How Vox is embracing programmatic advertising

Vox Media was once as skeptical as any publisher to fully hand over its ad business to the uncertainties of programmatic advertising.

Now, it has found a way to leverage the tools of automation while maintaining the control of direct selling — and preserve its high direct ad rates. It does this through private marketplaces and now programmatic guaranteed.

“The evolution of programmatic into the guaranteed space makes it more like the craft business, but you still have the benefits of efficiency of programmatic,” said Joe Alicata, vp of product and revenue at Vox Media.

Vox wouldn’t say what percentage of ads it sells through programmatic channels, but it started offering programmatic guaranteed in the past six months by taking part in a Google pilot program. The online publisher has done about a dozen such deals with brands so far, Alicata said.

Vox uses the same 20-odd-person sales force to sell direct and programmatic across its eight Web properties, which include, SB Nation and The Verge. It’s using Google DoubleClick for programmatic guaranteed. It runs private marketplace sales through Rubicon Project and Google’s AdX, and Krux is its data-management platform.

Vox also has an in-house ad-creation platform it calls Hymnal, which builds multimedia display ads.

The company also is embracing header bidding through private marketplaces, which is a method of driving value from ad inventory by offering it on more than one exchange at the same time.

The ad rates are the same whether bought through programmatic guaranteed or direct, Alicata said. He wouldn’t say what the rates were, but The Verge is known to charge up to $27 CPMs on display ads and more than $50 for some video ads.

It’s no wonder the publisher would want to support keeping those prices. The average cost for 1,000 views is about $10 for most display ads, according to eMarketer.

“Rates should not go down just because something’s automated,” Nick Illobre, a programmatic division director at Merkle. “That doesn’t change the value of what I’m buying.”

Since Vox has taken a more high-touch approach to programmatic, and through the new guaranteed process, the company is still able to sell mostly premium inventory — page takeovers, rich-media display ads, branded content and video. Programmatic could still raise Vox’s pricing, if it can add audience guarantees to the mix.

“Publishers have to understand who the people are that come to their site, and the more background they have on them, the better it is to monetize that ad inventory,” Illobre said.