The Future of Programmatic Buying: Q&A with Xandr


In association with Xandr

In this in-depth interview ahead of ATS London 2021, ExchangeWire speaks to Harvin Gupta, senior director - solutions engineering, and Karan Singh, senior commercial director - advertiser partnerships, Xandr, for an outlook on the future of programmatic buying, alongside how curated marketplaces, diversified media planning, and contextual, are set to fuel future industry growth.

Can you give an outline of the future of programmatic buying? How will solutions such as industry identifiers, contextual, and data clean rooms, be leveraged alongside first-party data assets?

HG: One of the themes that is becoming apparent is that we're moving to a more fragmented world. Let's just take identity as an example of that. In the past, you just used a cookie, third-party data was ubiquitous, and that was the end of the story. But now there's much more fragmentation, so that simple space of identity becomes complex. Some publishers are going to be using identifiers and some buyers are going to have their first-party data tied to different identifiers.

Another example of this fragmentation is in publisher first-party data. While it’s going to become a really important part of marketing, you can only use a publisher's data on their inventory. That means you suddenly have to have a lot more conversations, as you have to go to the first publisher you work with and say, "I'm looking for this audience" then the second publisher, then the third and so on. You essentially have islands of data that each publisher owns and that only works on their inventory.

Let's take that example of the publisher first-party data. You could be in a world where you've got 20 different inventory plus data deal IDs, and each one of those is with a different publisher. That's 20 deal IDs that the trader now has to think through when they want to target a specific audience. That's complex. You can use a curated marketplace to essentially take 20 deals with 20 publishers and curate them into one single deal ID, and then push that into the DSP for trading. The trader now only has one deal ID and they can target the audiences across multiple publishers at scale.

KS: In terms of what the future looks like, with all of those elements, programmatic looks more balanced and fair. Transparency comes into that. Making sure that industry identifiers work, are fit for purpose, and that they don't replicate some of the issues that we've had before. Data clean rooms and contextual will help to achieve that balance between performance and engagement. The brand wants to get in front of consumers and build a relationship with them. In return, the consumers need to be trusting of the brands and the way in which that engagement's happening. We're moving to a world where programmatic, which has always been about performance and hyper-targeting, will actually be enhanced in many ways by becoming fairer and more balanced.

HG: The bit I'm probably most excited about is contextual. Industry identifiers, data, and one-to-one addressability, are going to become really challenging. People won't log into loads of websites and consent rates are going to fall. Whereas contextual is a really good solution because you don't need to worry about the consequences of GDPR and you don't need to worry about getting a user's consent. When we talk about contextual, the technology has evolved from what it used to be. There's so much data noise within a bid request that being able to pinpoint the signals that are going to lead to performance in a way that doesn't require any type of user tracking is a positive development. The beauty is that it works for everyone. You don't need to worry about any of the complexity around user targeting.

KS: As opposed to targeting the user, a lot of what you can do with contextual, and where the world's moving, is targeting things like feeling. Targeting against the mood a consumer is in, is really powerful because the mood you're in determines how willing you are to engage with a brand, or how willing you are to make a purchase decision, and being able to do that is a good demonstration of where the technology around contextual has come on. The best example I saw for this was vintage cameras, where they were targeting against context that drove a feeling of nostalgia. Those two things go hand-in-hand and actually create engagement. It's a really powerful way of being targeted, but not coming across as intrusive, which is fantastic.

How will transparency be affected across the supply chain by the shift to the privacy-first landscape?

Harvin Gupta

Harvin Gupta, senior director - solutions engineering, Xandr

KS: The first thing to note is that those two things can be exclusive with each other. In a privacy-first world, one of the byproducts is that we move to an environment where there is slightly more fragmentation, where there's multiple universal identifiers and you need to work with a number of different partners to replicate what you do today. That fragmentation makes it more difficult to achieve transparency, because you need to use different partners that bring unique elements to the table and perform at different levels. It makes for a more complex supply chain with more moving parts within it.

Being able to consolidate that, finding the partners that are bringing something different, but also those that are willing to provide you that transparency, is crucial because you need to know not only how much spend is making it down to the publishers, but where your brand is being placed. For me, they're two different things, one of which creates a bit more complexity and fragmentation, which makes the other more difficult. However, it's not unachievable, and having the choice in being able to put together the right components in terms of partners is important in being able to achieve that.

HG: It's positive that we're talking about this. The lack of transparency is what has held back programmatic as a category. In my opinion, programmatic should be the dominant way of buying advertising. Digital advertising has a lot more growth left in it, but to achieve that we need to solve for users feeling comfortable with programmatic, and we need to solve for brands having a really deep understanding of how their media budgets are spent. If we can solve those two challenges then programmatic as a category should continue the fantastic growth that it has seen.

How can buyers ensure they continue to serve relevant advertising to consumers in the post-cookie environment?

