GDPR is giving new life to programmatic guaranteed deals

Much as contextual targeting is experiencing a rebirth due to the arrival of the General Data Protection Regulation, ad-buyer demand for programmatic guaranteed deals is also increasing for some publishers.

This method of ad buying, in which an advertiser can match its first-party data with relevant publisher audience data on an automated basis but pre-agree terms at a fixed price, has been slow to gain traction because the technology is still relatively nascent among demand-side platforms and supply-side platforms. But the pressure some advertisers still feel around GDPR-compliant ad buying is spurring an increased interest in programmatic guaranteed deals, according to ad tech executives. Some DSPs and SSPs are also pushing their own development of the tech, in order to meet the increasing demand, they say.

One major U.K. publisher has seen more programmatic guaranteed deals in the first quarter of this year, compared to the previous two years.

“That’s because of GDPR pressure,” said an executive at the same publisher. “Agencies that are a little bit nervous [about GDPR compliance] and clients that aren’t sure what their agencies are doing are asking for programmatic guaranteed buys. In general, the pressure is coming from clients rather than the agencies.”

Another digital publisher has also seen an influx of programmatic guaranteed deals, particularly for video. In the last six months of 2017, the publisher sold just over 40 percent of its video inventory via programmatic guaranteed deals. From January to June this year, that has spiked to more than 70 percent, according to the publisher.

“We’ve seen an uplift of over 1,000 percent from January to today in our pipeline — put into context, we’ve gone from £80,000 ($105,000) in our pipeline to over seven figures,” said an executive from the publisher. It has also seen a decent uplift for display-bought programmatic guaranteed deals, though less noticeable than video, according to the publisher.

Programmatic guaranteed deals have often been reserved for scarce inventory because advertisers are willing to pay more to target a very specific audience.

“GDPR has clearly increased that scarcity, and as the market matures with programmatic guaranteed, we’re clearly seeing an increase of such deals,” said Guillaume Périé, head of programmatic for Europe at Reuters.

Using third-party data to scale audience buys has been a go-to ad-targeting method for years. But GDPR, which requires users to agree to their personal data being used for personalized ad targeting, has rendered the use of third-party data — the source of which isn’t always clear — risky for advertisers. The result is that some advertisers want to dodge it entirely, for now. One byproduct of that jitteriness has been a spike in contextual targeting methods, where ads are targeted to individuals based on the context of what they’re looking at on page rather than on personal behavioral data.

“GDPR has accelerated the need for buyers to build tighter relationships with premium publishers as they have become the gatekeepers of consent,” said Paul Gubbins, programmatic lead at News UK-owned video network Unruly. “Programmatic guaranteed as a buying model removes many of the imperfections that exist in private marketplaces such as dynamic pricing and fluctuating impression volumes.”

When advertisers buy directly from a publisher via programmatic guaranteed deals, they can negotiate with that publisher and ask more informed questions, such as how they have extracted user consent and what consent-management platform they’re using, according to Gubbins. “It’s hard to get that visibility from vendors who aggregate lots of assumed data,” he added.

Many publishers have been advocates of programmatic guaranteed methods for some time, partly because they treat such deals like direct-sold campaigns, meaning they get much higher priority in the publisher’s ad server and so can charge higher premiums. But also because private marketplaces can fall short when it comes to providing enough scale — something that can also frustrate agencies.

“Post-GDPR, we’ve seen an increase in programmatic guaranteed,” said Pete Edwards, chief strategy officer at media agency group Engine. “It’s a more reliable and quality source of inventory, albeit with some price ramifications, but it does allow buyers to process and audit data more effectively.”

Other agencies are also warming more to programmatic guaranteed as a useful option that still lets them apply data-driven techniques to media planning and buying decisions, against quality inventory, at low GDPR-breach risk.

“While contextual buying provides the advantage of being in the right space at the right time, premium inventory deals such as programmatic guaranteed provide us with the predictability in volume and security in quality of media placements for our clients,” said Matthew Landeman, client managing director of Carat.

However, agencies under pressure to keep their cost per acquisition down will always be on the hunt for ways to overlay their data at cheaper CPMs than programmatic guaranteed typically offers, said one publisher.

“We’ll benefit from it in the short term. But agency trading desks won’t like it,” said one publishing executive. “Agencies don’t see programmatic guaranteed as true programmatic. But we’re seeing some advertisers that are still nervous, so we will benefit from it until the agencies find other ways to keep using third-party data targeting.”

That said, some publishers believe GDPR is shifting the dynamic between publishers and agencies for the better.

“There has been a change in stance from agencies,” said a publishing executive. “It’s a much more open dialogue than previously, especially in programmatic. Previously, we’d be ignored as soon as we mentioned our CPM rates. They would just buy around us.”

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