Friday, September 1, 2017

(The Big Disrupt) Interview: Robert Brill, Founder and CEO,

  1. (1) Hi Rob, it's been a while since we last talked. What's your snapshot of programmatic as things stand? 

We’re very close to the point where programmatic advertising is digital advertising. According to eMarketer about 78% of digital display advertising will be transacted through programmatic media and that's up from 65% in 2015. 

Programmatic is a way of buying digital ads, and it’s quickly becoming the defacto way of buying digital ads. It represents an entire ecosystem of screens, inventory types, deal types, data, automation and opportunities for large Fortune 500 advertisers, as well as smaller advertisers. 

There's been some M&A in the marketplace. So, you have Amoebee who purchased Turn recently. TubeMogul sold to Adobe. You have The Trade Desk that went public and has a great platformMediamath and Dataxu are still leaders in the marketplace. Two platforms that are new to me since 2015 are Choozle and RTBIQ. Choozle is making self-service advertising much more attainable for small and mid-size marketers, and their product roadmap for the rest of 2017 will make some great strides in diversifying algorithmidecisioning 

They are sort of creating a meta-layer of DSP algorithms. RTBIQ is doing some great work with a really powerful and yet very simple mobile first interface. What I like doing sometimes is watching the impression volume change when I make changes to targeting in the platform. These changes are instant, and I can immediately see if scale increased or decreased as bid requests and winning transactions flow through. 

We were talking about this in 2012, and now it’s coming to fruition, that traditional media is now becoming digital and programmatic. We are able to purchase digital audio, connected television and even out of home inventory through these programmatic platforms. 

Data continues to become richer, the algorithms are smarter, and even transaction types are diversified across the media data. 

Finally, I think one of the most promising opportunities is that we now have easily accessible tools that make programmatic advertising available for small and midsize marketers and agencies. A lot of this functionality is predicated on latitude and longitude data from mobile devices, hyperlocal targeting and even audience targeting down to the zip code level. 

There was a time in the last two years where it was difficult to scale audiences to mobile devices and through connected identifiers that's no longer an issue. Chances are we know who you are on the mobile device, desktop, tablet. We know where you go in the physical world, what you're purchasing habits are and who your friends are on Facebook 

  1. (2) What effect has the Google/Facebook duopoly having on the industry? 

I love Google and Facebook. They've created an archetype and template for small and midsize marketers to understand how to buy advertising. Facebook is a fantastic example of programmatic ad buying connected with data, creative and different targeting capabilities.  

Google is a great tool for using keyword data to target display ads. Between Facebook and Google there's a massive white space available for marketers who want to reach users on the Open Web. This Open Web marketplace has traditionally been owned by DSPs, and now there's an opportunity for us to bring programmatic solutions that are simple and easily available to small and midsize marketers. That shift is a big part of the business strategy. 

  1. (3) What or who do you think is the biggest threat to the Google/Facebook duopoly?  

It's hard to imagine a threat to Google and Facebook. I think the biggest threat to these Internet companies right now is any antitrust regulation or federal rules that may force these data companies to be more permissive in their data sharing policies. These are larger and more existential threats. Between Facebook and Google Facebook has about three times the market share in display advertising, and Google still owns about 77% of the search advertising marketplace. 

Both companies are vying for video dollars, so in some cases there’s competition for that marketplace. Certainly, Facebook and Google will want to win the video and connected TV marketplace, so while not threatening specifically, the video market is a place where the next battle takes place.  

What I think is interesting for Facebook is how they built a fantastic Snapchat look-a-like with Instagram Stories. They aren't putting Snapchat out of business but they are showing that they know how to wield a great deal of power combating new challenges. 

  1.  (4) What do you think of slow but deliberate shift among some brands and agencies buying ads directly from publishers? 

There are always going to be brand/publisher relationships that are more important between those two groups so I don't think it's surprising that brands continue to maintain strong relationship with their publishers.  

Interesting for me is that still a lot of these transactions are happening through programmatic platforms. About 75% of programmatic dollars are being held to private market place and private direct deals. Within the DSPs that we use there are certainly pre-existing private marketplace deals set up which is fantastic. At the end of the day quality always wins. 

  1. (5) What would you say were the best practices for brands and agencies to avoid pitfalls such as brand safety and ad fraud in the marketplace? 

