Commentary

Programmatic And RTB Are Now Mainstream -- Just Ask Publicis

Most aspects of digital marketing have at one stage been lone disciplines carried out by boutique agencies or focus teams within larger agencies before they grew to be so important they had to be brought into the fold. That's why today's move at Publicis make perfect sense. Spreading its programmatic buying talent out of VivaKi and into its media agencies -- namely Starcom MediaVest Group, ZenithOptimedia and Walker Media -- is surely tantamount to saying that RTB is no longer a stand-alone speciality. It's a core part of how media trading is going to develop.

It reminds me of the '90s in publishing, where newspapers would have sections about the internet and ecommerce companies. As journalists like myself are only too aware, these sections have all closed down for two reasons. First, the unofficial one -- that they didn't earn much advertising revenue and the second, just as valid a reason, the days of seeing the Internet and business on the Web as separate from everyday commerce are now long gone. So the news still gets covered, only in the general business pages rather than a specialist section with a snazzy title.

So this is a signal that programmatic and RTB have reached their tipping points. Sure, the clever guys who build the technology that powers programmatic platforms and crunches the valuable data they collect will still be a separate unit, while the media side of buying targeted audiences programmatically through real-time bidding (RTB) is going mainstream. 

It was interesting to hear that Publicis was explaining that the move was necessary because nearly two-thirds of inventory is now being traded automatically through technology rather than through in-house sales teams. That's a pretty impressive rise from a standing start just a couple of years ago. 

With clients clearly taking to the new technology so quickly, it makes sense to have expertise within agencies rather than held within a specialist, separate unit. Publicis won't be drawn on how many members of staff are going to which agency, but the fact that they are being spread out across three speaks volumes as to the ubiquitous demand for their RTB skills.

There is one very interesting question, then, that I'm wondering if anyone else is pondering. If Publicis makes VivaKi all about the technology, and the buyers are shipped out to agencies, that makes VivaKi purely a technology company. Given that some brands have already launched their own trading desks in-house, such as Specsavers -- or as is increasingly the case, want their own trading desk set up within an agency, could this be VivaKi shaping up to be that provider?

It's almost certainly a stretch to see WPP agencies and clients ordering a platform from VivaKi, but given that some clients are going for their own in-house solutions, presumably it doesn't hurt Publicis to have a platform developer that can serve that need. It may sound like turkeys voting for Christmas, but if a client is intent on going it alone, it's not like a big agency group is losing anything by trying to sell them the tools to do so. Taking out the media people from VivaKi and leaving the tech teams certainly makes it seem like this could be a possibility.

Clearly, the move is a common sense step to spin out RTB buying experience into its agencies, but there is just a glimmer of a possibility that this could be the potential emergence of a platform developer whose remit could expand beyond Publicis clients to even reach out to the go-it-alone pioneers. Certainly one to watch out for.

1 comment about "Programmatic And RTB Are Now Mainstream -- Just Ask Publicis".
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  1. Seth Ulinski from TBR, February 17, 2015 at 2:41 p.m.

    Interesting perspective and this is a significant move. On one level, I see it reducing the need to "sell" a client twice: once on the strategy/plan and again on the value prop of VivaKi. However, given Publicis recently acquired a DSP...how/where/when will it be used vs. independent 3rd party vendors?

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