How TUI built a European-wide programmatic strategy

Creating a cohesive ad tech strategy is hard for multinational businesses when the markets and operations are fragmented. That’s the challenge for German-headquartered tourism company TUI, which is trying to get all nine of its European markets on the same page when it comes to programmatic trading.

The goal is to reduce its reliance on paid search and figure out which channels to credit sales to so it can refine its ad spending, particularly in social and programmatic. As a sprawling company with a $10 billion market cap, TUI had the resources to take much of its operations in-house.

The U.K. team is leading the effort. Digital marketing boss (and former Google exec) Dan Robb has added five senior specialists in analytics, attribution, search and social marketing and programmatic trading. One is Sammy Austin, media director for Europe and former head of programmatic for comparison site MoneySupermarket, one of the first U.K. brands to develop an in-house trading desk. Her job is to create a programmatic advertising road map for TUI’s markets: the U.K., Germany, Nordics, Netherlands, Poland, France, Belgium and Switzerland.

“It’s really hard for us to justify and understand the value that programmatic is bringing to the beginning of the [customer] journey because we measure everything on last click,” she said. “We’ve also previously worked in silos across Europe.”

Here’s a breakout of its approach.

European markets vary in sophistication when it comes to their adoption of programmatic advertising. The U.K. and the Netherlands tend to lead the pack. Programmatic spending is rising, but there’s still an education gap among marketers. According to an IAB report released yesterday, 44 percent of marketers admitted they don’t really understand it.

To make sure TUI is not one of them, it’s putting senior marketing team members through workshops to be taken through the approach. Procurement and finance teams will be involved as well.

Using programmatic for branding 
Programmatic was initially associated with performance advertising, but increasingly it’s being eyed as a branding vehicle. TUI is using cross-device attribution tools to decide how much to use programmatic this way, Austin said. The idea is to see how programmatic ads can play higher up the purchase funnel, and invest accordingly. It’s also testing what dimensions of creative messaging works.

Uncreepy targeting
Austin is investing in data that makes its ads more personally relevant, sequential and properly frequency-capped. That means using first-party and off-line figures such as CRM data and, where useful, third-party data to serve the right messaging.

Austin wants to increase its use of second-party data. Examples of active second-party data usage are few and far between, because for it to work, publishers and advertisers have to agree to swap certain desired customer data segments, and not everyone is willing to do that.

“I think second-party data is a massive opportunity, particularly because I don’t really trust third-party data,” she said. “You never know where it has been sourced from.”

Combating ad blocking
Ad blocking, fraud and ad misplacement are other high priorities for TUI. It’s working to make sure that the ads it serves are relevant and frequency-capped and that it’s not retargeting people who have already purchased holidays. It’s also spending more on native ads that can be served programmatically. That’s not because native ads can’t be blocked (they can) but because research has shown consumers are more favorable to that form of advertising, Austin said.

Ensuring ads are seen by humans is an imperative for all brands, and TUI is figuring out what level of viewability it requires. The industry standard says that 50 percent of an ad must be in view for one second in the case of display ads and two seconds for video ads. Austin said that’s not enough, given the nature of its product, trips, which require a long thought-process for the consumer.

“We’re working through it now,” she said. “We may decide, for example, it’ll be 75 percent for one second, or 50 percent for five seconds.”

Image courtesy of TUI

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