It's imperative for an agency or advertiser to take brand safety, fraud prevention and viewability very seriously. So, there are a few critical steps. Create whitelists and actively update them. Enforce block lists. Work with a company that may have a scoring mechanism of publisher properties like a TrustMetrics. Deploy and test the variety of solutions that are built within the DSP from companies like DoubleVerify, Peer39, Integral Ad Sciences, Grapeshot and Moat. Certainly, explore new opportunities.  

There's is a great company called Oxford Biochronometrics that looks at the behavior of the user’s mouse or the user’s finger in a mobile environment as they surf the web. That’s one method of understanding whether not the user is a human. 

It’s important to pay attention to marketplace developments regarding safety. So, I would be looking at ads.txt and the evolution of blockchain to make ad buying transactions more transparent. One company leading the way on blockchain for digital advertising is Meta X. 

  1. (6) How do you think the digital ad ecosystem will look in the next few years? 

We’ll continue to see consolidation in the business. Some DSPs will be bought and become integral parts of a larger marketing stack. Brands will continue to experiment with bringing their programmatic buying a house. Some will succeed and some will fail. There's an art and science of buying media programmatically and a lot of the success comes from having the right DNA and culture within the brand to make that programmatic ad buying team a success. Part of that success will also come from the ability to act quickly in the face of a rapidly changing environment. 

There's a massive opportunity for small and midsize marketers and helping companies to leverage digital media even when in the past they haven’t been part of this ecosystem. To a certain degree I look at programmatic advertising as a product line extension for agencies who maybe work in out of home, radio, print etc. There’s a way to infuse digital media, programmatic ad buying, data and automation seamlessly into most agency models.  

For example, I met the publisher of a local publication here in Los Angeles. Their magazine footprint is in the Valley – Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Encino, etc. By simply adding on hyperlocal capabilities they can exponentially increase their ad sales opportunity anchored by print and amplified by digital media. So, when I think about all those small and mid-size businesses that with a few simple steps can add hyperlocal targeting and local audience targeting I see an abundance of opportunity.  

I also see programmatic being the central hub of a lot of media buying activities. With the ability that we have to day to buy connected TV, for example, agenciescan transact on billions of impressions a month reaching people who are still watching television but Internet connected content. So that opens up a lot of opportunity to agencies who in the past haven't been television buyers. 

Finally we see that small and midsize marketers now finally have the opportunity to leverage the same programmatic ad buying tool sets that have traditionally been available almost exclusively to larger agencies and fortune 500 companies. We’re leading this charge.  

In fact, today the companies that we serve could not have jumped into the programmatic space 6 to 12 months ago because of the complexity of the marketplace, the jargon, the minimum campaign or DSP spends and the lack of sufficient programmatic buying talent to simply service all these clients. So the result is that agencies today with the service that we are offering have the ability to access programmatic as a product / business / revenue extension without much risk to them. Maybe 12 months ago this wasn't available and I think this democratization of media buying continues on. 

  1.  (7) Founder and CEO of research company L2 Scott Galloway is famous for saying "digital marketing is a great business to be in as long as you're Google or Facebook". Do you agree? 

I get the sentiment and the sentiment is generally that the two large players are over $40B dollar companies combined and the rest of the marketplace seems like peanuts. True, but the rest of the ecosystem is about $41B. Even when you take out the larger players outside of Facebook and Google, like LinkedIn, Verizon, Snap and Twitter there’s about $17B in the marketplace. That’s a massive display marketplace and I’m happy to compete in that market. And as an agency we get to leverage Facebook and Google, so in fact their ease of use creates more demand for businesses who want to be on those platforms, which is good for us. 

Furthermore, because we are bringing sophisticated programmatic ad buying to those agencies who typically didn’t have access there’s a big opportunity opening upWhen has there ever been a time where a marker that has $1,000, $2,000 $5,000 a month have access to the absolute largest data companies in the world and the most sophisticated add buying toolsets? Even at higher monthly spending levels we see clients that are spending $30k - $50k without having to commit a to spending minimum with a media buying agency.  

It's only now that we're really getting into the renaissance of advertising. There's never been a better time to own a business because today you have access to the very best data and advertising opportunities 

Google and Facebook are big businesses but every mom and pop business, smallor midsize agency and advertiser can access these tool sets today. In fact, advertisers who want to run self-service media buying can go to , request a login and start using audience data segments, contextual targeting, automation and algorithmic ad buying today to reach that white space of opportunity on the Open Web. 

  1.  (8) What do you think of Google recently releasing its own adblocker?  

Google continues to take a leadership position for the experiences that people have on desktop and mobile devices. The characteristics that will determine whether or not an ad gets blocked are defined by a very particular set of standards from the Coalition For Better Ads.  

