Per Adomic, RTB Catching On With Premium Publishers & Global Brands

I can’t say I was beginning to lose hope, but many conversations I’ve had with premium publishers for this column were disappointing. Per those discussions, adoption of RTB seemed to be low among the top tier. There were concerns among many that low-quality ads would appear on their pages if they offered their ads programmatically. Some voiced concerns that premium advertisers would begin to balk at premium pricing if the same inventory was available for less via other channels. With all of these reservations among so many quality Web publishers, predictions that up to 95% of digital ad sales will be programmatic within the next five years didn’t seem even remotely feasible.

So speaking with Gabe Gottlieb, co-founder and CEO of Adomic, was a tremendous relief. Gottlieb’s recently rebranded company (it was called YieldMetrics, until last month) is dedicated to “opening up the black box” of digital advertising and delivering transparency to all players. According to Gottlieb, premium publishers really are offering up their unsold inventory via RTB. “They may not admit it,” he said, “but they’re doing it. Why wouldn’t they, rather than leaving it unsold?” According to Adomic’s data, on average 20% of the top 3,000 publishers’ inventory is going to RTB – across the top tier and all the way through the long tail.

Gottlieb used the example of NBCsports.com as a prototypical publisher in the space, with inventory divided up in proportions similar to other top 3,000 publishers: 43% of ads are sold via a network (Google’s, in this case), 33% are sold directly and 23% are sold via RTB (using AdMeld). Sites like MarthaStewartWeddings.com, Genealogy.com and TheNewsTribune.com see a similar breakdown in terms of sales channels.

You might be wondering how the heck Adomic is getting such granular information. They’ve created a patent-pending technology they call PathSource™, which essentially sends crawlers across thousands of top sites to scan and analyze advertising data. Per Gottlieb, that data set – which grows on a daily basis - currently includes 15,000 advertisers, 3,800 publishers, over 120 ad services and more than 1.5 million creative executions.

Gottlieb said brands are adopting RTB quickly, too – despite all the myths.

In his recent presentation at OMMA RTB, Gottlieb shared that while only 17% of ads were placed programmatically less than a year ago, 23% of them are today. Furthermore, 23% of ads run by the top 1,000 are placed via RTB, and 70% of all advertisers have programmatic buys in their media plans today. Brands like Audi and Adobe are actively engaged. Adobe is buying 26% of its ads via RTB, and 33% through networks. The remainder is bought directly.

One interesting (if disheartening) trend that Gottlieb noticed is that the vast majority of ads placed real-time are still direct-response – including ads for big brands. Even BMW is driving clicks to landing pages with its real-time ads, with calls-to-action like, “Build Yours Now.” 

“We’re still seeing advertisers concentrating their RTB budgets on lower funnel and more transactional goals, while reserving their brand spending for traditional direct channels,” said Gottlieb. Most of the inventory bought and sold via RTB consists of IAB legacy banners and buttons – and that may be partially responsible. Still, Gottlieb noted, “If it works for direct response, it will work for brands. The reverse may not be true, but direct-response marketers have a lot more accountability than brand marketers do. RTB is obviously working for them, so there’s no reason in the world brands should feel that RTB is a risky investment.”

I can’t wait to see what happens as richer ad units start to enter the real-time market. When the Rising Stars and other, more brand-friendly units become more widely available in RTB, I’m optimistic that we’ll see more brand advertisers on board, engaging in true upper-funnel brand advertising. Between that and Adomic’s call for transparency, RTB could be a much brand-friendlier place in the very near future.

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