“There are opportunities for publishers to become classified as premium if they get various things right.”
DAVID GODDARD, BBC Advertising’s programmatic head, on building trust in ad tech.
The BBC recently held an event in Dubai to discuss programmatic buying with regional media buyers and their clients. It was aimed at brands who buy advertising on the UK national broadcaster’s digital platforms.
After the talks and panel discussions, Campaign caught up with David Goddard, global head of programmatic trading at BBC Advertising. He says programmatic – the automated buying of online ad space – has long been seen as a bit of a dirty word, a way to get rid of remnant inventory. The technology needs to rebuild trust and respect among advertisers.
Goddard had told the audience that programmatic has “redefined premium”. That may sound like a tired press release from a struggling hotel, but for Goddard it means putting ads on pages that are good for the audience, the publisher and the advertiser.
“The content I’m consuming, do I trust it? That’s premium to the audience,” he says. “If I’m the publisher, am I getting the right information out there on a regular basis to the vast reach and audience I’ve got? And for an advertiser it’s 60 per cent viewability, it’s transparent inventory, it’s human traffic, it’s brand safety. But it’s also an audience that will potentially engage with your product, and one that would buy it as well.”
He adds: “‘Premium’ is a word like ‘transparency’, like ‘automation’. It can mean anything.”
The BBC’s offerings have long been seen as premium content. Its journalism has 95 years of heritage and a reputation for editorial independence and fact checking. The much more recently formed advertising division basks in the reflected respectability of this.
“Trust needs not just to be in our content and in our brand, from our audiences and running through our journalists,” says Goddard. “It is also running through our advertising offer out there in the market as well.”
But the corporation cannot afford to rest on its laurels. Like all digital publishers it must continue to prove that its ads are being seen and that they are not running next to stories – controversial, tragic or at odds with the brand’s messaging – that might make them look bad.
“We are putting a product out there, policing our own product and ensuring that we are taking down ads when there are certain sensitive news stories breaking, and not capitalising on that,” says Goddard. “This is to avoid having to have the conversations with advertisers about ‘This wasn’t right for my brand.’ If we weren’t, they wouldn’t trust us and they wouldn’t invest in us either.”
The BBC may represent oldschool premium, but there is room in the digital marketplace for newcomers if their content is good, their ads are good and they have earned enough trust.
“Premium is defined by KPIs, hence why there are other sites that do achieve these but may not have the brand and the trust that the BBC hold, but are now being classified as premium,” says Goddard. “There are opportunities for publishers to become classified as premium if they get various things right.”
A point Goddard was driving through his time on stage at the forum was that “people are at the heart of automation”.
“People play a big part,” he says. “One of the reasons I got into this was back in 2010 someone said a robot is going to take your job. Well, I am still working quite heavily in this industry.”
He adds: “If you look at programmatic, it is just a way of executing a digital ad. It isn’t everything else automated. The inventory discovery is still required.”
That ‘inventory discovery’ comes from conversations with sales teams. This is why, says Goddard, the BBC is training all its sales staff in the basics of programmatic.
“We rolled out a global trend programme for all our front-line sales to fully understand what programmatic is at the BBC, how it can benefit clients, how they can act upon which execution is right depending on the conversation they’ve had, and how it really benefits them as a team and the client as a whole,” he says. “We’ve put great effort into educating our entire workforce across the globe to ensure that it is not just programmatic people talking about programmatic; it’s everybody.”
He continues: “Programmatic is just a digital execution. There is complexity, but within digital we like to add the complexity, which can scare people away. Complexity is the enemy of progress.”
There’s no denying the proliferation of jargon in the world of programmatic advertising, though, and constant updates to the technology behind it. All those involved need to keep up with changes in a fast-evolving market. These changes include the shift from programmatic guaranteed to audience guaranteed, and the introduction of GDRP.
Programmatic guaranteed is a technology that was introduced by Google in January 2016. It was meant to offer a compromise between buying future impressions (with a danger of not being able to use up budgets) and real-time bidding (which could be less safe for cautious brands). With programmatic guaranteed, agencies and publishers sync their databases and impressions are sold at a pre-determined price as long as the audience’s cookies correlate with what the pub- lisher is sending the agency.
But it was never a perfect solution. “For years we’ve been talking about real-time bidding, data, speed, efficiency [in programmatic], and then we just did what we did before. So it sounds like a bit of a contradiction,” says Goddard. “In addition to the privilege of using that technology to do what you did before, there was a tech fee on top. So it inflated the cost.”
Audience guaranteed, on the other hand, offers advertisers a way to avoid preaching to the choir. It prevents sites serving an ad to anyone who has already bought the advertiser’s product. To illustrate this, Goddard points to subscription services such as the Financial Times online, and video streaming platform Netflix.
He says: “What audience guaranteed does is it enables the buyer to take [its data about subscribers] and pushes it to the publisher’s ad server, the thing that’s forecasting how many impressions you’ve got in the future. Then it takes out of the future impressions those who are an FT subscriber, or a Netflix subscriber. This means that every impression that is served in the future campaign is not going to be served to one of their subscribers.”
Legislation will affect programmatic as much as technological change. The finer details of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are still to be decided. But when the new rules kick in on May 25, 2018 they will have implications across the board and around the globe. Although GDRP is a European initiative, in practice the legislation will be international It will govern how data gathered by publishers and advertisers may be used.
Some working in the online ad industry see the stricter controls on audience data as a hindrance to their ability to target ads, but Goddard says he is excited, as it brings back control to publishers and their audiences.
“You could say that the publisher is controlling the relationship with the user again, which is quite a nice way to look at it,” he says. “We are going to be the ones setting and stating which technologies are going to be used. If you are going to collect data, to use data, we have to let everything out.”
That is “enabling”, he says. “If a user decides then, at that moment, that she doesn’t want her data shared with X, then it changes the dynamic again. … The publisher is going to be taking ownership of that relationship in a sense. He or she is not going to be forcing anyone’s arm, but it’s an interesting way of looking at it, saying that the publisher and user are together again in that sense.
“The publisher is taking the power back. It’s no longer in the tech company’s hands. The publisher is saying these are our users, and if you behave we’ll allow you [to serve those ads], but only if [the audience] gives their consent. It’s an interesting dynamic.”
This argument helps Goddard prove his point: that as automation of ad buying gets more advanced, people remain at its centre.