Jump-Starting Programmatic Sales At Edmunds.com

data drivers seat edmundsFrom a certain point of view, it’s surprising car-shopping site Edmunds.com took the plunge into programmatic selling at all.

During the annual upfronts, much of its inventory sells out, including homepage placements, sponsorships, key sections and so-called “conquest” opportunities. Car manufacturers and dealerships prize the inventory because more than half of those browsing the site end up buying a car, according to a study by Datalogix.

In short, Edmunds’ management hardly knows the meaning of “remnant,” but management took the plunge into programmatic anyway, starting in April, because it believed clients would spend more if they could apply their own first-party data to its audience.

“Advertisers were looking for automated solutions, and had a desire to overlay data and use that to buy media. We decided to launch a test, because we knew where the industry was going,” said Jennifer Dodez, director of programmatic solutions for Edmunds.com.

In November of last year, Edmunds.com began testing private exchange functionality. In April it expanded that program, with the goal of supplementing its direct buys with data-driven exchange deals. Google’s DoubleClick Ad Exchange (AdX) and Rubicon power all programmatic deals, which can be open, preferred or private.

The programmatic sales channel was activated mid-year, after the digital upfront season. For 2015, Edmunds.com plans to offer these programmatic programs in tandem with its upfront-sold deals, according to Dodez.

“This is an incremental opportunity for our clients,” she said. “It’s typically an add-on, and it’s inventory that they really wouldn’t have access to via their upfront buys. There’s not a lot of duplication comparing the upfront to what they would be buying in the exchange.”

Edmunds.com’s ad ops team will set up rules in DART to prevent a direct campaign from appearing on the same page as a programmatically sold ad, avoiding repetition for advertisers who buy inventory both directly and programmatically.

Interestingly, the programmatic capability could open Edmunds.com up to virtually any advertiser. “We can work with any DSP. That’s the large benefit with Google. When you do direct buys, you’re not necessarily layering on advertiser data, but in RTB and ad exchanges, that’s the huge benefit,” Dodez said.

The Edmunds.com team also appreciated the Google AdX platform’s ability to monitor advertisers and remove any if necessary. “You can quickly block ads on your site at any time. Brand is so important for us. Showing our car shoppers and dealer partners that they’re working with a trustworthy site, and not putting ads that would conflict with a dealer trying to sell on our site is important,” Dodez said.

Programmatic CPMs are lower than what Edmunds.com gets through direct deals, but the auction process is faster. “RTB is always going to be slightly lower CPMs, but it’s different inventory,” Dodez said. “We’ll use Edmunds.com first-party data. It’s about Honda reaching a Honda shopper as defined by Edmunds.com.”

While a good portion of programmatic deals Edmunds.com runs are through private exchanges, putting them into place proved a challenge.

“It’s definitely been a ramping period, that’s for sure,” Dodez said. “Where private works is when we can have a direct one-to-one relationship. We’ve been trying to facilitate more private exchanges, so the benefit of reaching an Edmunds consumer comes to the forefront. With open RTB, they could be running on 20 websites, and not know how each one is performing on the back end.”

Leveraging its own data is Edmunds.com’s next goal. The company is “still in the market” for a DMP, but holds its data close. “We don’t sell our data to anyone,” Dodez emphasized.

Additionally, she said Edmunds has not played its whole hand. A large future opportunity lies in reach extension, the increasingly common publisher practice of locating and buying one’s audience across the web to extend the reach of data-driven ad buys. Another is to allow advertisers access to Edmunds data directly for their own campaigns,  essentially running extension campaigns on their own.

“Data is where we’re going, and we haven’t even scratched the surface,” Dodez said.

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