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Tales from New York

Improve Digital, Staff Blog, Blog, Tech company, Programmatic

2014 is already in full swing, and the demand and supply side of the market equally focused on the year ahead. The UK’s recent IPA Bellwether report points to a significant uplift in marketer confidence, which we are seeing in the new advertisers, and brand budgets, that are being secured by our trading desk partners. The supply side is also responding well, and continuing the momentum we highlighted in research we produced last autumn,  redefining their programmatic and data strategies to maximise the opportunity available to them.

I recently attend the debut of Ad Exchanger’s “Industry Preview” event in New York. Likely the first of a new tradition in predicting the trends and developments we might expect to see this year. Presentations and panels came from a range of the known speakers in the programmatic space (Google, Turn, Rubicon,) some of the lesser known (Acxiom, Drawbridge, Yandex) and a few known but new challengers (AOL, Oracle, Salesforce).

Despite a downfall of snow and arctic temperatures to match, turnout was good, and a range of topics discussed. Running themes were in line with those that we at Improve Digital have been focused on at the core of our strategy – mobile, the need to standardise to make it easier to trade; talent, and how programmatic changes but doesn’t displace our people; and data, big data, small data, but mostly fragmented data confusing the landscape, the marketer, and limiting trade.


There was a strong message from both the marketer and platform perspective of growth potential and expectation in mobile ad spend, with the US forecast of 56% year on year increase in 2014, to $15bn.  If the user checks their device on average 120 times per day (according to Yahoo!) then that behaviour should indeed be better monetised.

“Mobile first” is a phrase used repeatedly, but not yet meaningfully

The challenge of a consistent currency for mobile – whether cookie, user or device ID – of course remains unsolved, and hardware and manufacturer dependent.  However, Drawbridge claim 80% accuracy of user targeting across smart phone and tablet from their proprietary inference based modelling, with DataXu similarly supporting an inference based model, and advocating a move away from device ID as long as they can’t be truly anchored to a unique user. With web attribution alone still subjective across view and click metrics, and platform, modelling certainly isn’t viewed as a step back.

It was clear at the event that the marketer perspective of mobile is very much that it has been left behind. It is still too complicated in terms of the number of creatives/formats required to enable trade at scale, said AOL, and the contextualisation possible with mobile is yet to be fully understood and utilised, according to Forrester. “Mobile first” is a phrase used repeatedly, but not yet meaningfully in many organisations, and is certainly required in the creative approach of advertisers and agencies, and the consolidation of ad technology.

An extension of the expectation of automation, and easing of cross platform trading came from IPG Mediabrands, who pledged that 50% of their total media spend will be automated by 2015.


The people debate was most interestingly discussed by the traditional media houses of Clear Channel and CondeNast, with Triad. Many of our own thoughts were reinforced by them –  that expertise will always be in demand to bring insights to data and telling stories from research – and that the core values of teamwork, collaboration, and a strong work ethic don’t change. There is still some way to go to make the media trading process more streamlined and efficient, and success comes from a combination of a clear strategy and investment in the right people. Similarly from the agency perspective, Deloitte and IPG touched on the legacy of clients paying for bodies, which restricts progress as those bodies make too many mistakes in manual jobs. The focus should be on replacing low value jobs, and reinvesting that resource in more strategic, higher value places.


Last, but never least, the references to data, big or small, are too many to mention, as were the references to the (in)famous Wannamaker quote of not knowing which 50% of a company’s ad spend is wasted. More interesting was the Adobe “Digital Distress” survey, which found only 48% of marketers who took part stated proficiency in digital marketing, on top of a common concern that silos, fragmented channels, disparate data and too many systems are the main challenge for many organisations. Oracle are positioning themselves to resolve this with one planning tool, cross platform, through the full sales channel, with Adobe and (incorporating buddy media) similarly painting a vision of a single customer view, enabling management of the full customer journey. The panel specifically dedicated to the more commonly associated data platforms included Acxiom, BlueKai, DataXu and Turn. They echoed the need for simplicity, and a unified approach to platform and audience, and already see a shift in engagement from the agency up to the brand marketer/CMO.

Two key nuggets for the data enthusiasts, were Google citing they don’t see the need for a DMP within their own product suite, yet others seeing a likelihood of further consolidation, and hinting at acquisition as more players with deep pockets enter the space!

 With mobile, talent and data topics dominating the agenda, Adexchanger’s Industry Preview certainly set the scene for the challenges to be addressed during the year ahead.  But as we believe 50 per cent of digital ad spend will be programmatic by 2015, the industry is set to make significant steps forward in all these areas.  I’m hopeful that the agenda for 2015 will highlight how far we’ve come.

Managing Director UK