Establishing a progammatic mobile media buying solution: Perils, pitfalls and partnerships

Many advertisers are now looking to internalise their mobile media buying processes, and numerous companies are being set up to offer advertisers a media buying service in the programmatic space.

There are two possible routes here, as in any decision that involves using technology: buy or build your DSP. But firstly, let’s define what a DSP actually is.

Because DSP stands for “Demand Side Platform” it should be intrinsically associated with technology-based companies that allow media buyers to purchase ad placements via bids in ad exchanges’ real-time auctions.

However, many of today’s so-called DSPs don’t own a proprietary platform – and in some cases, they don’t own any technology at all. This is particularly the case in the mobile space, where programmatic technology was established more recently.

This causes considerable confusion for the ad-tech ecosystem. Any company positioned on the demand side of the ecosystem can call itself a DSP, independently of whether it owns a platform or not.

Advertisers therefore frequently assume they are going “direct” to the programmatic marketplace by using a “DSP” – but most would be very surprised if they realised how many players can be involved in the chain to providing marketplace access.

Building from scratch

Don´t get me wrong: if you want to be a player on the demand side, providing a media buying service to advertisers and agencies, it probably doesn´t make sense today to build your own technology from scratch, and your tech stack can offer a lot of value without being 100 per cent proprietary.

All I am saying is let´s call a spade a spade.

Many players are building valuable Media Buying Solutions, but the market is also full of examples that mirror the obscure world of traditional advertising, with never ending chains of Ad Networks working with each other as simple intermediaries – and calling every single player on the demand side a DSP just contributes to the confusion that allows these intermediaries to survive.

For those looking to establish a Media Buying Solution, it’s clear the choice of approach is a complex one, and the pros of one aproach are precisely the cons of the other.

The main advantage to building your own DSP from scratch is of course the fact that you gain full control over your offering. You own it, and as your needs change with time, your DSP will be able to adapt accordingly.

However, each of the components of the solution are fairly complex (in a constantly changing industry landscape), so if you decide to build entirely in house you need to be ready to invest in managing this complexity and its corresponding high costs on an ongoing basis.

It’s not just a one-time development. These are only some examples of basic things your in-house team will need to stay on top of, just for pure maintenance:

  • each particular connection to a supply partner has its specific idiosyncrasies and is constantly changing, with changes often affecting different ad formats in different ways
  • ad exchanges and publishers may change the rules of the game (e.g. the recent introduction of first price auctions or header bidding).
  • ongoing challenges around tackling Ad fraud

A DIY build may be your only option if you have a very specific need that no other technology out there can accommodate, of course. But make sure you do not underestimate what it takes. Building is rarely the challenge – it’s making it work effectively that’s the tricky part.

From a wider market perspective, the downside to building from scratch is that if we’re all reinventing the wheel, rather than innovating and refining demand offerings, no real progress can be made to develop the media buying ecosystem – We all end up competing against each other instead of standing on each other shoulders.

Now, you could say that the level of maturity in the market today should be enough for most companies to prefer building a Media Buying Solution through partnerships instead. Even in the mobile space, which poses its own set of technical challenges, it has been six years since the first mobile specialist DSPs were started.


Partnering means you can avoid dealing with low level elements that don’t offer differentiating value to your customers, freeing up time to focus on what makes your service offering unique.  There are enough partners out there with proprietary tech for this to be an option but you do, however, need to partner in a way that gives you enough control to provide that additional value.

Partner choice is key, because any partner that is an alternative to an in-house development must offer robust and effective technology, and advanced tools, whilst also offering you enough control to customise, differentiate yourself and add customer value.

This additional value can often be achieved by delivering a solution specifically targeted to certain segments of buyers, that can be tailored for the specific needs of that vertical, or offering enhanced value through innovative use of data.

Whilst working with a partner means you don’t have to deal with the details of the underlying elements that make effective programmatic media buying possible, those same granular elements might be crucial to differentiating your media buying solution from the many others out there – and this is the tricky part.

You need partners who can understand and cater to your needs (ie. if your audience is mobile, choose a mobile specialist), provide absolute transparency and granularity in reports and also equip you with the necessary level of control to differentiate your business.

They may be hard to find, but they are out there.

When adopting the partnership approach, it’s good practice to have two partners in place for the same element of your platform – firstly, as a ‘fail-safe’ mechanism and secondly to equip you with agility and the means to diversify.

In my view, as mobile DSP technology matures it will be those that partner well and build soutions  in a way that differentiates themselves from the masses that will rise to the top.

– by Noelia Amoedo

Imagery integral to the buying process for majority of consumers

According to an analysis of YouGov consumer data by martech company Pure360 shows that the importance of imagery when it comes to the purchasing process.

YouGov polled 2045 adults and found that 53% think that images grab their attention more than headlines. 61% expected marketing messages to include photos or images.

In fact, 62% of respondents said that they would not buy from a brand unless they can see the product being sold in its entirety. The choice of imagery is important too, with 54% saying that they prefer brands that use product imagery over those that use lifestyle images.

