Everyone is talking about digital these days, but how much do you know about programmatic advertising, the innovation that has transformed marketing on the internet as we know it? In this ‘Passionate About Programmatic’ series, we highlight the people driving forward the revolutionary and ever-changing field of advertising, sharing perspectives from around the globe.
Tell us about yourself and your current role.
I’m currently Head of Precision. Often you see agencies separating digital and tech and data, but our practice brings it all together, and calls everything precision. I head this up at Wavemaker in EMEA, covering people, product, and clients.
How did you get into programmatic advertising and what do you love most about it?
I’ve been doing this a while now, but I remember the first time I ever heard of it: my boss in my first agency, Walker Media, was investigating this thing called ‘programmatic exchanges,’ and it just sounded very complicated. Then, I ran its first-ever programmatic campaign. And now I’ve been working with Quantcast for over a decade, starting with Walker, so it’s been a mainstay of my career. Programmatic gives you options and opportunities in a single place that previously we’d have to go looking elsewhere for. There’s a lot of discussion about what programmatic can do and what it should do: some people think it’s just a cheap source of inventory; some people think it is an amazing, data-fueled thing. And it can be a lot of things, to a lot of different people. But at the heart of it, what I love about it, it gives you options in a single place, and the ability to be smart and strategic on top of that.
How would you explain programmatic advertising to someone new to the industry?
In my head, I’m speaking to my dad, and I say, “Programmatic buys in advertising is me using a computer program to buy digital ads, rather than me having to go and speak to all my different publishers independently. I can use it in one place to buy my ads. Then I can do things like looking at data to determine how we find people across those publishers and what success looks like.”
What are your thoughts about cookieless advertising?
Honestly, I find it quite boring, because on one hand, it’s been happening since 2013. Firefox and Safari blocked third-party cookies, or third-party tracking by default, maybe 10 years ago; it’s just the fact that Google announced that they’re going to do it at some point in 2023 or 2024. And obviously, Chrome has got 66% of the marketplace. So that’s why it’s happening. What I find more interesting is that ‘cookie’ is a byword for one-to-one targeting, and I think it’s really good to kill this. If your business relies and can only survive on one-to-one targeting, which is based on, previously, privacy-invasion, data-collection methods, then you’ve got a bad business. And I think one-to-one targeting means you are culturally invisible as well. Ultra-personalised ads are more likely to be targeted to people who are probably going to be purchasing anyway. So where’s the incrementality? And actually, larger cohorts are great. They do a harder job. They drive that growth; they drive longer-term effects as well as short-term impact. And we don’t need to invade privacy for them to do that. So I welcome the cookieless advertising.
Do you think that strategy will be more focused on cohorts and first-party data or identifiers? Or is it going to be a mix of both?
A lot of people have been told you need to go and collect loads of first-party data. But the way that we collect first-party data now is different. Before, we would collect data on people, and it’s often the exhaust of a campaign: you take campaign data; you collect people coming to your website. Now the identifier has changed: the identifiers that we are going to be collecting, emails and phone numbers, are far more intimate than the old ways of collecting cookies and maybe even mobile ad IDs. And so, for that intimacy, there needs to be a value exchange. For some people, that means literal value—I’m going to give you a chocolate bar; for other people, it means experience. Some brands aren’t in a place to do that, and for some brands, it’s not on-brand to give that away. Loads of people are making branded content and it makes a lot of creative agencies a lot of money. But that doesn’t give you breadth and depth and size of first-party data.
So the challenge is if you haven’t got that pure scale, then why would you use that small pocket of first-party data anyway? We need to be more sensible. We know how to do effective marketing. We know breadth works; we know broadcast works. We’ve been doing that for so many years on other channels. Digital really suffers from “because we can, we should.” Because we can target people individually, because we can use data control language (DCL) to make a million variants, should we? Is that effective? I don’t think it is most of the time. But it’s much easier for me to show .001% improvement in two through eight than it is to show you how a display ad has driven growth online and offline in a bigger value. And so it’s easier for a lot of marketers to look at very short-term vanity-based metrics, but that world is crumbling. I think we need to be focusing more on breadth and broadcast.
