The advertising industry changed tremendously over the last 10 years. That change came from the men and women whose decisions shaped what the industry prioritizes and how it does business.
AdExchanger looks back on the past decade of data-driven advertising and highlights the marketers, agency executives, ad tech entrepreneurs and platform leaders whose contributions have had an outsize impact.
Of course, more than 10 people had an indelible impact on this space. Did we miss somebody? Share your thoughts in the comments!
- Marc Pritchard: The Change Agent
- Brian Lesser: Transforming TV
Brian Lesser helped build WPP’s Xaxis in 2011. Housed within WPP’s media buying unit, GroupM, Xaxis was one of the OG agency trading desks with a unique and controversial model, where it took a principal position in the media it sold. Rising off this success, Lesser became CEO of GroupM in North America in 2015, where he centralized data and tech and oversaw the largest portfolio of media clients in the region.
AT&T poached Lesser in 2017, after the telco’s $85 billion purchase of Time Warner. There, he founded Xandr, led it through the $2 billion acquisition of AppNexus in 2018 and grew it into a major player in the addressable and advanced TV ad space. Lesser reports to CEO Randall Stephenson, who’s betting big that AT&T can revolutionize the TV ad business with tech and data. It’s a particularly risky initiative since data-driven advertising and media aren’t AT&T’s core business. But if Lesser is successful, he’ll have revolutionized the way TV advertising is bought and sold.
- Brian O’Kelley: Father Of RTB
- Susan Wojcicki: From Google To YouTube
Susan Wojcicki spent the first half of the decade overseeing all of Google’s advertising and analytics products, including AdWords and AdSense. Since taking over leadership at YouTube in 2014, she’s grown the video platform into a cultural phenomenon, an advertising juggernaut and one of Google’s most lucrative business units. Under Wojcicki’s leadership, YouTube gave rise to sub-industries, such as influencer marketing, and legitimized user-generated content as a monetizable media format.
But Wojcicki’s job hasn’t been without challenges. She steered YouTube through the brand safety debacle of 2017, when major advertisers pulled their spend from the platform after finding their ads next to extremist content. Since then Wojcicki has put out many fires at YouTube, most recently in stopping pedophiles from commenting on videos of children and ending ad targeting on kids videos.
“I recognize there's still work to be done, but we’re recommitted to getting this right,” she said at YouTube’s 2019 Brandcast in May.
- Jeff Green: King Of The DSP
- Sheryl Sandberg: The Face Of Facebook
Sheryl Sandberg joined Facebook shortly after the company launched an ad business that would dominate the internet. As its key business leader, Sandberg led Facebook through a decade of blockbuster growth as well as a thorny geopolitical reckoning that’s transformed the way society views social media.
Under Sandberg, Facebook acquired both Instagram and WhatsApp, revolutionized the distribution and monetization of content, innovated on creative ad formats, and, along with Google’s YouTube, spawned the rise of user-generated content and influencer marketing. Under her leadership, Facebook has innovated, launching new ad products like Facebook Watch and Stories to keep up with shifts in user behavior.
Sandberg’s job got a lot tougher when Facebook’s lax policies around user privacy came to a head during the 2016 election. But she managed to navigate Facebook through the blowback of the Cambridge Analytica scandal while continuing to grow Facebook’s share of ad spend.
- Martin Sorrell: Agency Tycoon
- Margrethe Vestager: Ad Tech’s Watchdog
The Danish politician Vestager is relatively new to the advertising world – but that doesn’t make her any less influential. Vestager became known (and feared) by data-driven advertisers at the onset of the General Data Protection Regulation in 2018.
But Vestager’s influence was felt before then. In 2014, as European Commissioner for Competition, she spearheaded antitrust lawsuits against Google, and opened up tax investigations into tech giants like Apple and Amazon.
More recently, her relentless pursuit of big tech and advocacy for customer data privacy has reshaped the way ad tech and data companies go to market across the globe. Oracle ended some of its European data businesses. Microsoft extended its GDPR policies globally. And Google’s GDPR policies sent shockwaves across the industry.
Under Vestager, the EU hit Google with a $9 billion antitrust fine and is threatening a similar scale fine at Facebook privacy violations. Location data and cross-device companies have fled Europe under her watch.
The impact of the EU’s data privacy regulations has crept to the United States, where multiple states are executing their own consumer privacy legislation – the most notable of which is the California Consumer Privacy Act, set to go into effect in a matter of weeks.
- Michael Barrett: The Exit Man
- Linda Yaccarino: The Broadcast Revolutionary
NBCUniversal ad sales chairman pushed the storied network to future-proof its business as media buying become automated and viewers adopted new ways of watching TV.
Yaccarino launched NBCU’s first digital upfronts back in 2013, advocating for the value of premium content distributed online. By 2017, NBCU pledged to make $1 billion in audience-based upfront guarantees, pushing the network out of its comfort zone of demo-based sales to keep up with buyer demands.
On the digital side, Yaccarino inked exclusive ad sales partnerships with Snap and Apple News to reap the rewards of shifting consumer attention, and took advantage of the network’s ownership by Comcast to launch an addressable TV business at NBC.
Measurement, however, has been Yaccarino’s top crusade. The ad sales exec went to war with Nielsen over cross-platform metrics to value linear TV at parity with digital. When Nielsen didn’t move fast enough, Yaccarino oversaw the roll out of CFlight, its own cross-platform currency.