Komal Helyer, Marketing Director at Pure360 said:

“With image sharing platforms like Instagram growing in popularity, brands are paying special attention to the power of a picture in marketing efforts to attract customers. Thankfully today they benefit from a plethora of technologies to deliver more relevant, interactive, responsive and targeted images.”

Public image

The importance of brand imagery is likely to grow in the coming years. A recent eMarketer report estimates that Instagram will account for a third of all global social media users by 2021.

The price for using irrelevant or ‘bad’ imagery can be pronounced for brands. 69% of respondents said that it makes a brand look bad if they use the wrong kinds of images. For 18% there are also certain colours they prefer to see brands use and not using them can have a negative influence on their view of the brand.

But if the choice of imagery is done correctly, it can be a strong driver of brand advocacy. 23% of the consumers surveyed said that they like to share images of items from brands they like online.

“A great image alone may well not suffice in resonating with a potential or existing customer,” Helyer continued.

“Consumers are used to a personalised experience and if an image doesn’t fit with the text around it and isn’t relevant to them, it could potentially damage their propensity to make a purchase. On the other hand, our research has shown that a decent number of British shoppers will share a picture from a brand they like when the image is right.”

– by Colm Hebblethwaite

VR’s hidden secret: it’s a real-time content solution

The love affair between marketing and virtual reality (VR) has been blossoming for a fair few years now. So much so that these days it’s not uncommon to see VR included in a campaign brief.

Although VR may be high on the wishlist, not every brand can afford it. Or at least, that’s what they think. And yet VR is harbouring a salient but untapped secret: it can be used as a near-instantaneous content solution that, far from draining budgets, enhances long-term ROI.

For a seductive new channel that’s so tightly associated with vast budgets, this statement might seem to good to be true. But the truth is that once a brand has invested in its first VR experience, the initial outlay will pay dividends. How? By establishing – almost incidentally – a real time content pipeline that can create everything from apps to augmented reality (AR) for multiple departments within the same company, and all at the touch of a button.

Let me explain…

Time saver

Once assets have been digitized for a VR experience, the initial hard work is complete and these assets can go on to have a life beyond their original purpose. They become the foundations of a future-proofed content solution where everything is already in place to create multiple formats and versions of the original content further down the line.

This means that departments outside of marketing, from new product development to training via sales, can reap rewards from the upfront investment. But not only will they benefit financially; they will also benefit by gaining enhanced content. Imagine how much more engaging and effective training sessions or presentations would be if content were presented as powerfully immersive VR, rather than through a screen or pages.

Real-time data-driven content also has the added benefited of updating itself automatically, with users receiving a pushed notification alert. What could be simpler?

In addition to being an engagement-driving, company-wide and cost-saving initiative, this approach is also a significant time-saver: having a suite of ‘live’ digitized assets helps us shift from clunky linear workflows to real-time. That’s because VR experiences are heavily dependent on game engines: an amazing piece of software, long used by the video game industry, that renders content sequences in an instant. If it weren’t for game engines, video game players wouldn’t be able to control their avatars in real-time.

So, game engines are the magic ingredient that give VR experiences their real-time interactivity.

Getting started

Game engines are now so sophisticated that they’re capable of taking existing data assets and displaying them in near photo-real quality whilst simultaneously allowing users to interact with virtual products in real-time. Combine this with a powerfully immersive virtual world and you get a formidable tool for communicating brand stories and much, much more.

Many amongst you will at this point be thinking: “That’s all well and good, but how do I get started?”.

Fortunately, the answer is a lot simpler than most marketers think:

Brands often hold a library of useful but underused data; for example, computer-aided design (aka CAD), GIS or 3D product scans. We can use this existing and readily available data to create a VR experience’s building blocks by simply digitizing them into assets suited for real-time applications such as VR, AR and immersive apps.

When this approach is taken, it creates an unexpectedly low barrier to entry for VR, which begs the question: why is VR seen as a medium that’s exclusively suited to big established brands with their big established budgets? It seems rather undemocratic to me that only brands with vast resources can reap the amazing benefits that come from VR.

Digitized assets

Brand use of VR is, understandably, synonymous with a marketer’s two biggest goals: entertainment and engagement. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore VR’s more functional potential. Once there is more awareness around the fact that digitized assets can be combined with a VR game engine to create a myriad of content in a near-instant, marketers from brands of all shapes and sizes will be able to make a more convincing case for VR.

They will also be credited with developing an initiative that unlocks the industry’s much-talked-about-but-little-delivered imperative of digital transformation.

In an era when brands need to be ‘always-on’ whilst serving up endless personalization-driven multiple versioning, VR’s use as an automatically updated, real-time and cost-effective content solution becomes utterly compelling. And the ramifications could go far:

VR’s use as a content solution poses a threat to the conventional but highly inefficient model where brands commission agencies to create individual pieces of content. Once brand-world wakes up to VR’s secret functional side, they may feel so empowered by creating their own engaging content at speed and at cost, that agencies will feel the pinch.

– by Mark Miles

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