Stop Making Sense

Data-Driven Thinking"Data-Driven Thinking" is a column written by members of the media community and containing fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today's column is written by Scott Portugal, CRO at TRAFFIQ.

"We can build an DSP to manage RTB's, leveraging data exchange segments for hyper-targeting and optimizing against CTR and eCPA to improve ROAS and hit our KPI's."

The above sentence reads like media buying 101 to many of us in this space; it's clear, concise, and explains precisely what we're trying to do these days. However, for a large swath of the media buying universe, this hodgepodge of acronyms reads like an organic chemistry assignment. It's almost indecipherable, unnecessarily complicated, and very likely overwhelmingly complex. Yet at its' core it is fundamentally a simple sentence – use auction-based audience buying to maximize performance and hit our goals. But if we ask a new display media buyer to make sense of the above, they'd be lost.

How can we ever expect the long tail of media buyers to start buying display advertising en masse if we're not making it easy to understand, buy, and evaluate?

I recently spent time with the IAB and their Long Tail initiative (an incredibly important effort for which the IAB should be commended, btw). At this event I had the good fortune to meet with dozens of long tail publishers & ecommerce firms, most of whom are leveraging ad networks and exchanges for the vast majority of their sites' monetization. These publishers aren't rubes or college kids blogging about their night out – these are folks doing the most American of things: following a dream to start a business based on passion. These publishers are also contributing data and audience to targeting providers to deliver advanced demo & psychographic targeting (either directly or through a data exchange). Yet only a handful of providers actually make it easy for these publishers to actually understand who their audience is and how it's being packaged. The more these publishers can understand how their data is being used, the more they can BUY traffic to grow their own user base, increasing inventory and data availability for the ad nets & exchanges profiting from this space.

How can we ever expect the long tail of media sellers to start buying display advertising en masse if we're not making it easy for them to understand their audience & buy against it?

As an industry, we do an excellent job of talking to each other. We're all familiar with the most recent M&A rumors, the latest DSP/RTB developments, the newest "It" company's hires, etc. We all stare at the quarterly eMarketer report and calculate display media spend as a % of overall U.S. ad dollars…..and yearn for that number to start creeping higher, faster. And yet, without fail, we collectively are failing to take the most important step there is in driving display's growth: make it simple and easy to buy, understand, and re-buy. It's that simple. Display media has a low cost of entry, incredible targeting capabilities, and DOES work. And yet most service providers and publishers are focused on adding layers of complexity to the buying process, not stripping out complexity.

Is it easy to shop on Is it easy to buy & return shoes on Is it easy to rent a movie on Netflix? Of COURSE it is – and it's why their organic growth rates have been so spectacular. Books, clothes, shoes, movies….things I can buy anywhere. Some might call that a commodity! But these firms have succeeded because they've stripped out as many complexities as possible, made "Discovery" an integral part of the process, and focused on usability & service. As a media industry, we can buy and sell impressions and cookies from a seemingly infinite number of providers. Some might call that a commodity. But adding more acronyms and more levels of complexity to a commoditized service while expecting massive growth from an audience that wants straight-forward answers and simplicity is counter-intuitive. Search isn't just the 800 pound digital gorilla because it's so ROI focused – it's that way because it's easy to get started. Television has TRP's, GRP's, and the 15/30/60 second spot. If you can film a commercial, you can get it placed. Yet we continue to create additional layers of complexity to the display buying process where we should be stripping them out.

Everybody is a display media platform these days, but nobody is moving faster to own this space than Google. With an installed base of tens of thousands of local media buying firms and a corporate mantra of usability, everybody in the display media business should be nervous about Google eating their lunch. Google's approach is nearly perfect in this space. I'm not talking about buying Invite Media and I'm not talking about their ever-expanding integration with DFA/DFP. I'm talking about how simple their making it for first time display buyers to buy into their display network. If you haven't done so, go read their Display Network site. It couldn't be easier to understand: from getting started to targeting, from creative to conversions, anybody can show up and start buying media. If they sign up 500 accounts per month each spending $1000 to start and assuming that those spends hold steady from month to month or are replaced, they'll have generated $39mm in year one. I think most of us would love to have that sort of organic growth and that's likely a fraction of what will actually occur.

So we have a choice – either we let Google win (again) or collectively we start changing the conversation sometimes. As often as we discuss advanced conversion attribution models, we should be discussing how to help small media buyers buy into premium sites & audience in an efficient way. As frequently as we discuss the value of leveraging multiple RTB's, we should be interacting with local advertising groups to help them understand that the display world is MORE than just Google. And that means platform development should deliver an easy "on ramp" to display media. That means buying should be simple. Reporting should be easy. Billing should be straight-forward. For publishers, understanding who is using their data, where, and who is BUYING their data is of equal importance. The more educated a publisher is about the value of their audience, the more potential that publisher has to buy traffic against that audience. And turning a seller into a buyer under the same relationship is what EVERYBODY wants. If every ad network could convert 10% of their publishers into buyers, everybody would be having record years.

The faster we start making sense to the part of the market most of us covet and the faster we focus on efficiency, usability, and discovery as much as we focus on complexity and data depth, the more effective we'll be in capturing a reservoir of untapped display dollars.

You can follow TRAFFIQ (@TRAFFIQ) and (@adexchanger) on Twitter.


  1. Well put Scott. I completely agree. Data has added a new variable and buyers need our help to make sense of the data and make it actionable. The key for marketing services co's is to simplify the process, not make it more complex.

  2. Great sentiment, Scott. Simplifying display is an honorable mission. But you neglect to mention the key component of Google's advantage. It's not their tidy copywriting or instructive help pages; it's their massive reach. Without a bully pulpit it's tough to get small advertisers and publishers to listen. Just ask Microsoft. You're on the right track with the IAB though, and I commend Traffiq for its development efforts against this opportunity.


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