Programmatic Challenges: Raising the Floor as well as the Ceiling

It’s no secret that the digital advertising industry is host to a number of challenges, yet despite apparent best efforts to address them, many of these challenges still persist. In this piece, Robert Webster (pictured below).

Chief strategy officer, Crimtan explains how, in many cases, solutions are out there, but the process by which to adopt them is complicated, largely causing the challenges to remain.

Digital Display first became a discipline when The Spice Girls were singing Wannabe, Fergie and Andrew got divorced, and Tony Blair became Prime Minister. It all seems a very long time ago, and the last 20 years have seen many challenges – some have even been solved. Huge growth in digital advertising has recently brought us programmatic, and it is widely accepted that the way display is done today will be how all media is done in 10 years or so.

Yet despite this incredibly rosy position, a number of challenges persist: attribution, viewability, bad content, scalable programmatic creative, how to plan programmatically, how to use data properly, and data leakage are still issues for display campaigns even today. Many articles have been written about the solutions to these problems, so why are they still with us? Actually, all these problems have been partially solved on a number of occasions, but most campaigns don’t even attempt to address them. In our industry so much time is spent raising the ceiling we forget that we need to raise the floor and bring the majority of campaigns up to a reasonable standard.

Out of the box

All the problems mentioned can be solved individually, but none of them are solved ‘out of the box’ by the mainstream providers. Almost any system would need to add in an extra company or, at the very least, a component from the existing company to handle attribution, viewability, programmatic creative, and a DMP for data usage. Each additional element usually comes with time, costs, minimum spend requirements, and other hassles. This acts as an automatic barrier to getting issues solved for some campaigns. Surely it should be the default position that inventory is reasonably viewable and safe, attribution is useful, data is secure, and creative is addressable?

Technology Cost

Although related to the problem above, this is actually an additional challenge. An advertiser with the time to address these problems properly would require a lot of new technology like a DMP, an attribution system, and an inventory auditing system. The cost for all this ranges from the hundreds of thousands to millions of pounds a year – a huge sum that might be justified in some situations, but is a barrier to the industry getting wide scale adoption of the solutions it so badly needs. However, by being careful and pragmatic, solutions to these problems need not be prohibitively expensive – but for the uninitiated the financial traps are huge. Which leads us onto our next met challenge.


The industry has many ‘experts’ on each of these challenges, however there are nowhere near enough of them and, even worse, almost no individual or team has expertise across all of them. This means that some campaigns address some of these problems, but not all of them. The industry badly needs more people to be familiar with all these areas and be able to affect change. Furthermore, expertise can help, to some degree, to solve the problem of cost by finding the right solution at the right price. Not every advertiser needs a Rolls Royce attribution solution, but all of them need a better one than crawling on all fours (the last click only model). For all the challenges, there is a solution at the right cost, for everyone, and expertise can bring this to light.

Disincentives to change

This is the most frustrating barrier. Our industry is rife with reasons not to fix issues and upset the apple cart. Take viewability for example, if a publisher tries to improve viewability and address it with their advertisers they risk facing tough questions about why it was not so good before. If an advertiser tries to reattribute sales in a better fashion does the channel that suffers (there are always winners and losers in attribution) end up in trouble for overspending in the past? Does installing a DMP raise awkward questions about data leakage and the value of data? Unfortunately, the solution to almost any of the problems raised can lead to a host of new problems. In the long run, we are all better off going on this journey but that doesn’t mean the journey is without pain – and it is that pain that can hold back the adoption of solutions.

Over complication

What we do is marketing. Do we really want CMOs worrying about a million and one technical details or do we want a CMO to be in charge of the overall marketing strategy and let others handle the detail? I think most would agree it’s the latter, although the best CMOs will ensure they have people in their team and suppliers that deliver solutions to these problems. The best thing that specialist practitioners like Crimtan can do is offer simple, honest, transparent solutions to these problems. Solutions that stand up to detailed scrutiny but do not lead with their technological complexity. Today, too many solutions seem daunting due to a lack of expertise, their cost and other barriers. If, as an industry, we can keep things simple we will see adoption of solutions dramatically increase.

What should advertisers do to insure they have their bases covered in this space? How does the industry raise the floor so that the majority of campaigns are well run? Three things really: Firstly they need to ensure they have experts on their account – either in-house or external – who are aware of the issues and able to find solutions. Secondly they need to demand that ad tech vendors offer solutions as a matter of course rather than as additional features. Lastly advertisers have to be brave enough to demand it even when it conflicts with legacy systems or vendor politics.

This article first appeared in ExchangeWire