Has The Time For Premium Programmatic Finally Arrived?

paul-bannister-cafemediaThe Sell Sider” is a column written for the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Paul Bannister, co-founder and executive vice president at CafeMedia.

We’ve all been talking about it for years, but now by combining the right technology with the right approach, I believe that the promise of premium programmatic can finally be fulfilled.

To start, it’s worth laying out what “premium programmatic” actually means. For an advertiser, it means access to highly viewable, nonfraudulent and brand-safe inventory in the right context with a relevant audience. For a publisher, it means the ability to make premium inventory available to trusted brand advertisers at a price that values the inventory fairly.

I see four things that are necessary for publishers and advertisers to be able to transact programmatically in a premium way: verification, private marketplaces, header bidding and collaboration.

Critical Components

Verification services, including Moat and Integral Ad Science, ensure there is a true currency that can be used to value inventory. While premium publishers believe they only offer the best inventory and audiences, it’s worthwhile to have a traffic cop in place to make sure that nothing out of the ordinary happens. Bonus points to anyone who can develop a verification service that validates whether ads load quickly and don’t interrupt the user experience.

The second key element of a premium relationship is private marketplace technology. While this technology has been a part of RTB for years now, it is only in combination with the other three keys to premium programmatic that it can shine. Private marketplaces are the fabric that binds together advertiser and publisher. They allow for the publisher to tailor what they are offering to a given advertiser, and the advertiser to get the comfort of knowing what and where they are buying.

Private marketplaces are also important because they provide the basis for communication between parties. The technology is just a pipe, but with a private marketplace, the advertiser and publisher can and should communicate their needs and objectives to each other. This allows for optimization on both sides and helps everyone meet their goals more efficiently.

Header bidding allows publishers to treat private marketplaces just as they would a direct deal – worthy of their best inventory and attention. Since the inventory available is truly premium, advertisers have to pay rates comparable to direct deals, but are still able to control what they buy programmatically.

With header bidding, publishers know when an advertiser is interested in an impression, rather than just guessing. This lets them optimize the yield of their inventory and deliver on the needs of both their programmatic and direct advertisers. Without header bidding, publishers are still only offering their remnant inventory to buyers – some of that inventory is good, some is bad and little can be done to truly optimize.

Header bidding also helps ensure that there is sufficient scale to make programmatic a viable channel. By allowing publishers to make all of their inventory available, they can derive significantly more value and advertisers can decision on a much larger pool of impressions.

The Fourth Element

The last piece required to enable premium programmatic isn’t a technology, it’s a state of mind. In the early days of programmatic, the goal was to minimize the number of people involved and the layers of paperwork. However, getting the number to zero has always been a fool’s errand. Not only is it impossible, it’s counterproductive at some point. When advertisers and publishers work closely together, it maximizes the results for everyone. Talking to a person in programmatic? Blasphemy!

Some advertisers are highly communicative and share their goals freely, keeping publishers up to date on their upcoming placement needs, KPI changes and other key campaign elements. In return, these partners get the highest scale, the best performance and early access to any new offerings. Without this information, publishers struggle to deliver the best performance for advertisers.

Even in the world of financial markets – the most automated industry and the one that ad tech aspires to be – there is a huge premium placed on relationships. Collectively, we need to make sure that we aren’t blinded by the technology and the vision of removing all people from the process. We need to understand that programmatic doesn’t mean “no people involved” but rather it means “technology enabled by people.”

Premium programmatic has been promised for quite some time now. Through a combination of technologies and a shift in our definition of what programmatic means, advertisers and publishers can finally automate much of what we need to do, but still meet our business goals along the way.

Follow Paul Bannister (@pbannist), CafeMedia (@CafeMedia) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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