May the ads be ever in your favour

In the Hunger Games of digital marketing, ad tech tributes must adapt or die, writes DMS’s Imad Sarrouf

By Imad Sarrouf, head of publishers, DMS

For those of you who may have missed watching the blockbuster The Hunger Games, the wildly exciting movie followed a bunch of teens fighting for their lives amidst the backdrop of a constantly changing environment. Their options for survival were also pretty basic. Either adapt to what was currently happening, or die.

Comparing the digital media landscape to The Hunger Games might be an exaggeration. But the fact remains that our industry is undergoing a rapid revolution rather than a slow evolution. Adtech released within the past few years has become vastly established and is strongly affecting the market, while companies who are dedicating themselves to launching innovations are appearing at a faster pace than ever before, disrupting the advertising world.

While some might say that the adtech industry slowed down in 2018, digital advertising isn’t shrinking; it’s still growing and will continue to grow in 2019. What is true is that the number of players in the adtech space has diminished – and that is not necessarily a bad thing. For too long, our industry attracted wannabe and me-too companies with easy funding and no clear differentiating values. After the 18th meeting the past year with the “number 1 SSP” and the 15th meeting with the “number 1 ad server”, I think you all can relate to what I am talking about. The market is continuing to mature and, as a natural consequence, numerous consolidations and exits will ensure that only those who are truly able to provide brands and advertisers with what is needed to acquire customers and drive revenues will survive.

But what should we all be focusing on, exactly? Out of all of the futuristic visions that vendors are painting for marketers in the coming years (AI, blockchain, ML, VR, AR and voice, to name a few), which ones are going to actually come to life? Which will bring real, lasting value to the digital advertising ecosystem?

In 2018, headlines across the digital video industry were largely dominated by the term “brand safety”. Moving forward, there will be a greater emphasis on context-based targeting in premium environments, in a bid to understand and engage with audiences across multiple platforms and devices. As video advertising continues to thrive and develop across the web, apps and soon OTT, there will be an even greater need for data-driven insights to uncover how creative content and messaging resonate with these different audiences. At DMS, our adoption of MOAT a few years ago has enabled us to extend full transparency to agencies and clients, by offering them a wide range of metrics that satisfy a host of requirements. These are related to brand safety, invalid traffic and ad viewability, time and heat maps and more. All these metrics come with global and regional benchmarks, updated on a quarterly basis.

Programmatic is a game-changer for marketers and has transformed the digital advertising ecosystem. The efficiency, scale and reach it delivers has assured its growth, and this is set to continue in 2019. But with programmatic now becoming a digital pillar, the term itself has become less relevant and meaningful. In 2019, marketers need to focus on the actual business outcomes their digital advertising spend drives, rather than the nickname given to it.

While 2018 was the year consumers took back control of their data (thanks to GDPR), we also witnessed growing demand for more tailored content. So how do publishers and adtech balance these needs? The answer lies in their ability to harness machine learning (ML) technology, which can process large volumes of user data, creating easily digestible and engaging content and ads that are personalised to reflect user preferences and tailored to specific devices. With many companies seeing personalisation as the key to success, several are planning to implement AI. The impact that advanced ML can have across digital campaigns is undeniable, as it can monitor users’ behaviour patterns and deliver real-time insights, to help deliver more relevant programmatic ad campaigns. While 2018 shed plenty of light on AI and ML, products that perfectly fit the adtech industry are yet to see the light of day. The age of personalisation is here to stay and brands will be working smarter to ensure that their customers receive more relevant, contextual messaging informed by data and insights. Compliance with the EU’s GDPR was something that was planned at DMS and executed in the middle of last year across all our publishers, as we continue to build upon our partnership with Evidon (a GDPR compliance partner).

In 2019, users will cross paths with high-impact ad formats that delight and surprise them. Since we are not using the same technology as we did back in 1994 (when web ad banners started to surface), creative advertising platforms have come a long way, and will continue to evolve in 2019, making lazy static banners a thing of the past. Non-intrusive, engaging, rich-media formats will become the way of the future. As it stands, DMS is fully-geared today to deliver on these essentials and has started offering exceptional creative executions via Inskin and Justpremium, both on direct and programmatic buys.

A fresh focus on creative ad serving and targeting will unlock hidden potential. As brands continue to increase their focus on digital, the importance of creatives in the digital ecosystem will continue to rise. In 2019, we are also going to witness an increasing shift from adapting traditional creatives for digital to creating specifically for digital as part of a digital-first strategy. What is particularly exciting about this shift is that it will place the spotlight on specialists who focus on redefining the ‘digital creative experience’ to unlock fresh opportunities for brands. This adaptation will happen on the go with dynamic creative optimisers (DCOs) with high targeting capabilities.

The adtech scene will remain in perpetual growth and inevitably see vast changes. New marketing trends will surface year-on-year. Some of them will stay with us to reshape the industry, while others will fade away. Make sure you know how to distinguish each. Do your research and, when the day arrives, adapt.