No one could ever accuse Rubicon Project of being unambitious.
Speaking about the firm’s recent acquisition of Canadian intent marketing firm Chango, CEO Frank Addante said his LA-based advertising automation firm’s goal was to connect ad buyers and sellers, through any channel, any buying method, any media type and in any way that they choose to transact with each other, directly or indirectly.
“We want to make buying advertising space as easy as booking a flight or buying stocks and shares online,” says Rubicon Project’s UK Managing Director James Brown.
The firm’s mission to automate buying and selling for the global online advertising industry rests on its ‘Seller Cloud’ – a toolset to help publishers monetise their inventory as effectively as possible – plus its ‘Buyer Cloud’ – providing the best available audience for campaigns across a broad range or single sites and mobile apps.
As a fast growing field, high-profile projects like the Pangaea Alliance between The Guardian, CNN International, the Financial Times and The Economist have raised the profile of advertising automation. Launched in beta from April 2015, the Pangea Alliance offers advertisers the ability to access global inventory and target premium audiences across its members via the Rubicon Project technology platform.
Working with the alliance, Rubicon Project draws on its experience powering another half-dozen co-ops around the world. “I think it’s really significant, a catalyst for lots of conversations around the world. It really resonated,” says Brown.
Rubicon Project works with more than 700 premium sellers, supporting sales at any level of priority, from premium through to what used to be called remnant. As a former publisher, Brown’s hackles go up at the mention of remnant inventory. “I don’t like that phrase. There’s only unsold inventory,” he explains, “with the arrival of advertising automation, all inventory has value.”
Brown says Rubicon Project is very selective about the sellers it works with. “We are rigorous about the quality of the publishers we bring on. We have always tried to create a trustworthy, well-lit, marketplace so that both sides – buyers and sellers alike – can have confidence in the environment.”
Building confidence in the fast growing ad automation market has been important in overcoming the publishing industry’s somewhat cautious approach to automated trading.
Brown believes the industry needs to be more open. “We take it very seriously, we’re a publicly listed company and transparent about the way we operate. Actually everyone should operate this way,” he says.
Brown has been encouraged by efforts to make advertising automation technology easier to understand, programmatic in particular. Rubicon Project has set up an automated trading ‘University’, aimed primarily at staff within seller organisations to educate them on how to navigate this landscape, answering questions like what a data management platform is, how real-time bidding works, or who the major players in this market are.
“We’re trying to demystify as much as possible,” he says. “Those frightening Lumascape charts can be intimidating,” says Brown.
The focus has been on educating sellers in what the opportunities might be – maximising yields, holistic yield management, private marketplaces. Brown says Rubicon Project may expand its education efforts out to help people among the buyer community too, but he thinks they possibly got ad automation quicker than the sell side because the benefits are more obvious. “It clearly enables buyers to be targeted in their drive for efficiency,” he says.
But the benefits on the seller side are equally real. The former Telegraph Media Group digital advertising GM explains that he used to have a sales team focusing almost exclusively on the main agencies because there were only so many calls they could make. “With automation, you can connect with advertisers they simply wouldn’t have had time to reach.”
That doesn’t mean the industry is heading for computer to computer sales; Brown says publishers still need sales people to be in the market evangelising. “People bring technology to life. It’s not about replacing boots on the ground – it’s a complementary strategy.”
Rubicon Project applies a consultative approach to its service based model, building long-standing relationships like a digital agency. “Combined with great technology, that’s how you maximise the opportunity for the customer,” he explains.
Rubicon Project’s technology helps develop revenue growth by highlighting the value of publisher inventory and connecting that to buyers they might not otherwise reach. With most publishers looking at or already using a data management platform, they are now also able to harness first party data.
“They can use data more efficiently, identifying what is really valuable and monetising it more effectively,” Brown explains. “That old adage – 50 percent of my advertising budget is wasted, I just don’t know which 50 percent – is changing because publishers can bring their own data into the mix.”
Brown expects to see an increase in automated trading across all platforms, driven by increased efficiencies highlighted in Rubicon Project’s automated guaranteed offering. On the buy side benefits will come from RFP development, click to buy, and tag insertion within the platform. On the sell side, where the sales team has traditionally spent a lot of time asking for inventory forecasts or chasing assets, the creative chasing process has been removed, and forecasting is within the system.
“The demand on campaign managers has grown exponentially, focused mostly on trafficking not on optimisation. Our tool frees them to do more optimisation so campaigns perform better and business retention improves.”
Brown says the speed of take up for automated advertising will differ market by market, but automation is here to stay. “Once you start talking about programmatic in TV and outdoor, or event print, the penny has dropped.”