Where Is The Uber Of Online Advertising?

frostprioleaurevised“Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Frost Prioleau, CEO and co-founder of Simpli.fi.

Uber is undeniably one of the great startup success stories in recent history. By solving a fairly simple problem – how to easily and quickly get a ride in a respectable vehicle – Uber’s business model is an inspiration to many entrepreneurs. It has become somewhat cliché to say that a startup aspires to be “The Uber of [insert industry here].”

For example, if you Google “The Uber of …” you will get nearly 200,000 hits with results including “The Uber of at-home hair color,” “The Uber of private jets” and, my personal favorite, “The Uber of organ transplants.”

It seems every industry is poised to benefit from revolutionary service design with one curious exception. Where is the Uber of online advertising?

Some might posit that our ecosystem is so complex that it could never be Uber-ized. But as I wrote back in 2011, I believe that the advent of programmatic advertising has actually made digital advertising simpler for advertisers, rather than more complex. Prior to programmatic, advertisers had to use multiple vendors to cobble together the scale, media types and tactics needed to deliver on a campaign. Today, advertisers can log into a single demand-side platform user interface and set up campaigns to run across massive scale worldwide, target multiple media types, such as display, mobile, video and social, and leverage multiple targeting tactics, including site retargeting, search retargeting or CRM targeting.

That said, we still have a ways to go before we can claim an Uber-like experience. So what is it exactly that makes Uber so successful?

Not unlike the concepts I introduced in my last article, Uber has created a virtuous cycle of transportation quality. Among its core attributes, the Uber model does three things. It delivers trust in an industry beleaguered by fraud, embraces the power of algorithms to efficiently connect supply and demand and delivers complete transparency to end users, which, in turn, increases trust.

At the end of the day, Uber connects the right services to the right people at the right time. Sound like any other industry’s mantra you know?

So, how do we take steps toward Uber-vana? Some of Uber’s core principles have parallels in our own industry:

Trust: Win the war on fraud

When Uber CEO Travis Kalanick founded the company he just wanted “to be able to press a button and get a classy ride.” At the end of the day, most advertisers also want to be assured of a “classy ride” – high-quality inventory they can trust. We can’t build an empire on a cracked foundation. Eliminating nonhuman traffic and click fraud is essential to opening the next level of opportunities for the industry. By using a combination of technology and human efforts, we are making good progress on this front and advertiser spending is diverting away from poor-quality impressions.

Algorithms: Embrace auto-optimization

The concept of meticulously planning media prior to campaign launch is quickly become obsolete, especially for direct-response campaigns. The number and combination of variables requiring consideration to ensure a perfectly optimized campaign, such as demographics, search keywords, sites, apps, devices, DMAs, page positions and dayparts, is typically too complex to be accomplished by a human. For performance-driven campaigns, a better process is to start the campaign with a core audience based on lookalikes, and then let multivariate algorithms optimize the campaign on the fly.

Transparency: Deliver it

Just like Uber tells you the exact route you traveled and delivers it clearly on a map that is emailed to you instantly, advertisers want and deserve to know exactly what they paid for. Not only do they deserve to know the cost, delivery and performance for each site on which their campaign served, but they also should know the same for each data element, exchange, hour of the day and ad unit. This level of transparency contributes to increased trust and satisfaction that engenders long-term loyalty to the service, or in this case, the whole concept of buying programmatically.

So how far are we from the Uber of online advertising?

Well, we still have a little ways to go. But even today, executing a digital campaign is easier than hailing a cab during the NYC shift change.

Follow Frost Prioleau (@phrossed), Simpli.fi (@Simpli_fi) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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  1. If your a planner/buyer it’s called thalamus. They aggregate all the inventory sources and capabilities in a planning/buying/reporting/communicating tool that puts the old school current structure to shame. Too bad my BDA (big dumb agency) will never use the product because it further obsoletes themselves by being that efficient

  2. matt drinkwater

    Frost, I like the parallel and concept. Thanks for the thoughts.
    One difference that is tougher to bridge is “pricing”. It’s not just knowing the cost, it’s believing you are getting fair market value. With Uber the value exchange is simple – it’s quite easy to know that you are getting a fair price for the service and even compare it to like services. And for each individual buyer of Uber even if the pricing is slightly off, it’s a matter of pennies. That doesn’t translate so well for programmatic. Value is much more difficult to understand in digital. You could say it’s all relative – if someone is willing to pay X then oh well. But slight “misses” in pricing have a much larger effect in programmatic given the massive consolidation and scale of buyers and sellers. You are no longer talking pennies on a $10 fair.