About 10 years ago, programmatic advertising was but a twinkle in the eye of some Silicon Valley bods, determined to bring about a sea change to digital advertising transactions.
They were unaware, perhaps, of the flood that opening this sluice would bring to AdLand, nor the landscape that would remain when the new tide washed away.
For those unversed in the complex workings of programmatic, Attila Jakab, managing director of Infectious Media, offers a translation. “Real time bidding, or programmatic media buying, is an automatic transaction very similar, actually, to how shares are traded,” he says. “It’s effectively an auction, transparent to all buyers.”
An advertiser predefines purchase criteria based on the desired audience it would like to reach – be it age, gender or location (at a macro scale), or far more refined, such as particular publishers, income, or previous interaction and interests. “Based on all the previous instances of buying similar users I know how much I should be paying for it,” says Jakab. So in real time – under 15 milli-seconds – the algorithm makes calculations of how much I should be paying for the spot. So when we send the bid, everyone else sends their bid, and the highest bidder wins the auction.”
Infectious Media has been there since the start of the programmatic revolution, and Jakab has watched it evolve with Darwinian guile. After seeing the search advertising boom disrupt traditional agencies, the Infectious founders caught wind of programmatic as it emerged stateside. “Back then it was caled real-time bidding,” says Jakab. “And they looked at it and wondered if the same thing would happen to programmatic as it had done with search.”
It was a foresightful bet, and today Infectious Media is a global market leader in the field, assigning itself the unenviable task of refining efficiency.
Since its inception a plague of programmatic has been ad viewability and wastage. When a bid is won, advertising is displayed across a number of panels on the page, some of which requires the user to scroll down to see. But if the user doesn’t scroll down the page, because the data has been downloaded, it counts as an impression – even though he never saw the ad.
“Viewability measurement is something that’s incredibly important,” says Jakab. “Everyone keeps quoting this stupid quote that: ‘50 per cent of my advertising spend is wasted.’ Which half? In reality, whether TV, radio or print, all of them have some wastage, but there’s no way for you to quantify it.
“The beauty of digital has always been that you are able to track, and to understand more accurately. One thing that was missing from the display advertising channel was the understanding of ‘was my ad actually visible on the user’s screen?’
“You used to get credit for just sending an ad to someone’s machine, without them even looking at it. When you get credit for that… do you see where the problem is? [It feels like you’ve cheated?] Yes, exactly. So when viewability measurement became available, we were one of the first companies to integrate the technology.”
The minute technical details of the software are far too advanced for a short feature, but essentially, Jakab wanted to stop taking credit for coincidental impressions. “What you get is an understanding of whether the ad was visible, and for how long. But because we connect this information on an impression by impression level, we can actually filter out all the conversions from users who never saw a visible ad.”
Infectious Media has had a relationship with Waitrose for some time – it was one of the first UK supermarkets to use programmatic, but it wanted to develop a way of improving its advertising to maximise sales, by identifying the right number of viewable ads to target.
The study analysed the difference in conversion rate between viewable and non-viewable ads, and found them to be exactly the same, meaning that regardless of whether a customer had seen an ad or not, they would still have purchased. “We looked at the data and thought, ‘shall we just go home?’” chuckles Jakab. By adjusting the frequency of ads to those who failed to convert, Infectious produced a magic number of ads to serve: “everything that’s under four visible ads per month is a waste. In this scenario, 90 per cent of what you’re spending on targeting once, twice, three times, is waste.” By identifying the right number of viewable ads to show customers per month, Waitrose saw a 365 per cent uplift in revenue from incremental sales over three months. “At the moment, you have thousands of advertisers globally working on the old method, which means that a massive proportion of their budget is simply wasted. It never achieves anything. We are pretty much the only people shouting about this – it’s not good enough. We need the Googles and Facebooks to take it up.”