The Trough Of RTB Disillusionment

Martin Kelly is the co-founder and Managing Partner at Infectious Media. Here he discusses the RTB hype cycle and why the nascent media buying methodology is currently languishing in the trough of disillusionment.

2011 was the year RTB hit the mainstream marketing press as agency groups bought in to the concept wholesale. Spend is pouring into the real-time space with predictions for 2012 ranging from 10% to 20% of all online display (which is an incredible adoption rate for a technology just three years old). But, when you ask what the real benefits of RTB are there tends to be a scratching of heads. Impression level bidding, terabytes of data…what does it actually mean for advertisers?

Current benefits of RTB to an advertiser are pretty scant. Centralisation and control of retargeting, along with black box optimisation algorithms are as far as anyone can get, and are all trading and workflow related benefits. If we look at the market against Gartner’s Hype Curve, it feels as though we’re on the way down into the trough of disillusionment as RTB rather than ushering in a new era of display advertising, has merely shuffled budgets from one supplier to another. I’ve sat in quite a few meetings with advertisers recently where they tell me they’ve ‘tried RTB’ but it didn’t really work out and they couldn’t see any discernable difference from all their previous display activity. So is RTB really a game changer?

Taking a step back from where we are today, it’s clear that big changes are happening in display advertising. Behind the acronyms a new vision is emerging of a fully dynamic display advertising experience where audiences are targeted in real-time and creatives are tailored to the individual. But we’re not there yet. RTB is fundamental to that shift but it’s only part of the story and the clue to where the problem lies is in the name. All advertising campaigns have four core components: planning, buying, creative and optimisation. RTB has meant that the buying element of the campaign is now dynamic, but without the other elements going real-time the benefit is marginal and this is where we find ourselves as an industry now. In the starkest terms, what’s the point in targeting the right audience if you then don’t show them the right message? And, can an algorithm that’s right for a credit card advertiser also right for car manufacturer?

2012 is the year that we are going to wake up to the real challenge of changing the entire online display paradigm to become a fully dynamic customer experience. RTB will continue to be fundamental to that shift, but there is a growing realisation that it’s not enough on its own. To get out of the trough of disillusionment and onto the slope of enlightenment needs all the real-time pieces to come together to create campaigns that live up to the heady billing of a ‘New Era of Display’.