Ashton Media
Marketing & Customer Experience Hub

The programmatic debate we had to have



By my calculation, there are about 650 people in the ad tech business in Sydney. If we add to that the people who work in martech or publisher-side, it’s still a relatively small group. We’re quite insular. If I get up and talk about programmatic leadership, somebody else talks about programmatic challenges, and another person talks programmatic realities, all of the different points we’re making start to blur. You end up either up at the pulpit by yourself, sitting on a panel, or in the audience. Everybody stands up, shuffles one step to the left and sits back down again. It’s a little bit nepotistic from that perspective as if we’re all one big family perpetuating this. We’re not doing ourselves a favour.

We need to shake it up a bit. So we’ve come up with the GroupM Digital Debating Series. The first debate of the series will take place at the Programmatic Forum on July 20 and will see representatives from DoubleClick, Integral Ad Science, TubeMogul and AdRoll go head to head on the topic of pure play technology versus full stack.


At the debate, we will hear people talking about unified technology such as AppNexus, Google or AOL. They will argue one piece of technology is better because it allows you to see the buy side and the sell side of the equation. On the other hand, we will hear that you can’t have a piece of mathematics that represents both the buyer and the seller: it’s the separation of church and state. We will all be forced to pick a side.

Going into the debate, I’m neutral because I can see, scientifically, the benefits of each offering. We’ve chosen a topic that is as close to 50/50 as possible but it’s not going to be 50/50 when people leave the room. It’s going to be dead-set fascinating.

The role of agencies in the great programmatic debate

This debate is as important for the marketers in the room as it will be for the tech providers and agencies. Coming from an agency myself, I believe the agency of the future has to migrate from transactional to consultative. A transactional mindset is parochial and follows a pattern of, “Here is a brief. I’ll execute a campaign, I’ll analyse results, I’ll re-invest into the next brief.” A consultative mindset puts the user at the heart of the journey and says, “I, the brand, will have a dialogue online with this user,” and ask the question, “What is the next logical offer?” How do we ensure we’re not burning out the brand, that we are showing something relevant: right message, right user, right time while continuously having a subtle but informative dialogue with the user. The agencies’ job, as consultants, is to help move towards that model.

As the director of technical operations at GroupM, I see this from a unique perspective. My role is to audit the ad tech space for GroupM’s 197 clients. If you consider GroupM’s overall billings in the local market currently sits at $2.84 billion with digital a growing portion of the overall media mix, that equates to a lot of tech fees. What it means is agencies, as the custodians of that money, on behalf of our clients, have to make sure it’s wisely spent. What is the return on investment for those fees?


Tech perception versus reality

The biggest concern I have at the moment is the difference between perception and reality. I feel perception needs to come down a few notches, while reality needs to dial it up. The chasm between the two is simply too wide.

Recently, I was interviewing an ad tech company. Was I interested in a programmatic digital television solution, I was asked. I was very interested. The salesperson told me they had data enabled a programmatically connected television. When I pushed on how the technology technically worked, I received a somewhat vague response. As an engineer, I was keen to dig into this in more detail. I offered to go back to the office and take a connected television off the wall to find the hardware chip they manufactured because I was very impressed. The salesperson backtracked and explained they didn’t make hardware, it was more of a software solution. I was still very impressed, enough to unscrew a television off the wall to look for the manufacturer’s chip. The salesperson backpedalled again. The company hadn’t integrated with any hardware yet, but it was on their roadmap somewhere in the near future. I deduced from the conversation they were selling services that didn’t yet exist. They were selling vapourware. While this sounds extreme, it is all too common in this marketplace to be selling technology that doesn’t quite do what it says on the tin.

Exchanges like this have led me to believe we need the GroupM Digital Debating Series to raise awareness. We need to be educated enough to ensure the snake oil salesmen will be caught out next time before they deprive clients of their hard-earned money.

For the agencies in the mix, we need to build trust that we know what we’re doing because we’re not randomly trying to take advertisers’ money, deduct margins and walk away. We’re actually trying to push the boundaries and educate the market.
At the end of the day, the winner is the industry. If it turns out that a unified stack is better, or perhaps the honour goes to pure play, that will echo throughout the industry. It will allow us to pivot, to grow and set new boundaries and challenges. But most importantly, the debate will give me a chance to use the gavel I have purchased. And I can’t wait.

Join Timothy at the Programmatic Forum on July 20. Click here to find out more.

About Timothy R. Whitfield – Director, Technical Operations, GroupM
Timothy R. Whitfield is the Director, Technical Operations at GroupM. His role involves streamlining tech partnerships with new strategy to deal with the ‘cluttered’ landscape as the agency group looks to implement a One Voice Tech strategy.