The Big Five And Programmatic Brand Advertising

The Digital Big Five (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL) have strategically built, bought, and partnered to ensure they lead in direct digital sales as well as programmatic.

Google is king when it comes to online ad spending. Nearly one-third of the ad dollars spent online goes to the search giant. Following Google, the largest destinations are split between the remaining Big Five.

According to eMarketer’s estimations, Facebook has already pulled ahead of Google in display ad revenue. The social network’s growth has been impressive in mobile as well as programmatic and exchange business.

AOL is also worth watching. With its programmatic and video efforts, the company is beginning to see some big growth numbers and success again.

Yahoo, on the other hand, has underperformed, but is gaining some new growth with video, Tumblr, and new acquisition expectations. Over the last few years Microsoft has been quiet in its digital advertising strategy, growth, and acquisitions.

The Big Five’s programmatic brand advertising efforts may indicate how the media world is moving toward programmatic, since brand spend continues to surpass direct response.


Google has a history of dominating on the publisher side of programmatic thanks to its platform strength with AdSense, DoubleClick for Publishers, and Ad Exchange. Its custom exchange is seeing more private exchanges built with premium publishers, and DoubleClick leads the way due to its huge market share in ad serving.

Despite the company’s efforts, it does not lead in premium as much as many believe it could. Google’s purchases, like Admob, Admeld, and Invite, were all key, but it does not have a programmatic premium equivalent to its YouTube property in video. Its technology development, culture, and early investments still have it leading in the programmatic space, but others are catching up and making bigger public moves.


Facebook Exchange was the first social media real-time bidding exchange. Partnering the targeting capabilities with amazing reach, along with first and third-party data on what users are looking at on the web, was a big move. This let Facebook get in on the big retargeting ad dollars to catch up to Google.

But, the biggest news was not just the Facebook exchange (FBX), but also the relaunch of Atlas,the ad server Facebook bought from Microsoft over a year ago. Thanks to Atlas, Facebook is not only able to have great targeting capabilities on its network, but also across devices and thousands of publishers. The wealth of Facebook user data with its unique identity system is moving to a full-fledged programmatic media platform. This includes its own demand-side platform to automate ad buying across networks and exchanges. This would be a direct challenge to Google.


Many members of the business press are singing the praises of all of Tim Armstrong’s strategies to become the premier programmatic platform. Revenue growth from AOL platforms has increased 44% over the past year, with nearly a 20% increase in revenue growth for the company overall. Its investments, acquisitions, and programmatic leadership have it leading the market shift to programmatic and premium.


The purple and yellow team is known for big acquisitions but the jury is still out on whether or not Yahoo can compete with the major players in the programmatic space. Its revamped exchange (YAX) and first-party data for brands and native could be a differentiator. Agency and client leaders in programmatic looked forward to Yahoo's just-completed acquisition, purchasing the video ad platform, BrightRoll. This move and others could bring them to the top again in programmatic premium and video like Yahoo did early when programmatic began.


Microsoft is lagging behind its rivals when it comes to premium video content and programmatic. Yet it's still a major player in the advertiser world. Expectations were that AppNexus, which powers Microsoft's MAX exchange, along with Xbox, Skype, programmatic direct, and new private exchanges would draw in more attention, investment and leadership.

The Big Five still command the largest digital ad spend, but some of the big players are investing with big moves, while others are simply putting their plans together. This does not mean we can rule any of them out. They have enough cash, technology, and advertiser bases to change the game in programmatic brand advertising.

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