At Cannes, publishers attempt to quell marketers’ open programmatic apostasy

Digiday covers the latest from marketing and media at the annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. More from the series →

Not that programmatic was ever really the belle of the Cannes Lions ball, but picture the situation this year: shrinking ad budgets in the open programmatic marketplace, the MFA controversy blowing up, domain spoofing concerns, Google delaying third-party deprecation (again). The list goes on.

Media execs hold close that they need to foster more direct sales, and took this week to do so in the South of France — schmoozing over rosé and concerts on the beach in casual encounters that they hope will pay off in signed contracts with advertisers later this year.

But they, too, concede that programmatic advertising remains a meaningful revenue stream for many of their businesses. And with publishers reporting a gradual undercurrent of media dollars shifting away from the open marketplace in favor of programmatic guaranteed deals and PMPs, addressing the above concerns with marketers was almost just as important as the creative conversations happening along the Croisette this year.

Even still, the conversation surrounding cookie depreciation felt like a Groundhog’s Day for publishers in a way that felt neither new nor unique — nor enlightening. In conversations on background in Cannes, publishers seemed quick to express their dismay with Google’s phaseout timeline — and what it’s offering the marketplace — while they touted their own data sets as things they’re excited about. Just another year around the sun.

Despite that, some publishers brought ad-tech representatives to Cannes Lions this year for the first time who could directly speak to advertisers’ cookie deprecation concerns.

Future’s head of ad ops was added to the roster of folks representing the company at Cannes this year, so the team’s sales conversations could include its programmatic capabilities. Ahead of the festival, Matt Trotta, svp of U.S., told Digiday that he expected to leave with a “really long to-do list and action items” tied to advertisers’ programmatic worries.

From the space The New York Times occupied across from the Palais in Cannes, Joy Robins, the Times’ global chief advertising officer, called programmatic “a really important part” of the business. She said the Times is focused on making the user experience for readers “premium,” touting that they work specifically with a select few “really high quality” DSPs to keep it so.

“We are working as we think about the loss of the signal just as much in the programmatic space as we are in the measurement space to make sure that we mitigate against loss,” Robins said, adding that it’s not just a focus on measurement for her team this year, but optimizing campaigns in real-time.

Forte, Vox Media’s first-party data platform, was one of the offerings that CRO Geoff Schiller’s team touted at Cannes this year in light of Google’s “will they, won’t they” approach to third-party cookie deprecation.

But as far as how programmatic ad spend is faring amid buy-side hesitancies, Schiller said that he’s definitely seen a “depression” in the open market.

“I think it’s a loss of faith in the actual system itself, with MFAs and all of the fraud and just the litany of issues. … But when you think about the open exchange, it’s kind of a free-for-all,” Schiller said, adding that there’s been a shift toward inquiries for programmatic guaranteed deals and PMP deals over open exchange.

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