Programmatic Branding

Today’s AdExchanger roundup highlighted a great presentation by Bob Arnold of Kellogg Company.   His talk was on brand marketing via programmatic buying.  We obviously hear a lot about programmatic buying (primarily RTB) for DR campaigns, but this is a great reminder that we’ve still just scratched the surface of what programmatic buying can offer.

First of all, there’s much more that can be done with RTB to help brands increase efficiency.  Given the size of Brand budgets, this is a big (huge) area for growth.  Bob shares some great case examples from Kellogg’s experience:

1)    Having the right measurement framework is critical.  Bob’s not talking about CPA and conversion attribution here.  He’s driving long-term changes in purchase behavior through an offline channel.  So he divides metrics into short-term (brand safety, viewability, composition and frequency), mid-term (attitudinal lifts like awareness and purchase intent) and long-term (offline sales lift as measured by Marketing Mix Models).  This is all stuff I’ve discussed before, but we in the tech community can’t hear it too often and it’s particularly great to hear it from a big marketer explicitly in the context of RTB.  Nielsen for one is listening.  They already had a big presence in the first and last buckets, and they recently doubled down on the middle with their Vizu acquisition.   Vizu and Nielsen work great together, so this is a very smart deal.

2)    Creative is fundamental.  In Bob’s words: “Creative quality is paramount…the media plan simply amplifies the creative message.  Studies from comScore and Dynamic Logic [show that] 50-80% of the value of a branding campaign comes from the creative…it’s imperative you get that right.”  Great creative is altogether too rare online, but there are some great examples out there, like this one.  This ad made me stop and think.  And the more I thought, the more it took me away.  I will remember it and it will make me more likely to buy Legos for my kids.  Bob’s comments and creative like this are a reminder that while advertising – the activity – will be an increasingly technical pursuit for the foreseeable future, the best advertising – the thing – will continue to be driven by great creative that leverages this technology to connect people with products in a way that creates a lasting impression.

3)    Doing it right drives great results.  Bob claimed that programmatic buying for Kellogg doubled targeting accuracy while increasing viewability to >70% (higher than direct buys).  It also cut eCPM (CPM adjusted by comp & viewability) by >50% from their starting reference point.  The combination of these factors (assuming creative was comparable before and after) drove improvements in ROI (via MMM) by ~5X.  Just a stunning impact.

These examples demonstrate the power of RTB, in the hands of a savvy marketer, to drive Brand results.  Good news for all of us.

But I also want to point out that there’s more to programmatic buying than RTB.  There’s a whole set of programmatic premium, automated reserve (or whatever else you want to call it) capabilities possible on which the ecosystem as a whole as has barely scratched the surface.  A couple of the pioneers in this area include and isocket, but I assure you there will be other, larger players down this path after them.  These next-gen programmatic capabilities are a great complement to the current set of RTB capabilities and they are tailor-made for branding.

It’s exciting to see a large marketer smartly leveraging the available technology in a new way to drive such great results.  It will be even more exciting to see what’s possible as the market begins to deliver more technology focused on this important class of use cases.

The Trillion-Dollar O2O Opportunity

Some interesting dialog on ad exchanger today about bringing brand dollars online.  Obviously a topic near and dear to our hearts here at, even though I think this particular framing of the issue is less and less relevant as the distinction between online and offline blurs.

Zach’s a smart guy and I agree with some of his points.  Manually cobbling together a buy won’t allow the scale advertisers need.  Check.  We as media providers need to enable the creatives to deliver the message in a compelling way.  Check.  Where I lose the thread is his jump to how DSPs, RTB and exchanges magically solve everything for brands.

It is possible to use a DSP (as he describes) to bid only on specific top sites that have offered, transparently for RTB through an exchange, the same inventory their direct sales forces sell.  But there’s simply no scale available that way today.  And unless publishers are prepared to gut out and cannibalize their primary direct sales channel, there won’t be tomorrow either. 

So that’s a big hurdle.  But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that changes.  How much will this premium inventory via RTB cost relative to a direct buy?  Can you plan at scale and count on that cost, or even on basic delivery?  I.e., ultimately, if you use a DSP/exchange in this manner are you really better off?  Or to recognize significant efficiency in terms of cost and effort do you need to buy into the long tail and/or buy blindly by audience or contextual category rather than by site?

Also, the tech world seems to have convinced itself – with a few intelligent exceptions – that large global advertisers would unanimously and emphatically agree that transparency to a media provider’s margin structure is much more important than level of or predictability of costs.  Is a $5 CPM that includes a known margin better than a $3.50 CPM for the same thing that includes an unknown margin?  Is a CPM that could vary between $2 and $4 for delivery that could vary between 20% and 100% of target better than a fixed CPM of $3 on a guaranteed buy?  Large advertisers may well be unanimous on these questions, but not in the direction the tech community majority seems to think. 

Let’s not forget that low cost is not necessarily the same as high-value – there is an “R” in ROI.

Which brings me to my biggest issue with Zach’s post, well articulated by Jeff Rosen in the comments.   Most large brand advertisers – CPG companies are great examples – generate 95% of their sales offline.  For them to spend at scale, they need to know their investments in media are profitably driving incremental offline sales. 

Offline sales impact data comes in with several months lag (at best) and isn’t tied to individual cookies, which are the lingua franca of RTB.  Probably just as well, because when this data does come back it’s not particularly kind to some of the targeting techniques most often used for RTB.  “It doesn’t work that well”  is obviously a big (huge) disconnect, and of course that is before we even get  to the troubling privacy and data ownership issues created by the questionable provenance of much of today’s online targeting data.

Not surprisingly, growing recognition of the importance of this tie between online media and offline activity has spawned a shiny new TLA:  “O2O” (for “Online To Offline”).  O2O is still just a foal of an acronym, but this foal has legs – like the legs on which most people still walk into brick and mortar stores to do 95% of their retail spending. 

O2O is truly a trillion dollar opportunity.

Companies like Groupon have done a great job demonstrating the potential of O2O for promotional spending.  The typical Groupon offer is time-sensitive and designed to drive foot traffic and sales more or less immediately – a savvy twist on the successful online DR advertising model.  Based on the results this model has shown to date, we’re going to see a lot more in the future.

But I also think we need to think more broadly about the potential of O2O than simply the ability to motivate customers at the bottom of the funnel.  Online media is also a powerful, efficient and increasingly proven way to create the awareness, consideration and intent that translate into higher offline sales.  Offline sales increases created in this way have longer cycles than promotional lifts simply because they originate at the top of the funnel, but we, Nielsen, comScore and others prove every day that they are also measurable with accuracy and statistical rigor.

I am always up for a healthy debate, but we’re not going to unlock the huge potential of O2O by debating each other.  We need to spend less time navel gazing and more time with real customers delivering enterprise-class technology that accommodates their business processes and ultimate (not just proximate) marketing objectives.

Stay tuned for more on this shortly.

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