The guys who came up with Interpublic Group's display ad-trading strategy have embarked together on a joint consulting venture. Their new company, Unbound, will serve as a systems integrator to brands and publishers as they make decisions about programmatic ad technologies.
"We saw a pretty big gap in the marketplace. There's no real technology-and-service systems integrator for programmatic technologies," said co-founder Brendan Moorcroft. "In other categories, there's always a company like an Accenture or Bain or IBM Consulting that understands what advertisers need from their enterprise or marketing stack."
According to Moorcroft and his co-founder, Quentin George, the lack of a trusted advisory "layer" in the complex programmatic ecosystem has sown confusion within marketing organizations and weakened traction across both publishers and brands.
"Our proposition is that both the brand marketer and the media owner need to treat programmatic like any other enterprise technology stack," George said. "They need to do a vendor ID process, they need to create functional abstraction and they need to connect it to the data and systems that are inside the enterprise."
But it's early yet for Unbound. The company has signed four clients to date – two publishers, two brands – and is midway through raising an angel round, according to George. It will have its official launch at the Dmexco conference in Cologne next month.
Moorcroft and George are well known in ad-tech circles, having helped incubate the Cadreon trading desk within IPG's Mediabrands division. From the outset they positioned Cadreon as a transparent alternative to rival trading desks at Publicis Group (VivaKi Audience On Demand), WPP Group (Xaxis) and Omnicom Group (Accuen).
While the management consulting industry may lack an established player in programmatic marketing, Unbound is not the only firm charging into this space. Companies providing ad-tech advisory services, such as Acceleration, are also focused on it. And established consultants like McKinsey and Accenture have become more important partners to advertisers that need to implement enterprise-grade ad platforms with programmatic plug-ins.
The holding companies also have a demonstrated interest in capturing this business. Last year WPP took a majority stake in Acceleration, which has both a buy- and a sell-side advisory arm, similar to Unbound's model.
What does the marketer think of the prospect for a new layer of systems integrators in the programmatic space? Cezanne Huq, Intuit’s head of online acquisition, said he sees a need for independent entities that can apply the methods of a management consultant to programmatic tech. This need only increases as the investment rises.
"There's a tech debt you're collecting. How do you get the best out of the technology?" Huq said. "There's an opportunity for folks like [Brendan and Quentin] to take that management consulting approach. I've proven the data-management platform works for acquisition, but I want to do more for Intuit. Who is that player that's going to help me talk to the C-levels and say, 'We need to get more of the customer records in the mix'? 'We need to create this universal ID'? It sounds like I'm boiling the ocean, but I'm not. I'm just expanding the footprint."
While Unbound brings significant combined digital media experience, Moorcroft and George will be challenged to keep pace with dramatic shifts in the platforms and media-buying practices.
Case in point: Since their departure from IPG a few short months ago, Cadreon and its umbrella unit, Mediabrands Audience Platform, have been merged into the Magna Global media-buying arm. And just this morning IPG unveiled an automated ad-buying "consortium" with a number of media partners – including Cablevision, Tribune Co and A&E Networks. The goal is to put in place more streamlined media-buying practices – i.e. the "marketing dashboard" – for campaigns across TV, radio, digital out-of-home ads and digital.