A direct-to-consumer pet food brand recently created new brand accounts on Facebook, Google and the other platforms where it buys media. With those accounts, the company spends a smaller account than its current agency does to run tests and track what’s working and what’s not. 

Doing so allows the brand to see what it takes to handle the back end dashboards across platforms and see what it would require to be in control those accounts — something that used to be the agency purview.

And for this brand, like many others, this is simply a first, necessary step to taking media buying in-house, something it says it eventually will do.

“The dashboards have gotten better over the past four to five years,” said a brand manager at the company. “It used to be that you’d have to go into Excel and change things. Now, everything is done through the dashboard. I could do it as part of my job if I really had to.” 

In recent years, back end dashboards across ad platforms like Facebook, Google, Amazon and more have been simplified and become more user-friendly, making it easier for brands to take capabilities like media buying in-house, according to marketers gathered at the Digiday Brand Summit in Napa, California this week. At the same time, brands want more control over those accounts as it helps them retain historical performance data and gives them more transparency into their media buying. It also makes a brand’s transition to media buying in-house or to a different agency much smoother. 

While going in-house gives brands the ownership of their data that they are looking for, the move to go in-house is not nearly as simple as it may seem. Going in-house requires in-house talent, more technological capabilities and hundreds of hours to get ad platform accounts back to the level of performance under agency control. It will also be different for each brand. Per Digiday+ research, 37% of marketers surveyed this past December were looking to take programmatic in-house and 35% were looking to take creative in-house in 2019.

Typically, big brands with larger budgets were simply too big to get that close to media spending, according to marketers. Now those bigger marketers, who hadn’t understood the machinations of running those accounts, are taking a closer look to get more transparency into their media buying practices and taking ownership of their accounts. 

“It doesn’t matter if doesn’t matter if it’s Facebook, Twitter, Google AdWords or Adobe, as a marketer I want to have control and own that in the same way I need the keys to my Instagram account,” said a marketer for a CPG giant. 

For that marketer, an experience with ad fraud by a former media agency made the company realize it needed to control its accounts instead of letting agencies take the reins. “I was asking for statistics and information from our media agency but they wouldn’t give us them,” said the marketer. 

“The numbers and the spends weren’t adding up; they wouldn’t provide me access,” he said. “Finally, they gave me the most basic analyst-level access. When I went in, I saw that the levels of spend and some of the metrics that they’d been reporting were very different than what they told us. That to me, that was a breach of contract.” 

Ultimately, the marketer switched agencies but it did so with the understanding that the accounts would be set up as if the company was bringing its programmatic buying in-house. What that means is that the company grants agency partners access rather than having agencies own the keys to the accounts. The CPG marketer is still working with agencies but considering going in-house; the decision will depend on the kind of talent and the labor required to go fully in-house. 

Facebook in particular has improved the dashboard experience for marketers with Business Manager. “Facebook is moving towards a much more simplified campaign architecture,” said the dog food marketer. “Facebook is moving toward CBO (campaign budget optimization) and it’s a simplistic set up with a look-a-like audience, a general audience and more targeting. You set those up and let Facebook decide where the budget goes. There’s less [for you to do for] optimization and less need for an agency, so you can bring it in-house.” 

It’s not a seamless transition. Marketers who set up new accounts will have tighter credit limits — sometimes as low as $500 at the beginning — as the accounts are new and the credit has to be built up. “When you go with an agency your credit limit is much higher,” said the CPG marketer. “That was a struggle to go and build that to set up directly. It requires a different set of terms, a different payment structure to set up [the business manager on the platform] as a vendor to pay them directly and it takes time to do that.” 

Marketers will also lose historical campaign performance data and deal with a lot of initial legwork to set up the accounts as well as  For one travel brand, switching agencies and setting up new accounts on the various platforms where it spends meant it lost its ability to track its campaign performance year-over-year. “We could track revenue but we couldn’t say in an absolute manner,” said the travel marketer, adding that over the last two years the company worked to take control of the accounts so that the company can have greater control over its data. 

“The wool is being pulled off people’s eyes,” said the CPG marketer.

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