The next battle in the programmatic wars: direct response vs. brand advertising

By John Snyder, CEO, Grapeshot

Previously in this space I introduced the notion of the “perfect impression,” as coined by Harry Kargman, CEO of Kargo, and jointly developed by MOAT CEO Jonah Goodhart and yours truly over cocktails at the recent Cannes Lions festival. The basic notion was that in a programmatic media environment, we couldn’t simply rely on the latest data-driven technology to drive results for marketers. The ability to identify and finely hone optimal audience segments is not enough for brands. They must also elevate the quality of the creative execution and redefine how we quantify the messaging in a context that emphasizes engagement.

This may sound like the beginnings of a manifesto for branding campaigns in digital advertising. In a basic sense, it is. What it is not is an argument for abolishing the direct response efforts that have been the foundational engine upon which the traditional online advertising industry has been built. Rather, my assertion is that direct response-driven, open RTB-based efforts, while not obsolete, can no longer be the primary engine that drives programmatic success.

I bring this up because I have detected a considerable amount of resistance from performance marketing people to the push to evolve the marketplace in a manner that will enhance the overall success of advertiser media plans in a more premium programmatic environment. At the heart of this new dynamic approach lies the quest for the perfect impression and the necessary pivot towards embracing strategies and metrics that emphasize greater consumer engagement over the instant tactical gratification of response-oriented efforts.

As can be expected, change is often uncomfortable and even scary for those who have relied on traditional methods whose importance intractable market forces are now diminishing. Technology is a relentless agent of change and in recent years has shaped a market that now is primed for true customer engagement.

Direct response-driven performance efforts will remain integral parts of future digital media plans, yet many in the performance realm are still resistant because they’re having difficulty wrapping their heads around the notion that buying the cheapest CPMs for the highest CPAs is no longer the be all and end all. The performance segment’s overall share of voice must be — and I predict will be — significantly calibrated downwards. All of the traditional performance metrics including CPMs, CPAs and cost-per-click (CPC) and click-through-rates (CTRs) will take a backseat to new currencies of measurement like time spent and brand affinity that more accurately capture consumer engagement.

Brand marketers and their demand-side partners (agencies, DSPs, et al.) are already weary because of the nonstop proliferation of shiny new toys in ad tech that they must constantly assess. By clinging to old habits out of fear and resentment, the performance community is adding to the confusion and distractions of their buy-side partners.

But at the end of the day, if the direct brigade clings to increasingly antiquated ideals and attempts to hijack the growth of premium programmatic, it will be not only short-sighted but ultimately futile. The forces have already been unleashed and the push towards premium programmatic cannot be derailed.

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