HG: We've already discussed how context is going to be a key area, and the main thing to say is "start testing now". One of the mistakes we make as an industry is talking about the death of the cookie as if it's a future event, but, in reality, the cookie is already gone. Safari and Firefox don't have cookies today and, while they're not the dominant browser, in some markets they hold significant market share. Pick contextual solutions, start testing them and start mapping different solutions to other parts of the conversion funnel.

Secondly, think through data. First-party data is going to define the next wave of advertising. That makes sense for some brands, but it doesn't for others. If you're a CPG, then you don't have that direct relationship with the consumer, you're almost disintermediated from them. If you're a direct-to-consumer brand, or if you're a bank or insurance company, then you have a lot of rich first-party data. It's making sure that you can activate that and making sure that the data is in an actionable state.

Measurement is going to become challenging, because we've built a whole attribution system around last-touch and the cookie, and, in my personal opinion, that's one of the most broken parts of the industry. It's the part that leads to the most misaligned incentives. It skews how algorithms work and it skews how people get paid out. However, it's going to become hard to do last-touch attribution without the third-party cookie, so this is a fantastic opportunity to fix what's broken. Making sure that the way we attribute the revenue that's floating around in the system, making sure it goes to the right places and that we're measuring the right things is important. Just because you can measure something, doesn't mean it's a valuable metric to measure. We've occasionally fallen foul of that, and sometimes we've tried to measure everything and then optimise to the wrong things. Now is a good chance to fix that, as the outcome will be more relevant advertising.

How can curated marketplaces be used by media buyers to execute diversified media plans both prior to and post cookie deprecation?

Karan Singh

Karan Singh, senior commercial director - advertiser partnerships, Xandr

KS: The first thing to say around achieving diversity in media planning is that the intent is there. Brands want to move alongside societal shifts, they want to be more inclusive in terms of the consumers they engage with. However, executing this is difficult. Defining a diverse media plan is a tricky process. Does it mean supporting minority-backed media outlets? Is it being more inclusive in terms of who you're trying to talk to and which groups you're trying to engage with? Or, is it down to the creative? Brands want this, however, the technology doesn't really exist to make that process simple.

When we speak to agency holding companies, who have divisions that are dedicated to this, the biggest challenge they have is how fragmented those media properties are for a specific group. As an example, you might have 10 niche media properties that you need to engage with to get any kind of scale. The idea behind curation being a way of helping to solve this is it'll make it easier to buy, which is the first step in testing it and being able to do it. If you can combine those 10 properties for a specific group into one deal ID, and get learnings from that efficiently and at scale, then you’re making the first real steps in diversifying media planning efforts.

The second way in which curation helps is via the rules you can put in place. You can put blanket rules on the inventory that you're buying, whether that's based on hard metrics like viewability, but also on societal metrics, so grouping together things like minority-backed media properties.

The ability to engage with the consumer then comes down to the creative execution and being sincere, genuine, and authentic in the messaging and intent of what you're trying to do. One of the beauties of this, which sits outside of curation but is hugely important, is using creative for different areas of the country, or for different groups, and testing how that works because, within those groups, there are specific subsets. To be truly inclusive, you need to make sure that the way in which you engage is appropriate for all of those, and leveraging the creative as a core element of that is hugely important.

HG: There's a transparency element to this as well. One of the conversations brands have been having with us is understanding where their ads actually ended up serving. That sounds basic, but it's hard for them to find out with fragmented data sets as well as transparency to where ads are served. Secondly we need transparency into how much money the publisher actually received. We talk a lot about the open internet, how advertising is responsible for keeping the internet free, and how without the advertising the only other model that exists is a subscription model. Not everyone can afford to have subscriptions, let alone multiple subscriptions. We'd start to lose diversity of content, because who's going to pay for it?

That means advertising can be seen as a societal good, especially if advertisers are starting to think through what kind of content they want to fund, because they're keeping that content alive. It naturally follows that they need to be able to understand how much money they're putting into the hands of those publishers. Transparency reporting, where they can say, "for this publisher, this is how much money I gave them", is not "this is how much money I've put into the system", because those two numbers are not the same. There's a supply chain that exists between the publisher who puts money into their buy-side tools and what the publisher pulls out of their sale-side tools. The buyer being able to understand that means they can then start to understand the value that they're creating and the impact that they're having on a diverse internet.

There’s another conversation that’s been around for a long time, and I think we’ve passed the tipping point on it, but it's worth still hammering it home. Brand safety has to be thought through carefully. It's not good enough in today's world to have certain words blocked merely because they sound like emotive words. I think it's really important to think through that, and a good way of doing that is to apply those rules in your curated marketplace, because that way brands can control things centrally. It ensures a brand's objectives are translated into a targeting strategy and into a brand safety strategy because then it transcends all of your disparate buy-side tools. As we've talked about, there is a lot of fragmentation.

ATS London 2021 will take place on 3rd-4th November at Lee Valley VeloPark. Tickets and further details are available via the ATS London 2021 events hub.


Xandr is AT&T’s advertising company and a leader in addressable TV, creating a better solution for advertisers and media companies. Xandr is making advertising matter and more relevant. Xandr Invest and Xandr Monetize, our strategic platforms b...
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