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Selling Jelly Belly, Programmatically

BeansSan Francisco-based agency Nice Advertising services small-to-midsize CPG brands like Jelly Belly, Sunsweet and Crystal Geyser.

The independent agency is creating a programmatic buying outfit in-house, partnering with TubeMogul as its dedicated video demand-side platform.

The growth in programmatic spend is most striking. Since the agency’s Director of media and analytics Eliot Kent-Uritam joined Nice one year ago, the percent of client media spend appropriated to programmatic buying has gone from barely a blip on the radar to the double digits.

“For a programmatic unit, you can certainly inform what’s working and what’s not from a targeting standpoint,” Kent-Uritam said. “Admittedly, we’re on the smaller side (the agency manages media spend in the $10 to $100 million range). One of our advantages is being nimble and being fluid as far as how the money gets spent. We don’t want to run a separate profit center and call it a trading desk.”

Instead, Nice is deploying what’s termed as a “private” trading desk for client Jelly Belly, where the advertiser, agency and DSP strike a deal directly to pass on cost savings to the client by promising performance and transparency.


Merkle: “Addressability Is The Future of CRM”

DavidWilliamsMerkleMerkle’s been busy.

Since 2011, the privately held CRM and database marketing agency has been on an acquisition roll: Brilig (data exchange); 5th Finger (responsive design); Social Amp (social commerce); IMPAQT (search engine marketing); New Control (digital and direct marketing agency services); and, most recently in July, RKG (search).

It’s all part of what Merkle CEO David Williams called a plan to create “one fully integrated company.”

Merkle’s client roster currently includes big names across a variety of verticals: Geico and Travelers in insurance, Dell and Google in tech, The Office Depot and Urban Outfitters in the retail space and Chase and Visa in financial services.

But it’s not about being everything to everyone, Williams said – it’s about doing certain things well, like creating a nexus between data and digital. For an agency that went from managing about $20 million in media four years ago to a projected $650 million run rate today, the watchword is addressability, what Merkle CMO Craig Dempster described at the time of the RKG acquisition as “the ability to execute digital communications to the individual at a level of scale.”


AOL, Havas Strike Programmatic Platform Deal

AOLartThe strategic deal struck Monday between AOL Platforms and French agency Havas’ programmatic trading desk Affiperf benefits both parties: AOL Platforms gets sell-in with Havas’ clients and Havas can unify media assets for marketers in a central hub – ONE By AOL.

This is AOL’s second major agency deal since March, when it debuted ONE and revealed a charter partnership with IPG Mediabrands.

“Havas via Affiperf has obviously been more and more aggressive with leveraging programmatic at a global scale,” said Toby Gabriner, head of and ONE by AOL. “As they started to think about how they wanted to activate programmatic across multiple channels, the conversation… led to a deepening of our relationship.”

AOL positions its ONE platform as an open ecosystem. Brands and agencies can either implement their own tech or use pieces from AOL’s suite, which includes video through, mobile and display via the AdLearn Open Platform, attribution from Convertro or supply-side hooks to AOL’s Marketplace.


DIY Amazon: Buy-Side Versatility The Basis Of Agency Dealings

venutoAmazon’s enterprise self-serve ads platform, designed for agencies and brands, is intended as a programmatic complement rather than a replacement for direct-sold inventory.

Publicis agency VivaKi is the first and only agency Amazon Media Group is working with at present for the self-serve platform rollout.

Over the last three years, Amazon has spoken with agency holding companies to diversify access to its ecommerce-centric supply, according to a report that ran last week. Like Google and Twitter, Amazon is courting advertisers who don’t necessarily want to commit to a managed service (although there is the option to do a hybrid of both).

“It’s about giving agencies control over their Amazon Advertising Platform (AAP) campaigns, which in turn helps improve performance and better end-customer experience,” said Seth Dallaire, VP of North American sales at Amazon Media Group (AMG). “Adding an enterprise self-service component means agencies can create and manage their AAP campaigns directly, optimizing at their own frequency, without the aid of managed service.”

A couple of factors drive Amazon’s agency dealings. As AdExchanger reported, brands that use Amazon as a media partner want greater insight into data and campaign attribution.

