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 Seif Khemaissia. I’m the managing director of Xaxis and the head of programmatic advertising at GroupM in Canada. 

How did you get into programmatic advertising and what do you love most about it?

I worked for an ad network in the pre-programmatic days. About 10 years ago, when programmatic really started to take shape, I was a media director at the ad agency Henderson Bas Kohn. And then, with the explosion of data, I pivoted to data analytics from a macro perspective as the director of business science at Mediacom. I wanted to tie that into activation data, so I went to Innocean, where I internalized the ad ops programmatic and data analytics team into one unit. And from there, I specialized solely on programmatic with the advantage of connecting all these dots. 

I love the infectious growth of programmatic. It keeps growing and eating more and more of advertising dollars: it’s crept into television; it’s crept into ‘out of home;’ and now it’s creeping into radio. It’s an inevitable, powerful force of technology that I find fascinating. 

How would you explain programmatic advertising to someone outside of the industry?

I can barely explain it to my mom! She still thinks I fix computers. The less I use the word ‘programmatic,’ the easier it is to explain. I prefer ‘addressable’ media: I’m addressing certain people through certain channels with a certain message. ‘Programmatic’ is too technical of a term; ‘addressable’ explains it a lot better to the layman. I haven’t tried that pitch on my mom yet.  

What are your thoughts on the cookieless future? 

At the end of the day, we still have dollars that need to be spent in the best way possible. Obviously, with the deprecation of the cookie, it doesn’t allow us to use behavioural segments. But we’ve done more with less in advertising. I’m sure we’ll find a way, plus there’s enough big players out there that have unique data sets, so the solution is already in play–we just have to be patient. 

We have tools that monitor how much we are spending on cookies versus non-cookie data to track our level of dependency as we shift away from being completely reliant on it. We definitely have tested options in the marketplace and are learning with what’s out there. We’re also not hanging our hats on any one solution; with what’s happening with FloC and UID 2.0, and with publishers becoming more savvy with their first-party data, it’s going to be an interesting space to watch. 

Ownership of your own data is going to be a huge part of the solution of a cookieless world. Especially with supply path optimization starting to challenge supply-side platforms (SSPs), and as demand-side platforms (DSPs) connect directly to publishers, it’s going to come down to the players who own their own data: those are the ones that are going to survive; the rest of them will have a pretty rough time. 

What do you think is the most exciting technology or trend in digital advertising right now?

Right now, it would be digital audio and gaming for me. I see digital audio going down the same route as YouTube, where you’ve got a low barrier of entry for content creators, and that starts amplifying the inventory that’s available. Gaming is an interesting one because the audiences are massive and highly engaged. Yet gaming wasn’t built for advertising. We’re starting to see some innovative solutions and ad placements in gaming. My eyes are on how that translates into the metaverse, which I think uses gaming principles at the core of its product development.

From the last transformational 18 months, can you share a couple of key insights, and with them in mind, what do you think are going to be some key trends in 2022? 

One is the continued resource challenge that the entire programmatic space is facing. There are more programmatic roles available than there is talent. I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of outsourcing of job functions to centralized hubs abroad. We already know players that have hubs in Latin America, India, Singapore and Eastern Europe. The challenge is going to be: how do you divide the work in a way that makes more sense? Are you going to outsource the activation and keep the strategy here? That’s great in theory, but also creates a gap between strategy and activation. This will put local know-how to the test in a world that’s increasingly more virtual. 

The second trend I would highlight is that custom algorithms and AI optimizations are going to be key. Traders are doing a lot of manual work right now, and I think it’s just a matter of time until we look back and say, “I can’t believe we used to do things that way.” There are many AI-driven optimization technologies that just have to be integrated within the DSPs. I definitely see that being a new way of working that traders will get accustomed to and eventually embrace.

The Quantcast Query (a rapid-fire Q&A)

Who is your role model–in the industry or otherwise? 

Sir Alex Ferguson, the coach of Manchester United. He constantly reinvents his team, no matter how tough it gets, and continues to win championships.

What is your favorite campaign of the past year?

GM’s awesome Super Bowl ad, where they had the Austin Powers cast come back. It had great energy.

What is the best and worst piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?

The best: “Whenever you’re going to make a decision that affects everybody, ask everybody.”

The worst: It would be the bad advice I gave to somebody, who wanted to start his own business. I told him, “Don’t do it.” 10 years later, it inspires me to see what he’s done but also reminds me: you don’t know everything you think you know. 

Finish the sentence: To me, programmatic is…


Learn more

If you missed earlier installments in our ‘Passionate about Programmatic’ series, check out the EMEA, APAC, and another AMER perspective. 

And to learn about how Quantcast is enabling brands and agencies to activate and measure campaigns in cookieless environments, check out our cookieless capabilities