The ABCs Of DSPs

To the uninitiated brand marketer, the term demand-side platform, or DSP, can be very intimidating. When one ventures into the nascent world of video DSPs, where the definition often changes from provider to provider, things get even more confusing.

DSPs have made a nice foothold in display advertising, and while they are attempting to provide value to video marketers, the technical differences between display and video are forcing some to stretch their claims.

It’s a bit like getting a massage. One service can differ greatly from the next. A Napa Valley resort might offer stress-relieving hot rock massages, or you could endure some of the torturous, yet effective, sports massages I’ve experienced in my past life as a runner. Of course, the massage hawked on Las Vegas Boulevard is a completely different animal (so I’ve heard).

Just as the treatment (and resulting sensations) can vary, so too can the promises of each DSP.

A. Brand Safety
By their very nature, ad exchanges offer little transparency into the content or pages where their inventory resides. As a result, DSPs are often unable to utilize brand protection in these environments.

Consequently, most video DSPs that promise “superior brand protection” are really offering “implied brand protection,” aka. placing sites in predetermined buckets. This strategy works some of the time, but we all know that premium news sites, for example, carry professionally made content about natural disasters, violent crimes, and other topics not fit for brand adjacencies.

Yes, some DSPs go one level deeper to offer brand protection at the page level. Better, sure, but it’s still difficult to avoid bad placements when you don’t know the actual video content. So, when evaluating video ad partners, look for semantic stream analysis over a standard blacklist to get the most protection possible. This is nontrivial, given the technical challenges of online video.

B. Optimization

It’s a lot easier to “talk” optimization than it is to “walk” it. Most DSPs do a decent job of articulating how they maximize campaign performance (mostly using clicks as a proxy for success), but the only optimization you should care about uses all the data available to intelligently find impressions that will help a campaign achieve its goal -- whether it's direct-response metrics like conversions and clicks or upper funnel metrics more relevant in video, like brand lift or recall. DSPs can only claim true optimization if they leverage all contextual, audience, environmental and viewer behavioral data, then recognize how those intersections impact performance before they ultimately make intelligent decisions in their ad-serving workflow.

C. Effectiveness (the other “eff” word)

At the end of the day, campaign effectiveness is the advertiser’s Holy Grail. DSPs are efficient ways to buy media, and that’s great if your success metric is cost-per-thousand or maximizing eyeballs with the least amount of effort. But that feels like an exercise in futility if you don’t know what all that efficiency is doing for the brand. To optimize for effectiveness, a DSP needs to understand the marketing goal, and serve ads based on that goal. This requires an understanding of all the variables that contribute to achieving that goal and making proper media buying decisions through multivariate analysis. Yeah, that means they need a really smart machine -- unless they have a lot of “quants” hanging around with nothing to do.

In conclusion, accessing the mountain of efficiently priced inventory in ad exchanges does not guarantee results for an advertiser. But given the chaotic world of media buying, using a DSP is definitely a strategy worth considering, as long as marketers ask the right questions, get a clear definition of optimization methodology, and ensure their partner is focused on meeting the core goals of every campaign.

1 comment about "The ABCs Of DSPs".
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  1. Keith Eadie from TubeMogul, February 23, 2012 at 2:43 p.m.

    As the only DSP built exclusively for video, TubeMogul spends A LOT of time perfecting our brand protection and optimization capabilities. And we agree with Jason these things are really hard to do – and that many of the display DSPs adding video to their platforms are not delivering what brands really need. But for someone from Tremor – who is notorious for not telling clients where their video ads actually ran – to talk about DSPs falling short on brand safety is galling.

    But instead of protesting in a comment thread, we want to make this real. In lieu of an independent ratings organization for video advertising we want to suggest borrowing from our very own marketing industry and instituting a “Pepsi Challenge for Brand Safety.” We all agree this is an important issue so why not get some real answers and have some fun doing it? Since Tremor Video is the largest video ad network and makes the boldest claims about its ‘SE2 brand safety technology’ let’s start by pitting them against us.

    From reading their website this is a David versus Goliath matchup for Tremor:

    "For five years and counting, we’ve been perfecting one voracious algorithm to see deeper and learn more about your ideal viewer and the total environment before your ad is served. This type-A workhorse continuously adjusts its learnings based on massive amounts of real-time data – not flat ratings or static site lists – to drive brand lift or clicks or whatever metric you’ve chosen."

    Here’s how the challenge would work. Tremor picks a place, a time and a judge – we recommend an independent journalist that covers the industry. The judge will assemble a large list of URL’s to be given to the challengers only once the event has started. Since SE2 works in real-time, both companies will input the URL’s into their respective technologies, analyze the sites and provide feedback during the event. The judge will compare the brand signals provided by Tremor and TubeMogul to see which company was more complete and accurate.

    You see, we believe that Tremor’s SE2 technology is a real as the unicorns on its site. Whereas we have invested time and money building a brand safety solution that is accountable and measurable for all to see, just like everything we do. Tremor, you’ve been called out, are you up for the challenge?

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