“We want to stand behind the products and services we offer to clients and this will [allow us to give] brand advertisers the reassurance that their message will reach the right consumer with premium content whether in video, mobile or display,” said Domenic Venuto, global president of data and technology at VivaKi.


Horizon Media, Largest US Indie Agency, Hits Reset Button On Programmatic

horizon-donnie-adamHorizon Media, the largest standalone media agency in the US with some $4.5 billion in ad spend across 100 clients, has not been a major participant in the programmatic trend. But that may be changing.

Horizon is rolling out a programmatic division, dubbed HX, to handle its machine-driven ad buys for clients. The initiative, supported through relationships with four demand-side platforms (DSPs), expands on a two-year foray into programmatic that initially supported However that effort failed to produce the desired scale, as clients resisted trafficking ads on unknown sites.

"We were contending with the same challenges that certain pockets of the marketplace have today. There's still network buying and perhaps limited visibility. You don't necessarily understand where impressions are," said Donnie Williams, chief digital officer. "It felt like we were another network, talking about the value all these tools brought to properties that in and of themselves were not valuable. It was a tough hole to climb out of."

But climb Horizon did. Partly because of the challenges Williams describes, transparency is the rule at HX. The unit charges a flat markup on working media and discloses that margin to clients.

"There is no arbitrage or resold media," according to Adam Heimlich, SVP Programmatic at HX.

HX has formal agreements with Turn, The Trade Desk, for video inventory and Adelphic for mobile and cross-device. Heimlich and Williams say the agency will integrate additional technologies as required by clients.

Despite Horizon's scale, its version of the trading desk has more in common with a small agency solution than it does with the large centralized hubs popularized (or not, as the case may be) by holding companies such as Omnicom Group and Publicis Groupe. HX employs just eight employees, with plans to increase that number to 20 this year. It has recruited from the likes of Maxus, Accordant and Publicis-operated VivaKi Audience On Demand. That's tiny by comparison to the hundreds working for WPP Group's Xaxis and AOD, for instance – and a drop in the bucket of Horizon's nearly 1,000 employees.


Agency VC Still Going Strong, Says KBS+ Ventures

VC-curiosityLike the rarely seen zedonk (half zebra, half donkey), agency-led VC is an odd little hybrid — a sometimes-awkward marriage of investing and marketing services. But the genre has staying power. Investing arms within WPP Group, Publicis Groupe (VivaKi Ventures), Interpublic Group, and MDC Partners are all notable players that have been researching and making investments in the digital ad ecosystem for years. And some have had major payouts, such as when IPG sold part of a position in Facebook and earned $133 million — a more than 20x return on its original $5 million stake.

One small but influential agency VC entity is kbs+ Ventures, a division of MDC Partners' agency kirshenbaum bond senecal + partners. KBS+ Ventures last week parted ways with its single full-time employee, Taylor Davidson. Davidson, who was assisted in the role by two part-type analysts, is pursuing new unspecified opportunities.

So, what gives? Is kbs+ Ventures pulling back? Far from it, according to Josh Engroff, managing partner of kbs+ Ventures and chief digital media officer at sister agency The Media Kitchen.

"We expect to increase our investment activity this year and next beyond what we did in the previous two years," said Engroff, who stated kbs+ Ventures will replace Davidson's position and grow the VC team in other ways. "Our deal review pipeline is very full and very active."


Merkle’s Acquisition Spree Now Includes RKG

merkle rkg

Updated 7/2/14, 3:22 p.m.

For the second time in less than a year, CRM and database marketing agency Merkle is on the acquisition prowl. This time, it gobbled up RKG, an agency that provides paid search, social marketing and comparison shopping engine services.

With the RKG acquisition, Merkle CEO David Williams said the agency is looking to up the ante on “addressability at scale.” In other words, to tap into the audience milling about the usual digital platforms, including Facebook, Google and Twitter.

Addressable media is a big focus area for Merkle. In speaking to AdExchanger several months ago about its April acquisition of Chicago-based digital and direct agency New Control, Merkle’s EVP and digital agency lead, Craig Dempster, said “creating integrated marketing communications in addressable is attractive to us.”

