"Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it," wrote renowned computer scientist Alan Perlis. Anyone who has examined the landscape of the advertising technology industry can appreciate this sentiment. While the computer scientists who create the code we use may revere simplicity, the operations and relationships we've built around that code are often convoluted.
So it probably shouldn't surprise us that 75% of digital publishers participating in the State of Ad Ops 2015 study use fewer than 10 technology providers and no more than two ad servers. These publishers earnestly prune their technology stacks to lessen the burden that comes with ad tech complexity. It's an early indication that predictions of brutal industry consolidation may be accurate. If you participate on the buy side of the advertising equation, this is pretty sobering. How can you expect to reach a wider audience in innovative ways if publishers—your gateway to those audiences—are circling the wagons?
Fortunately, there's more to learn from what these publishers said in the survey. When asked to cite workflow inefficiencies, publishers highlighted problems that should be solved by consolidation. And in their descriptions of areas that need improvement, serious drawbacks to the "less is more" strategy begin to surface. Understanding these sell-side pain points will help brands reach audiences in a market that seems short on options.
When Less Still Feels Like More
The "reduce complexity" strategy is deceptively intuitive—even advertisers and agencies frequently overcomplicate their strategies with a variety of point solutions. But despite being able to count their vendors on two hands, publishers still struggle with operational waste. Billing and reconciliation, lack of interdepartmental communication, and technology upgrades and migrations—all of which would seemingly be streamlined with a consolidated tech solution—were the most frequently identified workflow inefficiencies, according to the survey.
As sound as the strategy seems, the rewards aren't always realized. "Vendors continue to consolidate; however, the benefit primarily appears to be adding scale and efficiency to their organization, not local publishers," said one respondent. "The promise is that they will bring efficiency, but [we] have not seen much of it trickle down [to the publishers]." By choosing technology partners that provide actual ease of integration and operational efficiency, brands and publishers can reach audiences without having to severely limit their vendor choices.
You Say Less, I Say More
Almost 60% of publishers said they guarantee campaigns on the basis of "cost per viewable impression," but nearly 70% reported more than minimal efforts dedicated to "solving viewability issues." Worse, the impartiality of viewability metrics is called into question when companies that own media also provide ad tech platforms.
Publishers that exist outside of the media owned by technology providers are forced to comply with viewability standards that are built with that media in mind—and what's good for the biggest and most influential publisher isn't always good for others. As ad verification and quality standards loom heavy on the horizon, a platform that allows for mutually agreed criteria for success is key to navigating those waters.
When Less Is Just Less
One of the most costly sacrifices publishers make in order to centralize their advertising technology is the value of their own data. Every website, video channel or mobile app is different, and there is insight in how users choose to experience that content. No one is in a better position to productize that insight than the publishers themselves, but only 8% rated their first-party data actualization as realizing its full potential. Almost 60% gave themselves a "poor" or "fair" grade, indicating that there is much more they could gain if they could feed their offerings with the data they have at the ready.
Large technology platforms, whatever their purpose, will always be developed to cater to the most mainstream use cases. Unique features that serve a small subsection of users will never be prioritized to the software developers—and may be excised entirely in an effort that confuses simplicity with elegance. Ad tech vendors can differentiate from the monoliths with custom, innovative strategies that allow brands access to quality first-party data.
Ultimately, advertising remains what it's been for ages—the product of the relationship between a brand advertiser and the publishing platform that draws the audience. Advertising technology often abstracts that relationship, and the resulting ecosystem is a quagmire that demands reform.
Alan Perlis said that geniuses can remove complexity, but that doesn't mean that stripping down a tech stack to one or two vendors is a genius move. Instead, marketers and publishers should look for open ad management solutions that augment their relationships.
A combination of workflow efficiency, collaborative accountability and effective realization of unique assets can benefit brands, publishers and audiences. Consider the words of the undeniable genius Albert Einstein: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."
About the Author
Canaan Schladale-Zink is Sizmek's VP-sales, Americas. With nearly a decade of experience in sales and operations, Canaan now leads one of the most dynamic sales teams in the ad tech industry. Canaan started his career in television advertising at Katz Media Group, where his curiosity and youthful naiveté of corporate red tape led him to selling one of the first online video deals for the organization. At that point, he was hooked on digital advertising and moved to Eyewonder, which was acquired by Sizmek. Given the reality of rapidly changing technology, Canaan is committed to helping major advertisers and agencies navigate the complex creative, media and tech landscape across display, mobile, video, social and programmatic advertising. A devoted student of advertising with a passion for technology, Canaan strives for a daily balance of learning, teaching and performance in digital marketing.
About the Sponsor
Sizmek Open Ad Management brings freedom of choice to end-to-end advertising. With a single point of access to the best technology, data and strategic guidance—and the flexibility to choose solutions that fit their strategies—more than 42,000 advertisers, agencies, publishers and trading desks create inspiring, seamless advertising campaigns that connect them to their customers around the world easily and effectively. Open and independent, Sizmek's wide range of technology and data is bolstered by integrations with more than 100 partners, providing leading solutions for attribution, data management, audience measurement, search engine marketing, creative authoring and more. Sizmek operates in more than 70 countries, with local offices providing award-winning service throughout North America, EMEA, LATAM and APAC.