From the AdMonsters OPS Conference: Premium Goes Programmatic, More

Inplace #2

ADOTAS – Yesterday, I skipped the Adotas office and hit up AdMonsters OPS Markets conference, a bit of a change of scenery that featured a few smart discussions to boot. During a late-morning panel discussion, former Adotas senior editor and current AdMonsters U.S. editor (and, full disclosure, an offline friend of mine) Gavin Dunaway deftly led WebMD director of advertising products Ben Kneen, isocket CEO John Ramey, Maxifier COO Anthony Katsur and Varick Media Management vice president of strategic partnerships Jeremy Hlavacek through a back-and-forth about programmatic buying — which, as the refrain went, is not the same thing as RTB. All “programmatic” really entails, Ramey pointed out, is “software that talks to each other.”

The big question, then, was why programmatic buying isn’t used more widely in buying premium inventory — the prevailing attitude is that premium should be handled by human beings who foster meaningful business relationships with each other. But Katsur observed, “If a lot of this could be done programmatically, it’ll make our lives easier.” Terry Kawaja’s famous “Display LUMAscape” slide got plenty of airplay throughout the day, and Ramey commented that most of the companies in the diagram are somehow involved with unloading “remant”/”tier two” inventory, but the bulk of a major website’s revenue is going to come from premium inventory. “It made sense that [programmatic buying] started with remnant inventory,” he said. Selling premium programmatically is “the logical next step. It’s still a direct buy. Humans are still involved,” he said — the technology simply makes the process more efficient, ideally. Katsur concurred that, specifically, “RTB is focused on the scraps,” and one of the hurdles programmatic buying faces is that it’s “not perceived as being in place for premium.”

“So,” Dunaway asked, “this is like ‘The Publisher Strikes Back?'” Ramey responded that with programmatic buying’s current capabilities, for a publisher, “the good news is, the biggest thing that’s holding you back is you. The time is right to do something about it.” Katsur observed, though, that the buyer wants “transparency into the data and where the ad will appear,” and as the panelists discussed, if the buyer wants premium inventory, that might not mean the same thing across the board in terms of whether an ad appears above the fold or on the main page. With the New York Times, for example, “we all know that’s premium,” Katsur said. What’s considered “class one” or “class two” ads, he said, could mean something different depending on the buyer and the campaign, and one of the problems remains that “class two tends to be obfuscated” when the buyer starts looking for data on where the ad ran.

Ramey referred to “the Fat Middle,” whereby “people want to work directly with you, but it’s not necessarily… that huge mega-RFP.” Katsur concurred that whatever’s in that range determines how much the buyer values the publisher’s brand. “You guys define what the Fat Middle is,” he said.

Hlavacek tried to clarify the question of how a campaign is reaching. “To me, audience is data,” he said. “That’s really where things are going. They want to hear about audience buying, and to me audience is data.”

During lunch, Casale Media vice president of strategy Andrew Casale approached me, commenting that from his perspective, he didn’t see why the panelists suggested that RTB for premium inventory more or less can’t really be done yet. “We’re doing it right now,” he said of his company, “and it’s working really well!”

Later in the afternoon, in the second keynote talk of the conference, Perfect Market CEO Julie Schoenfeld again invoked the LUMAscape. It was ubiquitous throughout the day’s talks, she said, and it’s “truly unsustainable.” To her, the slide showed there are too many players, too many places for money to leak out — a lot of attention on “great products” and not on “adjacent products” (“adjacent” describing their proximity to each other on the diagram).

Schoenfeld parlayed this, eventually, into a set of observations about Google and Google+. Google+ might not be perceived as a successful product, she said, based on a show of hands about that, but she called the network/not-network “the fastest-growing product of all time,” adding 170 million members in seven months. And, she pointed out, “It is not meant to be another Facebook.” Facebook’s staffers, she explained, are genuinely excited about bringing people together. “People are really happy at Facebook,” she said. “It’s the happiest place on earth!” On the other hand, with what Google is offering, integrating Google+ as just part of a huge platform processing all kinds of online behavior, “they want to know your social graph,” and to use that graph to better target ads to users. As an ad-delivery system, “it’s a scary product,” Schoenfeld said of Google+ (though, contextually, it seemed she meant it’s “scary” in its refined targeted, not “scary” in any truly malicious way).

AdMonsters will be posting video from the conference in coming days.