RKG’s role in Merkle’s addressable agenda will be to expand the latter’s retail offerings and relationships. RKG will give Merkle access to the agency’s existing client roster of retail companies such as Express, Herman Miller and Urban Outfitters.


Publicis Groupe Acquires Crown To Enhance Razorfish's Ecommerce Chops

pcFrench holding company Publicis Groupe acquired software and consulting firm Crown Partners on Tuesday and intends to align it with digital agency Razorfish.

The purchase is a play to power up Razorfish's ecommerce capabilities, especially as businesses that haven’t traditionally had strong online presences seek to remedy that situation.

"Everyone wants to have an ecommerce capability today, even traditional companies that aren’t direct selling," said Razorfish’s North American CEO, Shannon Denton. "The marketplace is demanding more expertise. In the last 12-15 months, retail and commerce have become even more important for us."

The driver for this? Consumers’ omnichannel buying habits.

Razorfish Global CEO Pete Stein told AdExchanger during the Cannes Lions Festival that as commerce occurs through more devices and networks – thanks largely to the Internet of Things phenomenon – companies will need to make it easier to purchase through previously unconnected devices like headphones and refrigerators.


Agencies Brace For Change As Brands Lean In To Programmatic

swimming-inhouseWhen they write the history of programmatic advertising, June 2014 will go down as the month when you needed two hands to count the number of big advertisers running their machine-driven media buys in-house.

Procter & Gamble, American Express and Mondelez all recently joined the small club of brands embracing exchange-traded media (existing members include Kellogg's, Kimberly-Clark, Unilever, Netflix, 1-800-Flowers and Allstate Insurance). And not only have they joined; they are making large commitments.

P&G reportedly aims to migrate 70% of its digital media investment to programmatic channels this year, per Advertising Age. That pledge will hit the marketplace "like a ton of bricks," said Josh Jacobs, CEO of Omnicom Group's Accuen programmatic buying unit.

And others agree.

"Whatever Procter does, eventually everybody else does too," said Matt Seiler, CEO of Interpublic Group's Mediabrands. "I think it's really exciting. I love that we're getting to a point where we can strip away the inefficiencies."

For agencies, the long-term impact of marketers becoming fully awake to the programmatic toolset remains to be seen, but the overall trend is clear. Clients will increasingly drive the discussion, rather than acceding to agency recommendations as they often have in recent years.


Digital Agency Isobar On The Tech Underpinnings Of Business Transformation

isobarDentsu Aegis Network-owned Isobar is a full-service digital agency, a descriptor with less and less meaning as digital infuses all media  or something close to all media.

It’s a branding issue about which Jeff Maling, co-CEO of Isobar US, is well aware.

“If we’re known for anything in the confusing digital landscape vs. AKQA, R/GA or Huge, I’d say we’re much deeper in enterprise disruptive technology stuff and the business process change.”

Isobar – whose clients include HBO, Fiat, Lego, Royal Caribbean International and Adidas – builds technologies designed to help companies evolve their business practice. For Royal Caribbean, for instance, Isobar constructed a system that allowed the cruise line’s customers to manage their schedules on their smartphones. The result, which seems like simplicity itself, belies some complicated underpinnings: Caribbean has numerous back-end systems onshore and on each ship.

“They basically uncouple the ship and it runs on its own,” Maling said. “We designed and built a system that completely changes how you cruise. You can configure the whole vacation on your couch and can manage that whole vacation with a giant calendar that automatically adjusts. If you try to book a dinner that conflicts with a previously scheduled spa appointment, the calendar will flag the conflict.”

This addition came at a time when Caribbean launched what it called “quantum dining.” Cruise ships traditionally have cavernous, ornate dining rooms where everyone congregates at the same time for meals. Caribbean blew up that model and built a ship with 18 different restaurants. “To handle the logistics and anxiety of that, you need an application that seamlessly does [the scheduling],” Maling said.

Maling and Abel Reis, Isobar’s CEO for Latin America, sat down with AdExchanger to explain how the influx of data has changed the creative process, and how Isobar’s media-buying practices differ from country to country.