Adbrain: Migrating Clients From Managed Services To Self-Serve

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adbrainQAShould marketers pay for managed services or take their media buying all in-house? For London-based Adbrain, the answer is both.

The company provides a multiscreen audience-buying platform – what co-founder and CEO Gareth Davies describes as a “mobile-first DSP.” Though nominally a self-service operation, Adbrain also provides managed services designed to migrate ad operations in-house.

“Our mission is to help marketers, agencies, publishers and anyone in the digital advertising space do more intelligent mobile media buying programmatically through the exchanges,” Davies said, adding that Adbrain’s platform is plugged into 30 exchanges and runs campaigns across Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia Pacific.

Davies spoke to AdExchanger.

ADEXCHANGER: What is Adbrain?

GARETH DAVIES: Adbrain is first and foremost a data business, and we’ve built technology that helps identify the mobile user whether they’re in-browser or in-app. Our technology is able to leverage a large number of data points and build statistical models around uniqueness. We start with a singular device and then we map the user across multiple devices.

How does that work?

We do three things, simply put. We help marketers unlock their first-party data. We help them enrich it with our own second-party data that we plug in. Then our graph enables us to pull in a large number of data variables for really intelligent optimization.

How is that different from what everybody else offers?

In traditional programmatic media buying, the algorithm is typically driven by cookie ID, domain URL and a few other factors that determine which users are more likely to respond to which ads. The way we’ve approached it is to take significantly more data sets to feed in, because mobile and location data is so valuable. If you take location data, time of day, environment and behavior data into account, you start to get a really nuanced view of when a user is likely to respond to that retail ad.

The next piece is leveraging the cross-device piece. Our product is self-serve. We have a managed service where we support the client, but unlike many managed services, the client has full access to and owns the data. There’s no arbitrage, there’s no position on media. Our goal with clients on managed service is to help equip them with programmatic expertise in mobile so that they can rapidly move to self-serve.

Who are your biggest clients?

Customers like Accuen, for example, Omnicom’s trading desk. We work with them in multiple markets and they’ve since transitioned off of managed services and are scaling up very nicely.

We’re seeing a lot of demand from the big agency desks that realize that their desktop tools just don’t do what they need them to in mobile. While there’s some fantastic programmatic technology in the desktop world, it’s typically not built for this cookieless mobile environment.

How do you do cross-device targeting without cookies?

With cross-device you need to start with single-device identification. You need to start with mobile, and then you can start mapping behaviors across multiple devices. The desktop cookie was never built for ad tracking; it was a content management solution. The cookie is not dead, but it’s definitely under threat.

As we move to a world where cookies become less and less the unifying force of understanding who that user is, we need to take new approaches. That’s where we’ve seen statistical identification methodologies come to bear.

So if cookies are devaluing, what will be the next multidevice identifier? Login data?

Potentially, yes. We have a world of deterministic data, where Google and Facebook know who you are (most of the time) because you’re logged in. But the marketer will never know who that user is. In mobile, Google’s got 50% of global mobile ad spend and Facebook’s got 23%. So you’ve got three quarters of global mobile ad spend is going to two partners. But as a marketer, if I buy media in these environments I can never match my user and duplicate very easily.

Data goes in, it’s a one-way street. If I’m the CMO at Coke and I want to sell more soda, I can go to Facebook or Google and do that. But the issue is that every dollar that I spend in their environment, they get a little smarter around what works for a Coke consumer. That may give me a good return on investment because I drive more sales of Coke. But the challenge is that there’s a high chance it’s also going to drive sales of Pepsi. I’m helping Google and Facebook build better ad products for the CPG sector, specifically for food and bev. So suddenly, there’s a trade off.

So if you’re relying on somebody else’s login, there’s a data ownership issue.

Our customers don’t just want to do intelligent mobile buying, they want to learn and they want to take all this data in-house. That goes to the heart of the cross-device piece, because users are inherently across devices.

How do native formats fit into cross-device advertising?

The old world of mobile was cheap CPCs, and banners at the top of apps driving in-app downloads. We’re seeing a big shift toward richer ad formats. Companies like Celtra are pioneering really innovative mobile ads and full-page interstitials. The challenge in mobile is the small screen, but you also have the ability to have the full real estate of the screen.

Step one is moving into richer, more interactive ad formats. Native is slightly different, and there has been a lot of hype around it. For me, native is just a premium publisher custom ad format, which is very similar to rich media.

Native is still relatively nascent. Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook – a lot of the large media tech players are clearly excited about the opportunity to personalize their environment for their audience and drive more engaging formats.

What are the biggest challenges to native advertising in mobile?

The challenge with native is scale, because we don’t have standardization around these ad formats. Marketers want to reach their audiences at scale, that’s the beauty of programmatic, whether or not we’re talking about open RTB from the exchanges or more premium private marketplace stuff. We’re doing a lot of private marketplace activity with our partners. The challenge in mobile has never been a lack of supply, but high-quality supply has been hard to get a hold of.

Can native ads be purchased on an open exchange yet?

Native ads are not really traded programmatically yet. It’s still pretty early days, but as the industry starts to agree around the standardized metrics for how these native ads can be delivered, some exciting things can happen.

What are the challenges and opportunities for companies like Adbrain?

At Adbrain we believe in three things: data, mobility and automation. Mobile is more than a device, it’s a phenomenon, and the world is inherently connecting through smarter, more powerful mobile devices. For us, mobility is more than just a smartphone, it’s not a Samsung or and Android or an iOS device. Mobility is this whole shift in how consumers are connecting to the digital world. It’s also tablets, wearables, the connected car and the smart home.

There’s no doubt about it that we’re moving to a world where consumers are going to be increasingly connected across multiple devices and the way they engage with those devices will differ based on their environment, the time of day, their needs and their frame of mind.

The challenge and the opportunity is to be able to harness all the data that comes from these multiple devices and to do it in a privacy safe way. Marketers have a big responsibility to leverage data in a consumer-friendly way, in a way that helps deliver more relevant ads and better services.

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