What Makes for a Great Demand Side Platform?

Anyone in adtech could be forgiven for failing to be able to explain the distinctions among the leading DSPs. As technologies mature, capabilities become commodities, and it becomes more difficult for a single player to stand out from the crowd.

I spoke with Jon Schulz, CMO of the DSP Viant, to answer precisely this question. That is, what makes for a great DSP? What do clients want from DSPs? What are the space’s major outstanding problems? And where are DSPs heading?

Here are five reflections on DSPs based on our conversation.

Autonomous advertising is the way of the future

Everyone in adtech knows that identity is a big issue and that DSPs will need to provide solutions to enable powerful targeting and measurement as mobile IDs and third-party cookies go away. But DSPs also face pressure to make digital advertising at scale easier, not just more effective. Viant sees “autonomous advertising” as emerging to meet this need.

“The feedback we get consistently is, ‘Make it easier,'” Schulz said. “When we win clients, what we hear is, ‘You guys pick up the phone when we call. You support us.’ Because of the great resignation, because these companies struggle to hire the talent they need, if we can be velvet glove or hand over the keys and you can drive it yourself, we’re helping clients ease into it.”

Making advertising easier, then, could take two forms, and Viant tries to make both available to clients. One approach involves more help from the DSP, something many technology providers may struggle to offer at scale. The other entails autonomous advertising, or letting automation handle campaign planning and optimization so that agency talent can focus on more creative tasks.

“Our long-term vision is you type in the dates of the campaign, the amount of money you want to spend, and the KPI you want to optimize for, and you hit go. The software does everything else. That’s where we’re driving to. Make it easier on the programmatic trader,” Schulz said.

Proponents of autonomous advertising, or automating campaign management in general, argue that automation will free up advertising professionals to devote more time to strategy and creative tasks, which truly differentiate one agency from another.

Omnichannel is table stakes

In the olden days, advertising partners could focus on one channel and call it a niche. No longer.

“Everyone was niche back in the day; they did one channel really well. You have to be fully omnichannel now,” Schulz said. “The big advertisers want DOOH, streaming audio, desktop, mobile, [and] CTV. You need to be able to find the audience wherever the audience is.”

The third-party cookie is already dead

The cookie isn’t dying; it’s already dead, Schulz says. Viant says less than 25% of bid requests the company monitors contain the third-party cookie, so, in practice, the industry has already moved beyond it. That means anyone still relying on the third-party cookie is already falling behind the pack.

“We have a proprietary household ID we use,” Schulz said of Viant’s approach. “It’s present 70 to 80% of the time in the bidstream today. We were able to make that pivot away from cookies into a household approach, which is a right fit for the TV and emerging CTV environment.”

Advertisers want OTT because that’s where audiences are

It is common knowledge that OTT is the big craze in digital advertising right now. But that’s not a capricious choice on the part of DSPs or advertisers, Schulz says. It’s because that’s where audiences are heading.

“Where the investment is going is in streaming platforms: Disney, Paramount, Netflix. They’re the ones investing billions of dollars in content, and so that’s where the audiences are.”

DSPs need to help with cross-platform frequency and reach

A fifth and final reflection on the state of DSPs is that they need to help advertisers with cross-platform frequency and reach, especially in the TV ecosystem. This is one of the arguments for working with DPSs instead of doing direct deals with publishers. DSPs can establish transparency across the TV landscape and make sure advertisers aren’t bludgeoning the same viewer with eight daily showings of the same ad.

So, why is the CTV advertising experience so horrible? I told Schulz that as an adtech writer, I routinely sit in front of my CTV and puzzle over how to explain to friends why they are seeing the same insurance commercial more than a dozen times in a day while watching a few hours of CTV.

“There are three constituents: the consumer, the advertiser, the publisher,” Schulz said of the CTV viewing experience. “The publisher is the one we’re trying to engage to improve the experience because as long as there’s an ad in that pod, they’re getting paid. But as the advertiser, you don’t want to show the consumer the ad four times. And certainly as the consumer, you hate that experience.”

This is not to say publishers want to overexpose consumers to ads, Schulz cautioned. It’s just that the publisher has a less urgent incentive to better manage frequency.

The DSP, as the intermediary between media buyers and sellers, is in a prime position to tackle the CTV frequency problem. Hopefully, while advancing autonomous advertising, improving targeting and measurement, and coordinating omnichannel campaigns, they can do just that, so that I never again have to see 10 ads featuring Rob Gronkowksi in a single day.

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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Joe is an ad/martech veteran who has covered the space since 2015 and regularly consults with companies in the space on content and communications. You can contact him at jzappa@streetfightmag.com.
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