Can you share a couple of insights gained from this transformational time in adtech, and with them in mind, what do you think are going to be some key trends in the next year?
The question is a bit of a challenge, because a lot of people talk about digital transformation. But when isn’t there a time to be transformational? In terms of cookieless advertising, I think now we’re at a stage where there’s going to have to be a deeper look at how we value what we value in digital, and how we approach it. I’ve always had a problem with vanity metrics: I hate clicks, and click-through rate, and engagement rate. People are going to have to wake up and move away from those purely digital-based metrics as a value system for any good. It’s not a media health question. My favorite-ever study was ComScore 2009, which determined that two thirds of the internet does not click on any display ads. They found that 16% of internet users accounted for 80% of the clicks. There are people who click and there are people who don’t. An increase in click-through rate doesn’t show anything apart from you finding more people who were likely to click; it doesn’t mean you’ve got a good click; it doesn’t mean there’s interest in your ad or your product. And that was 2009. Going into last year, I did some research and found that 97% of tweets in America were done by the most active 25% of people. It’s a similar ratio: there are people who tweet and there are people who don’t. There are these huge ramifications about the metrics we use, like engagement rate. Imagine we’ve got 25% of people doing 97% of the tweets, so we’ve got a very small amount of population, then you go into how many of those are going to talk about brands? Not many of them. And for those that do talk about brands, why are they going to do it? Well, mainly because they’re going to be extremely favorable, or extremely angry at that brand. So you’ve got a percentage of a small proportion of an audience talking about something in a very emotive way. It’s not representative of anything. And so we need to think about how we work with digital metrics. We’re being forced into doing that. There will be people who react by trying to replace the old system. And there will be people who will respond in a strategic way that drives growth for their clients, which is exactly where we are at Wavemaker.
The Quantcast Query (a rapid-fire Q&A)
Who is your role model–in the industry or otherwise?
Katie Lee, COO, and Kelly Parker, our new CEO. Katie is open, brings a lot of experience, and is fantastic. Kelly is absolutely brilliant and really galvanizes people. She’s very personable and accessible and sensible.
What is your favorite campaign of the past year?
My favorite ad of all time is the 3M post-it note retargeting campaign, where you could, in the banner itself or on the post-it website, put your own ‘to do’ lists down, then it would retarget you with your list on a post-it note in a big format app. They did it across the top 50 websites in Russia. It was the most perfectly on-brand use of technology that I’ve ever seen. Why do we use post-it notes: to remind us of stuff. I’m getting goosebumps talking about it. Absolutely brilliant.
What is the best or worst piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?
The worst piece of advice is always along the lines of “you work hard, you make it.” But what does work hard mean? To some people it means work all hours, but that’s not smart. Because if you’re working long hours, you’ve either got too much on your plate, or you’re not good at your job. It’s understanding what hard work actually means: working smart, delivering great work, prioritizing, not going to rubbish meetings. Too often it comes off: just work late, do what everyone else is doing, which are poor practices.
Finish the sentence: To me, programmatic is…
…an automated way of buying media. I think another way of phrasing that would be: what isn’t programmatic? And that’s where it’s interesting. It’s not like this fraud and bot-filled wasteland; it’s not a cheaper way to get the same media. And it’s not the perfect way to find that individual. Outside of that, it’s a brilliant way of buying media in an automated fashion.
Which industry acronym is your favorite–or driving you up the wall?
Zero-party data: it doesn’t exist. People are using it just to try and make money in the margins of confusion. There’s two reasons it can’t exist. The terms ‘first-party’ and ‘second-party’ relate to the distance between whom or who is collecting the data. If there is zero party, then there is no one to collect the data from. It doesn’t make sense, and it undermines us as an industry. You wouldn’t have a doctor redefining what blood means. So why are we doing it in this industry? We have to have common currency and common language if we’re going to be taken seriously.