Old Business, New Tricks

by Gillian Ingram Figaro Digital

Being in the right place at the right time has never been more relevant for marketers than it is today. Knowing where your prospective leads are, their motivations, desires and spending habits, is no longer an optional luxury for digital marketers, and programmatic marketing has grown exponentially in the past 5 years. Brands can no longer ignore the rising tide of programmatic, but what are the risks and rewards involved in this complex field of digital marketing? Figaro Digital spoke to Jonathan McCauley-Oliver, Digital Revenue Manager at National Rail, ahead of his presentation at our Digital Marketing Conference, to discuss how this mysterious entity is gathering momentum in the digital space, and how brands can prepare themselves for the impending programmatic revolution. With so much uncertainty surrounding the process of real-time bidding, McCauley-Oliver is keen to reassure marketers that this complex tool is not out of reach, it’s just a new way of doing old business.

Teething Problems?

“There’s an awful lot of concern in the buying community,” says McCauley-Oliver. “For too long ad clients have been relying on digital marketing agencies knowing what they’re doing. But it has been revealed that a lot of agencies don’t know what they’re doing, and there’s a great deal of obscurity surrounding programmatic.” Still a relatively young mode of advertising in the digital space, programmatic marketing allows brands to bid in real-time for relevant ad space on the sites where, through careful data analysis, they know their potential leads are likely to be. With programmatic marketing expected to account for three-quarters of the UK display ad market in 2017, this is arguably an area all brands should be looking to understand, but concerns around security and brand relevance are paramount. In March, the world witnessed huge brands like P&G and L’Oréal dragging Google across the coals after finding that their adverts had been appearing alongside extremist content. This scandal reinforced for many the weakness of programmatic – the susceptibility of the medium to misappropriation, and the lack of transparency that has been prevalent in the sector for several years. So how can brands avoid the breakdown in communication to ensure that their content remains safe and appropriately-placed?

“As a publisher for National Rail, it’s in my interest to try and establish our credentials as being totally brand-safe,” explains McCauley-Oliver. “Essentially the commercial relationship exists between the advertiser and the publisher, but nowadays those two hardly ever talk to each other.” With tensions around security and brand integrity at an all-time high, the scrutiny to which marketers and brand managers subject their advertising standards is growing. A lack of communication between agency and brand has led to a widely-held fear that the practice is running unchecked and unverified. McCauley-Oliver is certain that improving the communication and credibility of programmatic marketing is the answer to this problem. “It would be great to find a way that harnesses the benefits of programmatic while still retaining that old-fashioned dialogue that still exists on TV, in print and outdoor. Digital has got far too big for its own boots in my opinion. This is essentially a new way of doing old business – we just need to claw back that control.”

The New Sheriffs Are In Town

So what tools and standards are in place to ratify and justify the safety and credibility of programmatic marketing, and why is there a reluctance to make use of them? “What happens sometimes in this direct response game is a race for the bottom, and when trying to find the lowest CPA, there are guidelines that some people are quite happy to ignore,” explains McCauley-Oliver. But the answer may be found in the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS), formed of the IPA, ISBA, AOP and IAB, which measures industry standards for digital media performance and benchmarks best practice for online ad trading. One particular section of JICWEBS is the Digital Trading Standards Group (DTSG). “Traditionally, every marketing plan would revolve around a straightforward relationship with the publisher, but that has now been replaced with a trading desk, a DSP, an SSP,” continues McCauley-Oliver. “Marketers should be making sure their agencies are buying on DTSG approved sites and audiences, and that question isn’t being asked enough.” Every marketer is concerned about ROI when it comes to new digital marketing platforms, but securing the safety and integrity of your brand must be carefully considered. “Ultimately, brands have to decide if it’s worth paying a premium for safe, reliable content, and whether they should readjust their CPA targets on the strength of that.”

Know The Ropes And Wear The Trousers

With issues of transparency at the forefront of marketers’ minds, the question of “ownership” remains of vital importance. Brands must be prepared to have strict, straight-talking conversations with their agencies, to make sure that they know with complete transparency where their advertisements are being hosted, and the content they are appearing alongside. It’s only through having open and honest communication between publisher and agency that programmatic marketing can rid itself of its negative associations and regain the trust of prospective brands once more. “I don’t think the brands themselves should feel as if they have to become really technically savvy- that’s not their job,” states McCauley-Oliver. “Communication with agencies is what we need. Communication that extends to being able to identify, with absolute transparency, where ads are appearing.”

It’s not only brands who need to be convinced by programmatic marketing. The average consumer is bombarded with advertising at any moment, and irrelevant communication is a huge driver of Ad Blocker usage, with over a quarter of internet users in the UK using some kind of Ad Blocking software. “Essentially the publishing community got greedy, plastered ads all over the place, and gave the ad blocking community the chance to exploit that. If users put in an ad blocker at browser level, that stops some genuine sites who appreciate the value exchange and the customer experience,” says McCauley-Oliver. “We’ve enabled ad fraud, and we’ve really got to mend this.”

So how can brands go about adapting their media buying strategies to be more sustainable? “Brands should sign up to and embrace the number of initiative and industry trade bodies, many of whom are non-profit, who want to improve the whole experience of online consumption,” asserts McCauley-Oliver. “They should make sure that they get the most out of their relationship, and ask their agencies for assurance that the hosting sites are members of these initiatives as well. There are a lot of formal official boxes to be ticked, rather than just relying on a handshake over a nice lunch.” The potential of digital marketing is revealing itself to be a landscape marked by obstacles, chasms and quicksand, but as new regulations continue to be developed and implemented, brands need not fear getting lost in the digital ether. “I think that digital has previously been hideously unregulated, but now the various bodies are really working very hard to fix this,” says McCauley-Oliver. “In any industry, the robbers are usually one step ahead of the cops, so it’s about being one extra step ahead and ensuring that you’re doing the right thing first.” With careful consideration of programmatic’s place within the digital marketing sphere, a thorough knowledge of its risks, and due diligence towards the strategy of your agency, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be the glittering example of customer insight your marketing efforts deserve.

Join McCauley-Oliver and a host of other experts at the Figaro Digital Marketing Conference on 20 July. Find out more here!