Indulge me, while I attempt to build some context.
In my opinion, ad tech specialists started out on the wrong foot a decade ago by overemphasizing what can be considered the first revolution in advertising technology – Real-Time Bidding (RTB). RTB was so widely brought into every marketing conversation that it was understood to be the “product” rather than a “protocol” or “methodology” – a state of confusion that still persists to this day.
One still wonders how RTB, auction mechanics and the technology supporting it coupled with the “wow” factor of “200 milliseconds” (actually, in 2010 it was 120 milliseconds) was enough to convince marketers that advertising had gotten its “silver enablement bullet”.
That is like assuring someone who wants to start an e-commerce business that they should jump into their business because the latest TCP/IP support is available. Nevertheless, an important outcome of pursuing standards in the RTB environment was the birth of platforms supporting the OpenRTB protocol and the development of products to enable the marketer or their service providers.
(In parallel, we witnessed the growth of data and its recognition as the new “gold” – but enough said on that topic, yes?)
With the explosion of platforms came the need for standards. Industry bodies now have focused teams who work on establishing and improving this underlying protocol. (I tip my hat to these individuals, full-time working adults, who find the energy to pursue these critical activities.)
Technology in advertising and marketing, typically, should enable efficiency, effectiveness, speed and scale. While RTB certainly focused on speed and scale and to a large extent achieved them, this came with the introduction of fraud and irrelevant advertising inventory that in turn required the injection of more innovation and technology. Several rounds of this and we find ourselves mired in the “fragmentation” that we all lament.
Still with me?
At some point, it seemed like the industry was merely chasing challenges, but in reality, the proliferation of solutions created genuine value. Software in advertising has brought remarkable progress in measurement and targeting, bringing precision and speed into a process that now enables advertisers to plan, improve and optimise within a week or matter of hours. It deserves to be applauded despite the complexity that has resulted.
But – and this brings me to my main point – there is more to be done.
While we have journeyed with speed and scale, there remains a layer above the OpenRTB protocol that has largely been ignored but is fast becoming a serious challenge to the other two goals: efficiency and effectiveness. This is the layer where humans – media traders, marketing managers, analysts, heads of trading, business heads – are still dealing with a lack of standards, with diverse operational methods, and with inconsistent technology when they work with multiple platforms and aim to harness the unique power of those platforms for their objectives.
Having choice among a plethora of platforms should be seen as a positive but it is felt as “too much fragmentation” that is divisive, a significant drain on resources. Imagine if there were one mega restaurant offering multiple cuisines but no aggregator like Deliveroo or Swiggy, Uber Eats or GrabFood, to help you toggle through the cuisines and menus.
The industry’s hyper-focus on technical challenges at the bidder level has resulted in our neglecting the entire ecosystem and workflow of collaboration that is central to effecting real change and growth (and capable of markedly improving planning, buying, reporting, insights and attribution).
It’s time for the second revolution after “RTB” and this time, it is to drive standards to solve the mess we have in day-to-day operations across media buying. This means industry-wide cooperation among ad tech players, martech players, brands and service providers in order to establish of frameworks, processes and Application Programming Interfaces (API’s) outside of OpenRTB.
The focus needs to deepen and widen on benchmarks and standards, including those that have already been established at MRC, IAB and other industry bodies (which have had asymmetrical adoption to date). For there to be a real impact these need to be brought into the technical architectures and software built for our industry.
Such an effort may result in an implementation(s) that is automated or semi-automated that solves for challenges such as:
This kind of deep collaboration, aided by automation via the availability of media management software, will ensure that the media world self-regulates on areas it desperately needs to, meets accepted industry standards and is transparent to the brands whose dollars drive our growth. Of course, we must also ensure it allows for customisation for marketers with unique approaches in areas like attribution, data science, knowledge management, and decision science.
Having this foundation in place will ultimately support on-going industry ambitions, such as increasing media transparency throughout the supply chain, addressing ‘walled garden’ issues and improving the user experience. Injecting efficiency and effectiveness to the layer above OpenRTB is a strong pre-cursor to improved marketing outcomes and a more plausible “silver enablement bullet” than RTB ever was.
Ganga Chirravuri is the Chief Technology Officer at CtrlShift and architect of the company’s industry leading enterprise advertising platform, The Hub. He is passionate about software’s role in adding true value to brands and solving real business problems. In his spare time, the avid sports fan is serious about good coffee.
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