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‘Expertise within the four walls’: Why Lenovo decided now’s the time to in-house a key bit of ad tech

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Lenovo’s marketing team doesn’t shy away from challenges, that’s for sure. After all, managing your own ad server isn’t budget-friendly or a simple endeavor. However, as the saying goes, nothing valuable comes without effort, and an ad server is undeniably valuable to a certain type of advertiser — the type that can’t see a way forward without one.

“We wanted to be able to control all of our [ad serving] data to have that level of transparency to be able to understand what’s happening across the different GEOs where we’re investing our marketing dollars,” said Rick Corteville, executive lead for Lenovo’s global media center of excellence

So the electronics business named Adform as its main ad server — a first for Lenovo’s marketing folks. Previously, they simply followed their agency’s choice for an ad server. While that approach may have been stress-free, Lenovo’s marketers never truly felt in control of how their ad campaigns were being managed.

This is what happens when the same campaigns are run through multiple ad servers. It’s like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces, because different ad servers track different kinds of data in various parts of the world at different speeds. Or to put it another way, Lenovo’s campaigns weren’t receiving the comprehensive tracking they needed.

“Making the switch meant that if we really wanted to go into the weeds on how our advertising was working, we could get what we felt was a complete picture without having to go to several different sources to try and cobble something together,” said Corteville.

This kind of setup could be a game-changer, especially as audience buying faces restrictions. The more this happens, the stronger the demand for places where this type of buying can still happen, primarily directly from publishers. In such a scenario, having an ad server becomes crucial for centralized campaign measurement, verification and attribution across these sites.

“We’re seeing more and more advertisers being concerned about how much access they have to data on their advertising, which isn’t just about what’s happening to third-party addressability, it’s also about the walled gardens themselves,” said Rick Jones, Adform’s regional president for Western Europe. “That ability to access data at the granular level is uniquely provided by ad serving data, as well as things like CRM and contextual data.”

For many businesses, the hassle just isn’t worth it. Setting up an ad server can be expensive, and it’s a time-consuming process, especially if marketers are replacing an existing one. That means ripping out and swapping out the current tracking setup. And let’s not forget about the months it takes to get the hang of this new approach and data. Clearly, Lenovo’s marketers are no-pain, no-gain enthusiasts. 

“What we’ve done [with this deal] is take a step toward being able to leverage the data that’s being generated from our digital advertising and connect it to the overall ecosystem that we have in place,” said Corteville

And this ecosystem spans across Adform’s buy-side ad server, various agency-run demand-side platforms for programmatic bids, and Adobe’s data management platform. Notably, Lenovo holds the contracts for many of those ad technologies, granting its marketers access rights to everything from pricing information to valuable data. The plan is to expand and strengthen these relationships in the future.

“We’ve been working with our agencies to really maximize our investments in our DSPs but as we continue to build on our strategy we’re looking at partners that we can have more direct partnership with,” said Corteville. “Yes, our DSPs are still done via our agency partners but one of the things we’ve started doing is creating more joint media partnerships at a global level with some of the larger players in the industry.”

The introduction of an ad server is just a piece of the larger puzzle in Lenovo’s strategy, which began about 18 months ago. This is when the business put together a center of excellence within its global media team. The marketers in this center were given the important task of finding a more efficient way to allocate Lenovo’s online advertising budget. These dollars had grown to a significant portion of the company’s overall ad budget. 

“Digital has become such a big component of our media allocation that having people who have that sort of experience was key in order to guide our investments moving forward,” said Corteville. “We felt it was better to have that expertise within the four walls of Lenovo versus being reliant on different partners.”

This points to a larger trend, although it’s happening a bit gradually, where advertisers are taking more control over their investments.

“There’s been a really interesting change in the industry over the last couple of years where the level of education has balanced between agencies, tech providers and clients,” Clare Ritchie, svp of global programmatic and in-housing at Omnicom Media Group, said at an event hosted by New Digital Age last month. “There’s been so much investment into knowledge that we’re actually at a point where we’re having really interesting conversations, some of which for us are client-led, sometimes it’s tech-led and at other times it’s a partnership. That’s been a long time coming.”

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