Rocket Fuel Powers Private Marketplaces For Agencies, Publishers

Rocket Fuel PMPAgencies and publishers alike have jumped into private marketplaces. Rocket Fuel, known for its performance-driven campaigns in open marketplaces, has lately begun pitching an offering of its own.

For the past six months, it’s partnered with agencies and publishers to enable performance-driven campaigns in premium environments, building on technology put in place by [x+1], which it acquired last summer. Now it’s rolling the product out more widely, with publishers and advertisers on board.

“When you’re doing open exchanges, the context is secondary to the quality of the audience,” said Ben Jurist, founding partner of Rocket Fuel agency customer Grain NYC, which is using the PMP functionality. “This is a rare combination: We’re appearing on the content we want, but only when it’s also the right audience.”

As a boutique digital shop, Grain can’t support the overhead for an internal trading desk. It uses Rocket Fuel for clients’ programmatic deals, but that posed a challenge for luxury clients that needed to appear only in premium contexts.

When buying media for a private aviation brand and an education company, Grain decided to put budget into Rocket Fuel’s private marketplace, starting a test in February.

The private marketplace comes in two flavors. In one, it runs only on a custom white list culled from comScore 100 publishers, saving man-hours that would be spent picking up the phone to run direct buys with publishers like Forbes, The New York Times or The Economist.

In the second, Grain brings in Rocket Fuel for pre-negotiated private marketplaces to pick the best impressions to serve.

“We can always buy run-of-site inventory through a white list, but what’s compelling about the private marketplace is to have an entire artificial learning DMP behind that inventory to increases the value of each impression served,” Jurist said.

While it pays a premium over the open marketplace, the rates fall below direct buys. “It’s never going to be as cheap as just open exchange inventory, but it’s doing double duty, with performance and branding in one fell swoop,” Jurist said.

With private marketplace connections in place, Grain no longer needs to reach out to publishers directly for run-of-site buys. But that doesn’t mean Grain will stop working with publishers directly.

“It’s not replacing direct buying by any means,” Jurist said. “If we want to make a splash on [a high-end publisher like] The New York Times we’ll still reach out and do a home page takeover or native ads. Or, if we have to be on travel section, we’ll still do those deals. This is about making more of the run-of-site inventory that is usually packaged into these direct deals.”

Some publishers – rather than bemoan the erosion of direct deals – are embracing audience buying. Rocket Fuel is one of the bigger sources of programmatic demand for, a car shopping and comparison site.

Edmunds sees programmatic demand from Rocket Fuel come in two ways: either a “joint effort” where an advertiser works with Rocket fuel to optimize its private marketplace, or via Rocket Fuel directly, where it serves as the connection between buyer and seller for a private marketplace, explained Jennifer Dodez, the account director focusing on programmatic solutions for

Rates have held. “We really haven’t had to discount our rates much because the technology optimizes for performance, and [our inventory is] at a premium because of performance,” Dodez said.

It’s even closed direct buys. “In some cases Rocket Fuel has helped us close a direct buy because we had such a great campaign on the programmatic side,” Dodez said. “It’s pretty rare to have a DSP drive business on both sides.”

As concerns about site quality, fraud and viewability have skyrocketed, some brand and agencies have talked of moving out of open marketplaces, something Rocket Fuel’s solution enables. Does this represent a marketwide change toward transparent, site-specific buys, or simply more options for buyers and sellers?

Jurist goes with “more options.”

“Different mediums are being shifted into digital in general on things like programmatic,” he said. “It’s the same story we’ve been seeing with digital, where it’s easy to measure and track and we get great insights back post-campaign.” Those are the things “that get CMOs really excited.”

Seeing the data outputs from digital and programmatic, the marketers he serves are thinking more about what data inputs they can add to digital.

“Our clients are thinking about how to make their data accessible, moveable and adaptable into these platforms that are becoming the norm,” Jurist said. That, in turn, will lead to more dollars flowing in programmatic channels, whether it’s in a private or open marketplace.

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