Emodo COO: AI Is Where We’re Continuing to Focus

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As the mobile adtech division of the telecom giant Ericsson, Emodo is placing a major emphasis on AI-driven performance and personalization in programmatic advertising this year. The company is also doubling down on innovations around optimization, especially as it relates to targeting, innovative formats, and unique inventory. At the head of all these initiatives is Damian McKenna, a product and technology veteran who now serves as Emodo’s chief operating officer.

In his position at the helm of Emodo, McKenna has been tasked with building a two-sided marketplace that’s both future-proofed and privacy-safe — no small feat, to say the least. He’s also responsible for developing relationships with publishers and growing Emodo’s investment in products that deliver better results for its partners.

Street Fight recently caught up with McKenna to find out what’s behind Emodo’s recent decision to expand its leadership team, while so many other tech players are contracting, and how the company is leveraging AI to improve its ID-less targeting capabilities. Here’s what he had to say.

Q. Emodo is clearly in growth mode, hiring some big names like Rajeev Tyagi (formerly Yahoo’s Head of Products) as your new Chief of Product. In your view, why is Emodo expanding while so many of your competitors are contracting?

A. Thank you! It’s exciting and we are thrilled to have Rajeev and our amazing product managers on board. I attribute our growth to three things. 

First, we have an incredible team of smart, dedicated people who are committed to making advertising work better for all. Second, we listen to our customers; we hear their needs and build towards solving for them. Scaling our exchange is simply a byproduct of scaling value for our customers. Finally, our strategy is in line with where the industry is headed: we offer a two-sided marketplace that delivers value to both the buy and sell side, innovative AI-optimized creative formats that perform, and future-proofed and privacy-safe audience targeting capabilities that enable advertisers to continue to reach customers in an impactful way.

Q. Why was it important to bring in someone like Rajeev, in particular, who has so much experience in AI-driven performance? 

A. Even before AI became such a buzzword, thanks in part to ChatGPT, Emodo was incredibly focused on the importance and the power of AI-driven solutions. In fact, we’ve been honing our AI engine and modeling capabilities since the days we were Placecast; our data science and AI technology was one of the reasons Ericsson acquired Placecast. 

We’ve continued to evolve and innovate around how to leverage AI and we’re now doing so to improve our audience and ID-less targeting capabilities, to optimize dynamic creative formats against performance KPIs, and to improve and verify our supply offerings. AI truly underpins many of our current solutions and offerings and is exactly where we’re continuing to focus and innovate. 

We loved Rajeev’s extensive use of AI in driving value for advertisers, publishers and users; experience in building a multibillion-dollar native advertising business; and deep domain expertise in building large scale advertising platforms. We’re excited for Rajeev to lead the team in building upon our past and setting the vision for our future.

Q. What role do you see AI having at Emodo, or in programmatic more broadly, in the coming months and years? 

A. While we’ve seen incredible advancements in machine learning and data science over the last several years, the fever-pitch around AI in adtech right now has kicked interest, investment and innovation into high gear. At Emodo, we see the biggest value in leveraging AI to power unique, dynamic, high-performant creative formats; to make targeting more accurate and scaled as IDs continue to deprecate; and to make buying and selling more efficient in our exchange through advanced AI-driven capabilities like smarter traffic management, next generation KPI optimization, and dynamic yield management.

Q. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing your industry right now, and how is Emodo working to overcome those obstacles? 

A. Like AI, supply-path optimization is a hot topic. Many people think it means eliminating the middlemen to find the most direct route to inventory. But it’s more nuanced than that. What it really means is eliminating redundancy by offering unique value and providing the most direct route to that value. At Emodo we are, of course, concentrating on developing more direct, unique relationships with publishers. But we’re also providing value by innovating around unique creative formats, creating richer, smarter, and better performing ad experiences coupled with our AI-driven audiences that deliver great impact for everyone. 

Another challenge is the economic downturn. There is a clear shift in advertiser and consumer spend and behavior due to the continued economic downturn. We are seeing that buyers are more conscious about where and how they are spending their budgets. They’re demanding more value and we’re already focused here. 

At Emodo, we view this as a great opportunity to showcase what we are fundamentally about: delivering impact. We are using AI to scale high impact, efficient buying opportunities in our marketplace for agencies and advertising. We’re creating advertising that is more memorable. We’re accelerating investment and innovation in products that are going to deliver better results for our partners.

Q. You’ve mentioned your plans to scale Emodo’s exchange by enhancing your DSP and SSP platform capabilities. What else do you have in store? What should we be watching out for? 

A. We are so excited about the market’s positive reception to our proprietary, AI-driven native format, Adapt. It has grown exponentially since its launch last year and we have a robust roadmap of new formats and further innovation in Adapt coming in the second half of the year. 

We’ve also been doing a lot of work to enhance and update the UI and functionality of Activate, our DSP, and we have exciting product enhancements to our audience targeting capabilities, which we’ll be launching Q3 and Q4. Our goal is to continue to develop and deliver products that solve client challenges, add value and impact, and create more memorable connections between advertisers, publishers, and consumers.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.