Once again, it’s the publishers who are slow to adopt premium programmatic. They all seem to have the same perspective: Sure, it’s good for the industry, but not in my backyard. Somehow I expected a more amenable response from Antoniello; prior to his decade at Complex Media, which specializes in reaching Gen-Y males at scale, he was a media planner at Saatchi & Saatchi. So he’s sat on both sides of the table, and he sees why programmatic premium should work. Unfortunately, he’s just not yet convinced that it does.
“To me, programmatic comes down to two things: It could be used to increase effectiveness or increase efficiency,” Antoniello tells me. “Many plan to use it to increase effectiveness. But in practice, 99.99% of the time, it’s used exclusively to increase efficiency.” Efficiency via automation is a big part of programmatic’s appeal, and you would think it would be most appealing for publishers who are trying to shorten sales cycles. That said, I see a lot of effectiveness as well, particularly among publishers who leverage premium ad units at scale across a network of quality sites.
But while Antoniello agrees on the efficiency front, he is skeptical about the effectiveness, particularly where CPMs are concerned. “Find me a publisher who's willing to go on the record and share an actual case study revealing actual premium programmatic CPMs,” he says. “I’d love to talk to them. Rather than releasing inventory to programmatic, many publishers should ask if there’s a better use for that inventory. Are there too many ads? Am I looking at it the right way? Should I be using that real estate and those pixels to do something beyond increasing a very low monetization rate by 3x? I don't think publishers are stepping back enough to ask the right questions.”
Antoniello continues, “As content consumption transitions from bigger to smaller screens, we’re all going to have to get smarter about how we use the real estate on each screen to monetize and drive business. As more people transition to smaller screens on a consumption basis, we need to ask those tough questions.”
As CEO of a deeply specialized vertical content and contextual player, Antoniello sees the world differently than others in the publishing world. His content is highly differentiated, reaching 70% of one of the most sought-after demographics: men between 21-29. “And I'm not reaching them through sports or low-brow humor," he says. "We bring them product-oriented, contextual content. We’re getting scale among an audience of high-spending young men in the context, environment and timeframe during which they're looking for and reading about what to buy. I have a very valuable audience, so it's premium by nature.”
Like other premium publishers we’ve spoken to, Complex relies heavily on native and content advertising. It's big on those “NBDB” deals, although strategists are contemplating standardizing their offerings to some extent. As they consider taking their properties to a responsive template, they plan to offer a limited menu of scalable and repeatable native options that can drive both impact and results across sites and screens. But with 45% of monetization coming from ads beyond those native units, Antoniello says it’s likely that 300x250 units will represent that standard inventory. Perhaps these will end up in the programmatic premium pool?
Antoniello isn’t optimistic. “If you're a more ubiquitous publisher, not as differentiated as we are, then premium programmatic could be a great solution," he says. "I don’t think it’s a fit for my business, but I am fan of it for other businesses.”
I’m not sure why it’s such a challenge to prove to publishers like Antoniello that premium programmatic can drive results efficiently and effectively. Hopefully, as more top tiers start moving toward automated solutions, my bet is that we’ll deliver the evidence that he -- and others -- need to get onboard.