Commentary

Ad Tech: The Return Of The Marketer

The first time a MediaPost article used the acronym "RTB" (real-time bidding) was January 11, 2010. The second article — "Real-Time Bidding Is The Real Deal" — was posted on February 8, 2010.

This was the new hope.

By 2011, demand for biddable inventory was rising, and publishers were looking for ways to take advantage. The advent of private exchanges helped get more publishers in the game, but it came at a cost: black boxes and transparency issues.

The publishers had stricken back.

But since covering the real-time media and marketing industry since January 2013, I've gotten the sense that today's ad tech is empowering marketers. It's slowly peeling back the curtains and forcing traders to be honest with each other.

It's the return of the marketer.

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Of course, this is oversimplifying the marketplace's path since 2010. In reality, programmatic trading in general has gotten better for both publishers and marketers. And while I don't want you to take the Star Wars analogy too seriously, I think in terms of transparency it's not a bad one.

The notion that ad tech has been empowering buyers more and more is something that's been in the back of my mind, but it wasn't until my conversation this afternoon with Jeff Bander, president of Sticky, that it hit me: Ad tech is going to force publishers to be open whether they like it or not.

I might be a little behind in this realization. The Drum recently reported that Google's Head of Publishers, David McMurtie, believes buyers are "dictating" the value of publisher inventory. While McMurtie wasn't talking about transparency — he was speaking in relation to first-party data — what he said does relate to the tug of war between buyers and sellers in the programmatic world.

I spoke with Bander as a follow up to my article saying that only 14% of online ads are actually seen. Sticky's eye-tracking technology counts an ad as "seen" if a consumer's eyes are locked in on the ad for at least half a second.

As a follow up, Bander shared with me a Gatorade case study on how their ads performed on five different sites. An equal number of consumers were tracked on each site (400) to make sure the data sets were even.

The same ad for Gatorade — literally the exact same creative — was on four of the five sites. The sites were sportsillustrated.cnn.com, nbcsports.com, scout.com, and rantsports.com. The Gatorade ad was in the right banner in roughly the same spot on all four sites. All ad slots were 100% "viewable" (able to be seen).

Yet the ad on rantsports.com was seen 50% of the time, more than twice as much as on scout.com and nbcsports.com (22%) and nearly four times as much as on sportsillustrated.cnn.com (13%).

As to why that was the case, your guess is as good as mine. And Bander's. "We're giving you the facts," he said. "We're not telling you why."

The case can be made that technology like this is also empowering publishers. Wouldn't rantsports.com be able to sell their inventory for more knowing that the exact same ad in virtually the same spot would be seen by twice as many people on their site compared to competitors? And wouldn't data like this help the other sites try to figure out the "Why?"

"We believe to make a fair marketplace, everything should be transparent," Bander said.

And with transparency comes accountability.

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