There’s more to the dig­i­tal world than Google and Face­book. By work­ing with them, rather than against them, the whole dig­i­tal ecosys­tem can evolve, writes So­jern’s Josh Beck­worth.

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As a child of the 80s, for me board games are dear to my heart, and Mo­nop­oly was a stal­wart of fam­ily gath­er­ings. I find it hard to rem­i­nisce about my early Christ­mases with­out feel­ing nos­tal­gic about build­ing a ho­tel on May­fair, the paragon for any Mo­nop­oly player worth their salt. Fast for­ward some 30-odd years and I find my work­ing life is now some­what driven by a new game, Duopoly, but with rather less clear cut win­ners and losers.

A lot is made in the in­dus­try of the dom­i­nance of two key play­ers, Google and Face­book, and the re­sul­tant race to chal­lenge the duopoly, and frankly it’s not very hard to see why. Face­book has sur­passed 2.2 bil­lion monthly ac­tive users, with more than half ac­cess­ing the plat­form from a mo­bile de­vice. Google has just sur­passed 2 bil­lion ac­tive An­droid de­vices, not to men­tion its more than 1 bil­lion monthly ac­tive users across Search, Maps, Chrome, Gmail, Drive, Play, YouTube… The list goes on.

As these au­di­ence num­bers have bal­looned, the ad dol­lars have flowed in. Look­ing to the US as a bench­mark, in 2017 Google and Face­book ac­counted for 63 per cent of dig­i­tal ad rev­enues, leav­ing the re­main­ing third to be hard fought be­tween a few play­ers – Mi­crosoft, Ama­zon and Oath to name a few, but also a lot of long tail. Which begs the ques­tion: if you’re work­ing in the long tail, which still ac­counts for more than 60 per cent of the non-duopoly rev­enue, where should your fo­cus be?

I would ar­gue that for any­one other than Ama­zon, Oath or Mi­crosoft the dis­cus­sions about who will break away from the pack and join the top two seems re­dun­dant. Let’s in­stead chal­lenge our­selves to best po­si­tion our busi­ness to also pros­per.

Let’s start with Face­book. In 2015 the Face­book Mar­ket­ing Part­ner (FMP) pro­gramme su­per­seded the Pre­ferred Mar­ket­ing De­vel­oper ecosys­tem, and today the pro­gramme lists 217 com­pa­nies with whom an agency or client can work to (in Face­books’ own words) “su­per­charge your mar­ket­ing on Face­book and be­yond”.

That is 217 busi­ness who have built stand­alone tech, data, mea­sure­ment, creative so­lu­tions, who of­ten ver­ti­calised to drive spe­cial­ism. Each of those busi­nesses has found ways to it­er­ate in ex­cit­ing ways not only to im­prove your use of Face­book but also, more im­por­tantly, to build a busi­ness that is unique and suc­cess­ful. So, as we see Snap Inc. dis­cussed as a ris­ing star to one day chal­lenge the Duopoly, maybe we should first ask how we can lever­age the re­cently opened API (ap­pli­ca­tion pro­gram in­ter­face) and build a busi­ness with them also.

Ad block­ing was the theme of many an ar­ti­cle and con­fer­ence last year, and rightly so. And with Ap­ple lim­it­ing cookie track­ing af­ter 24 hours, and now Chrome block­ing ‘an­noy­ing’ ads, the big boys of our in­dus­try are once again mak­ing waves. While I ac­knowl­edge there will be a sup­ply-side point of view on this that would dif­fer from my buy-side po­si­tion, there are ex­am­ples of great ex­e­cu­tions that suc­cess­fully lever­age Google.

A re­cent case study by OpenX tells us: “Pub­lish­ers on [Google’s] plat­forms us­ing Ex­change Bid­ding – Google’s an­swer to header bid­ding – have seen an aver­age yield in­crease of 48 per cent in the 12 months since the two started work­ing to­gether.”

Just like with FMPs, we see the it­er­a­tions of many ad tech com­pa­nies build­ing new me­chan­ics that are chang­ing the in­dus­try – Ads.txt, header bid­ding, sup­ply path op­ti­mi­sa­tion. All are pro­cesses that, ir­re­spec­tive of the duopoly, are work­ing to im­prove dig­i­tal me­dia. Look­ing to­wards the fu­ture and re­gard­less of who, if any­one, makes it big to join our friends with Rich Un­cle Pen­ny­bags at the cen­tre of the Duopoly board, there are more than enough ways for the ecosys­tem to grow so we can also win.

In the last 10 years Google and Face­book have com­pleted close to 500 ac­qui­si­tions, to­talling about $140bn of in­vest­ment. That’s a lot of ex­its for a lot of hard-work­ing teams, but I do agree with Jeff Zucker, CEO of CNN, when he says: “We need help from the ad­ver­tis­ing world and from the tech­nol­ogy world to find new ways to fund con­tent, oth­er­wise good jour­nal­ism will go away.”

It is in­cum­bent on us all to chal­lenge our busi­nesses to build spe­cialised, dif­fer­en­ti­ated, ver­ti­cally rel­e­vant propo­si­tions that work for our clients. Be it via data, tech, ser­vice, AI or any num­ber of ways, if we learn to add value to the ecosys­tem, the ecosys­tem will un­doubt­edly work for us, Duo­ply or oth­er­wise. Josh Beck­with, sales direc­tor MEA, Turkey and In­dia at So­jern

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