Spray and Pray, Baby: The Insider View On The Dysfunctional State Of Display

So. Finally. The UK is getting RTB traction. We’re starting to realise the wonderful promise of audience over context - and we’re beginning to revolutionise online display advertising...no wait. No we're not.

Despite the liquidity and progress being made in this space (even NMA had an RTB session so it must be mainstream), not a lot is really changing.

The biggest disruption is arguably coming from the trading desks and the trading specialists. This is the part of the buy-side that is really beginning to go head-to-head with the ad nets (excluding the likes of Criteo for now).

Sadly though, the methods being implemented by the above are exactly what the ad nets have been doing for years. Little change is actually happening. Yes, inventory is being traded differently - and yes data trading is becoming a lot more transparent. But the end game is exactly the same - cookie, cookie, cookie. And it’s bullshit.

Should this matter? Maybe. Maybe not. The agency groups will not be concerned. They are knocking ad nets out of the park (or at least off the plan). Are the ad nets concerned? Some probably are. But more than likely, no. A lot of these so called Trading Desks (TDs) are simply managing campaigns like ad nets used to 3 / 4 years ago. Campaign management methods of optimisation are not changing which begs the question: what's the point of this shift in power?

It is a real race to the bottom - the bottom of the funnel that is. Everyone is trying to win that last cookie, both ad nets and TDs (and every intermediary in between).

Well, if you are racing to the bottom of the funnel there is only going to be one real winner there and that's Google. I mean have you ever seen an attribution modelling report?

Advertisers are getting savvier because of the increased transparency, which is a good thing. However, how impressed will they be when they start to understand that all RTB is delivering at the moment is the ability to drop a cookie quicker and cheaper?

I use the term spray and pray because those working in this space will know what that means. Impression blasting, cheaply, is more cost effective (when there is a PI window) than being clever with audience segmentation and genuine smart tactics. Everyone knows the different tactics employed on retargeting and non-retargeting. At the moment retargeting is the de facto campaign strategy - maximise that and then get scale from the rest. But is this not a huge waste of the potential of RTB? It's quite depressing if this is all RTB has to offer.

To shift away from this carpet bombing of impressions, we need to move away from the way we measure and look beyond basic metrics. It requires work from all of us to achieve this and without it display is dead in the water.

I don’t know all the answers. But we need ways to measure the impression differently. On a line item, your in-market BlueKai segment is likely to be less cost effective than your RON buys. Is this because it genuinely does not add value or is it because the tactics employed on a RON buy reduces the potential value it can deliver? I am growing tired and frustrated that all this innovation and technology is arguably not adding any real genuine value.

Spray and pray is still the name of the game. But this is not advertising. We need to change it. And change it fast.

This post was written in a recent conversation with a senior holding agency executive.