makes you wonder whether it’s all hype and is being blown out of all proportion. But one session yesterday convinced me that it’s not. I was asked, and honoured to be asked, to moderate one of the panel sessions by Supply Side Platform (SSP), OpenX, on the subect of Monetising Mobile Through Programmatic. On the panel were David Reed, MD Europe at Mediamath; Stephanie Emmanouel, GM media business at SOMO; Alessandra Di Lorenzo, commercial director at Ebay; and Rob Kramer, GM mobile at OpenX.

To kick things off, I asked the panel to introduce themselves, but also to say to what extent programmatic touched on their day-to-day roles. Perhaps not surprisingly, given that they had been invited to speak on the panel, it was an important part of their job for all four of them.

Out of interest, I put a similar question of the audience, asking for a show of hands from those who felt that programmatic was a big part of their job. My best guess is that there were around 100 people in the room, in which case, at least 60, and as many as 75 hands went up. Shocked might be too strong a word, but I was genuinely surprised. People hadn’t come along because they thought they might need to know about this stuff in the weeks and months to come, but because they need to be as well informed about it as they can to do their jobs today.

Infancy stage
What came out of the various discussions I sat in on was that programmatic, mobile, and the fusion between mobile and digital, and between digital (including mobile) and everything else (TV, print, outdoor etc) is very much in its infancy stage. We’re at a point where advertisers, the agencies who (literally) do their bidding for them, and the publishers (including traditional publishers but also thousands of app developers) are trying to work out what works and what doesn’t work and learn from the mistakes they make. As Theo Theodorou, EMEA GM at programmatic location data specialist xAd put it: “We all need to take more risks.”

The same point was echoed by Kirk McDonald, president of SSP PubMatic, in response to a question I asked about how mobile ad revenues were growing like stink when so much of mobile advertising still relies on static banners that everyone agrees offer little in terms of engagement and often perform poorly. He said: “You have to spend to learn and at the moment, the spending is leading the learning. I don’t think we know what were supposed to do with it yet but you don’t learn without experimenting.” One of the other panellists, James Connelly, also made a valid point, that on mobile, native ads are giving banners a good run for their money.

All or nothing
The other thing that seems more obvious to me after a few days at the event is that if programmatic is not a flash in the pan – and I think you will struggle to find anyone who thinks that it is – and if you agree that individual channels – mobile, digital, TV, out of home, the Internet of Things – can’t exist in silos, then by definition, programmatic becomes a case of all or nothing. If you’re buying your mobile and online inventory programmatically, and trying to tie it in with what you’re doing on TV and on bus shelters and 96 sheets and, as came up in the OpenX panel, connected golf carts, then it stands to reason that all that other offline inventory – though much of it is increasingly becoming digital – has to be bought programmatically too, something which MediaMath’s David Reed said is beginning to happen.

Like any good event, AdWeek Europe has so far raised as many questions as it has answered. As for the event itself, it’s a herculean effort of logistics, organisation and blind faith, firstly in terms of getting all those speakers in the right place at the right time, and then in convincing hundreds of media and agency types that it’s acceptable to make us queue for 20 minutes to get into a session, then when it’s over, kick us out and make us join the back of an even longer queue to get into the next session in the same room. The fact we all do it says much for the quality of the content.