This gives companies on that coalition, with leadership from Google, a great deal of power about which ads are blocked. And as with any leadership it calls into question the decisions they make and the ability for the coalition to make decisions that are in the best interests of all the companies in the ad space, as well as consumers, rather than favoring their own needs. So we'll see how it's rolled out. Ultimately if it's rolled out well it will create more favorable advertising experiences for consumers which is good for everyone.  

We know that our ads and our communications are necessary to fund the revenues for publishers, journalists and content creators. Iwe want to maintain our business model we need to be supportive of strong user experiences that enhance the entire ecosystem rather than to strain it with nonsense that detracts from the overall user experience. And like most other things we are in a constant state of evolution and development. 

  1. (9) What do you think of the growing convergence between adtech and martech? 

The alignment of these two types of technology creates more opportunities for agencies, marketers and the end advertiser. The more that email marketing solutions and CRM providers integrate with Facebook, for example, the better it is for the ecosystem and for us. That means more companies seeing advertising as an accessible and viable solution. I love that in Facebook, for example, we can easily integrate CRM solutions to capture data from lead ads 

  1. (10) What's the main effect you've seen of the recent retreat by venture capital Firms from investing in AdTech startups?  

We're focused on using the best tech in the marketplace. So I think the effects of the depressed venture interest in AdTech isn't showing itself too aggressively for our business. We've been approached by a few smaller firms who have some great tech, and I love seeing their success.  

With regard to recent ad tech transactions I expect that investors see an opportunity to take on once highly valued companies that today show lower valuations. Our current tech stack is strong and getting better everyday, so we are grateful to be able to use the best DSPs, technology and data partners in the marketplace. 

  1. (11) With the digital ad market now larger than the TV ad market, what does that mean for the future of programmatic advertising?   

We are bullish on the connected TV, programmatic and addressable television marketplace. Most of the connected TV solutions today don't have minimum spend requirements and they get small and midsize marketers into the homes of either cord cutters, cord-nevers, or the 190M viewers who can be reached with Internet connected TV. These users show high household income.  

They are early adopters, technology users (Uber, Lyft, Spotify), and they pay attention to news, financial content and lifestyle publications. CTV viewers are valuable consumer sets that can be reached at a fraction of the cost than going the traditional TV route. I see the opportunity similar to Facebook's opportunity with small businesses. They have 6MM advertisers and most of these are small businesses. These small businesses now have the ability to get on the big screen with the same ease of launching a banner campaign or a digital video ad. 

Today CTV is transacted through managed services with, but I expect that to change in the next 12 months, and we'll be providing that opportunity to our clients on a self-service basis. 

  1. (12) Final question. What advice would you give a brand/advertiser getting into the programmatic advertising system? 

Programmatic is no longer simply an additional line on the flowchart. So for advertisers looking to develop a programmatic practice the first key step is to understand that success comes with practice. It's discipline. It is developing a process and ultimately finding the right mix of components, people and process to make programmatic work for your brand and it's on your unique needs. 

This ecosystem is filled with jargon, which serves a purpose in many ways, but for brands who are just getting into this ecosystem the language alone can be disheartening. Work with groups of people who are already in the space and have them define with you a guiding light: a vision for the type of programmatic practice you want to have, and how the different elements of the marketplace fit with your needs. Have these people define the jargon and get past what can sometimes be the biggest hurdle. 

Understand exactly what you need from your programmatic practice. Some companies will be heavily focused on hyperlocal. Some companies will be focused on video, connected TV or direct response.Different DSP platforms excel in different areas, so canvas the marketplace for solutions that speak to your own specific needs. There are many great DSPs in the marketplace. 

So for example if three different agencies use MediaMath – a top rated DSP - each of the three agencies can use that one platform very differently. One can use MediaMath purely for a hyperlocal business. One can use that platform to run a healthy video first business. The third agency can use MediaMath purely for direct response advertising. So with the variety of opportunities in the marketplace it's important for the brand or agency to have a strong selection process so that they know they're using the right platform for their needs. 

Finally, like any other new business group people are critical. Both the teams who run your programmatic group and the ones who work at the DSP partner should align with the culture and DNA of your business units. If they don't, no matter how great the tech is or the people are, you will be hard pressed to find success. People matter most. 

About The Author 

Robert is the Founder / CEO of, a hyperlocal advertising agency that helps advertisers reach their audience through digital advertising, and owner of BrillMedia Ads, a platform for self-service ad buying on the Open Web.

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