CRO Brian Gleason on why Criteo is ‘not an ad network’

Criteo CEO Megan Clarken took charge in 2019, just weeks before Google confirmed that it was to hammer the final nail into the coffin of third-party cookies — a move that would end ad retargeting as we know it.

Historically known as the industry’s go-to retargeting tool, Criteo has since embarked upon an acquisition strategy, with the 2021 purchase of Mabaya, building on its 2016 investment in HookLogic — an ad exchange where brands can buy ads on e-commerce sites. More recently, Criteo’s purchase of IPONWEB was approved, a move some deem crucial to bolstering its footprint on Madison Avenue.

Criteo made these moves to capitalize on the emerging retail media sector, where the likes of Amazon Advertising, Microsoft’s PromoteiQ and Publicis Groupe’s CitrusAd will prove stiff competition.

Another key component of Criteo’s retail media strategy has been the appointment of long-time GroupM exec Brian Gleason as its chief revenue officer. He spoke with Digiday about Criteo’s plans to integrate IPONWEB, win over Madison Avenue and compete with Big Tech.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Can you explain Criteo’s commerce media platform and its traction with media agencies?

It all began with the HookLogic acquisition, as what you had was the fragmentation of retail [media] and then at the center of it was Criteo’s platform.

Most people didn’t know Criteo in that space but they slowly began to capture share and build a platform with agencies, if you look at our agency-spend it’s now significant. This is because if you want to get to any retailers then you’re coming in through the front end of our stack.

A lot of people would characterize Criteo as an ad network. How would you convince them otherwise?

At the inception [of Criteo] the business model was certainly very different…two years ago they changed that model to go 100% self-service [as opposed to managed service buys] where they introduced the platform.

There’s really two sides to our business, there’s what I’d call the true platform-play which is what I’d call our enterprise focus — the largest retailers brands, advertisers and agencies in the world and we provide connectivity.

It’s a similar model to Google…where you have DV360 which is a very different use case compared to Performance Max.
Brian Gleason, CRO, Criteo

And now…when you go into the front end, you pay on a platform fee, the same way that you would with The Trade Desk or Google DV 360 where it’s a transparent fee model – there’s no network play on that side of the business at all.

So, Criteo is not an ad network by any shape or form. The difference is you have maturity cycles that are different. The retailer pays an SSP or ad serving fee which is completely transparent, you have the brand of the agency pays a DSP fee which, again, is completely transparent. So, it’s a platform model.

On the other side of our business is customer acquisition and retention [through retargeting]. It’s a similar model to Google, just as a comparison, where you have DV360 which is a very different use case compared to Performance Max.

We’ve got 20,000 clients that are again, focused predominantly on acquisition retention, and we’ve got the remaining that are focused on the true enterprise platform and the advantages they play.

Can you explain the plan for IPONWEB and how it will develop Criteo’s retail media strategy?

The IPONWEB acquisition gives us the chops to provide connectivity in two ways.

The SSP MediaGrid on the back end which gives us access to off-site [ad inventory]. For most retailers, their audiences are small or in isolation, so you need to be able to scale them, and that’s what IPONWEB has done well with curation.

It also helps us on the front end, where brands have asked if they can use the full power of Criteo’s recommendation engine, audience graph or optimization capabilities, even if they don’t have a client selling product on a particular retailer’s site.

IPONWEB helps us enable that, so, all of a sudden you can access our audiences and measurement across the top…when I think about commerce media, you get retail plus performance marketing.

How is Criteo different from the retail media offerings of Big Tech players like Amazon or Microsoft?

If you’re looking to be able to address your retail channel, most brand and agencies have Amazon for their distribution, and then they also have everybody else whether you’re Target, Walgreen’s, CVS, Macy’s or Nordstrom.

Most agencies and large brands are going to Amazon [for distribution and its retail media], and this is where we’re seeing the biggest uplift…Criteo unites everybody else [as a media platform], so we think we’re complementary to Amazon.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Microsoft, there’s no question, but PromoteIQ is a small component of their overall advertising offering. You look at what they’ve done with Netflix, which is massive, they’ve got the gaming acquisition, and then they’re going to have to figure out what to do with their Yahoo relationship [plus Xandr], so it’s just a component of what they do.

Whereas if you look at our market share, we have 50% of the top retailers in the world, so while PromoteIQ is an interesting proposition, it’s more of a point solution at this point. At Criteo, this is what we do every day, nobody knows customer retention and acquisition better than us, this is our DNA in terms of what we do.

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