Advertiser Perceptions DSP Wave Charts The Rise Of Self-Serve Tech

Let us help you serve yourself.

That’s the accelerating trend in fast-food chains, car dealerships, remote work life and, yes, in ad tech.

The ascendancy of the self-serve DSP is here, according to the latest Advertiser Perceptions DSP wave. The report is based on a survey of 336 brand and agency advertisers who spend at least one million dollars annually on digital ads.

Managed service still ekes out a majority, with 56% of buyers saying they rely on an agency or DSP to operate campaigns, while 46% log into and manage their own campaigns. But 52% of those buyers intend to increase their self-serve budgets this year. Only 17% plan to increase managed service spending.

More than half of current managed service buyers plan to increase their self-serve spend. By comparison, 12% of self-serve advertisers plan to add more managed service.

The four largest DSPs – Google Display & Video 360, Amazon Advertising, The Trade Desk and Yahoo DSP – each increased its self-service rates.

The Trade Desk’s self-serve advertiser usage increased by eight points year over year, and is now a majority of its accounts, based on the survey. Amazon Advertising made the biggest self-serve gains, from 41% to 60% of its buyers. And Yahoo (which was Verizon Media when the survey was fielded, and had just shaken off the un-rebrand from Oath, after a long bundling up of BrightRoll, AOL and Yahoo) also become a majority self-serve platform in the past year, from 41% to 54%.

Managed service buyers and use cases still exist, said Advertiser Perceptions Chief Strategy Office Kevin Mannion. “But the [growing] proportion of advertisers using DSPs in a self-serve capacity is very much what we’re seeing.”

One important catalyst of the transition to self-serve buying is is the desire for visibility into programmatic media fees. A year ago, 42% of self-serve advertisers said fee optimization was a top rationale for the decision. In this wave, that number jumped to 56%.

“We’ve now reached the point, more than ten years in, where buyers are more comfortable with DSPs, and have the training and capabilities to go the self-serve route,” said Lauren Fisher, Advertiser Perception’s VP of business intelligence.

The self-serve trend hardly spells doom for managed service DSP businesses. The reality is, even self-serve platforms are doing managed service, for some accounts or behind the scenes, Mannion said. Google said it’s not doing managed service, “but advertisers still turn to them for that.”

Amazon and Yahoo’s roots are as managed service DSPs, he said, and that background persists despite the market shift.

Marketers are more comfortable operating programmatic platforms and in-housing media these days, but they face learning curves on new mediums. Mobile-first DSPs carved out a niche when in-app inventory was still new. The same can be said to be happening now with digital out-of-home inventory and CTV, categories with specialist DSPs, and a higher proportion of usage through managed services.

“This is a cyclical trend where advertisers are always going to need people who are more sophisticated and familiar with certain types of inventory,” Mannion said.

There are a couple data points in this DSP survey that jumped from a year ago. It remains to be seen whether they turn into more durable trends or reflect churn in the market right now. One such number is Amazon’s DSP usage, which dipped to 39% from 46% at the middle of last year.

Fisher said the fluctuation might be because when the survey was fielded in the summer of 2020, Amazon was surging and marketers across the board were hurriedly testing or expanding ecommerce ads. Amazon remains the number-two DSP, behind Google DV360 and ahead of The Trade Desk, but Fisher said the Amazon DSP’s usage rate this year has been tempered. Many brands tried the platform last year during quarantine, but she said its usage rate has since returned to similar rates as the first half of last year.

Another response that stood out like a sore thumb was marketers this year saying they intend to use on average six DSPs in the next 12 months. Five years ago, using six or more DSPs was common. But that rate had dropped below four and hovered between 3 and 3.5 DSPs on average for the past three years.

It could be that advertisers do plan to settle on a higher number of DSP platforms in their rotation. But this survey was fielded between March and June this year, before Google delayed its plan to phase out third-party cookies on Chrome. “At that time, the market was swirling with concern,” Fisher said.

Advertisers were unsure whether Google and other DSPs would allow one-to-one targeting, or go all-in on cohort-based and contextual advertising. She said the optimism for more DSPs is likely an indicator of marketers’ concern about identity and privacy, and an openness to test post-cookie solutions, rather than a strategic decision to use more DSPs.

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