Following ad network Undertone’s summer snap-up of programmatic exchange Upfront Digital Media, the company rolled out on Friday a programmatic platform called Virtuoso.
The platform is part of Undertone’s developing ad stack, said cofounder Eric Franchi. The company will stagger the release of Virtuoso’s functions, first beginning with programmatic execution and workflow via the Upfront integration. There's a programmatic direct offering (ImpactDirect) as well as the exchange-based side for reach (OpenMarket).
Since OpenMarket plugs buyers into the open RTB environment, Undertone claims it has instated brand safety filters, as well as enabled Deal ID for buyers who already have deals in place with other exchanges or trading desks.
“The big difference between the RTB and Deal ID environment is how a customer has set up their programmatic transactions,” Franchi said. “With RTB, we’re giving customers access to whatever we have access to so they can go in and bid on an impression by impression basis.”
With Deal ID, buyers who previously had open marketplace deals in place can expose those arrangements in the platform and scale up with high-impact units like IAB Rising Stars. "A lot of folks are not exactly excited about the 728x90 as a brand building format," was the argument.
Undertone plans to release the second and third parts of its Virtuoso platform in 2015, adding a data and analytics offering and Ad Builder, which unites media execution with some of Undertone’s existing creative tech, such as HTML5 creator ScreenShift and Impact Accelerator. Publishers don't always have the means to test high-impact or newer formats individually onsite when delivering ads programmatically, which Undertone says it built to handle on the back end.
“We’re still running some of our direct business with Undertone through our agencies, but this gives us the ability to start to streamline the buying and workflow around our investment in these bolder ad units,” said Vincent Paolozzi, VP of Marketplace Development for MAGNA Global, the strategic media investment division of IPG Mediabrands. “We still need to figure out how the creative aspects play… (and) how the product will work within that environment as well.”
MAGNA, as part of its parent holding company's efforts, plans to automate 50% of all buys by 2016. Part of that automation process will bridge the divide between creative and media execution.
The ability to push high-impact creative into programmatic sales channels is one of Virtuoso’s differentiators. Agencies say lack of good creative keeps brands from investing in an environment traditionally used for direct response. Then, even if the creative is there, sometimes the agency lacks the means to expedite approvals in a rapid fashion to see that asset through to the buy.
“Some have agencies that do just the creative, sometimes within our holding company or outside of it," Paolozzi said. "But the final sign off on creative always goes back to the client,” he said. “The mechanisms with which you get approval to do so have been one of the reasons why creative hasn’t been so much injected into programmatic today.”
While Paolozzi acknowledged that plenty of programmatic platforms solve similar problems, MAGNA liked the opportunities Virtuoso provided around scalability of Rising Star ad units, which are more important as brand dollars move into programmatic.
In terms of measurement and analytics, Franchi said the advertiser would get click, spend, performance and impression-level reporting, as well as reach and frequency settings via Virtuoso. When asked whether Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings (OCR) or comScore Validated Essentials (vCE) would be part of the deal, Franchi alluded to “more advanced measurements to come.”
As buyers move into audience-based targeting to capture consumers the advertiser isn’t grabbing through mass TV reach plays, “we need to identify those like consumers who are important to the advertiser,” Paolozzi added. “It’s the combination of the ability of those GRPs that help us extend even more into programmatic buying where we start doing more advanced targeting with data and analytics that goes beyond OCR and vCE.”