What attracted you to Smart AdServer?
Michael Nevins: I’m attracted to opportunities where I can take companies that are successful in one territory or segment and help grow the business in adjacent whitespace or new territories. Smart provided that type of opportunity in terms of global expansion and new market segments. I also enjoy being a challenger and building brands. That opportunity doesn’t exist at the well-established players in our space.
Sylvain Piquet: The supply side / publisher side of ad tech has been the most innovative part of the ecosystem over the last couple of years with the emergence of new topics and technologies (eg. Header Bidding, in-app advertising, etc.). Within that space, Smart is a very respected player with major focus on R&D and product innovation. It’s extremely strong in mobile and one of the few truly global players in the SSP segment.
Joseph Lospalluto: Smart’s culture was a major deciding factor in my decision to join. A lot of folks in the industry talk about culture, but few live by their words.
How is it different than your average ad tech company?
JL: The fundamentals we live by are what sets us apart. We believe in offering publishers a fully transparent, data agnostic, flexible tech stack that can be molded to fit their needs.
MN: Smart grew out of a premium publisher (Aufeminin / Axel Springer). The product suite was built purely to serve publishers and to help them grow their businesses. We provide great opportunity for advertisers, but we have no inherent conflicts of interest and are 100% transparent with our clients. These are strong advantages for Smart, especially in the US market where publishers are becoming increasingly skeptical about some of the long-established players’ conflicts and have concerns about data leakage.
There’s been a lot of talk about quality lately, on both the sell-side and buy-side. Why is this such an important issue right now?
MN: Quality has actually been an issue for a long time, especially among brand advertisers. Traditional ad networks evolved in order to provide the scale that big advertisers needed. That was great, but sensitive brands quickly became concerned about — and sometimes embarrassed by — where their ads were appearing. There are many stories of CMOs screaming at their agencies and agencies screaming at networks when an digital ad showed up on the wrong website or adjacent to objectionable content.
As programmatic has matured to account for roughly 78% of all digital spending, most brand advertisers have jumped in. But the programmatic ecosystem has become more complex and history has repeated itself.
SP: In fact, over the last couple of years, programmatic display has grown much faster than the industry average, as buyers are looking for scale and performance and moving to audience-based strategies. However, automated technologies have also driven new serious issues for brands related to poor quality blind inventory, ad fraud, bot traffic, etc.
JL: Quality has always been top of mind for advertisers and publishers alike, but, this focus got pushed to the side as the industry swung too far in the direction of pure programmatic efficiency that focused on keeping costs low. Now advertisers are realizing that in programmatic, creative messaging with a focus on context, time, and place is as important if not more important than cost.
MN: Basically, the pendulum is swinging back the other way and big spenders (P&G comes to mind) have put the industry on notice: Quality matters and we won’t stand for anything less. Fraud and overall waste in ad tech has eroded the trust of our industry’s most important client: Advertisers. As a result, this is a critical issue for both buyers and sellers. The truth is that many in our industry have known this all along, but we had no incentive to change. Make no mistake: Quality matters and we need to fix it.
And where does Smart stand in terms of quality?
MN: Quality is core to our brand. It always has been, even before it was topical in the industry. We see this as a critical challenge to our entire industry so we’ve taken some big steps. We have a full-time dedicated Quality team, Chief Quality Officer, have established very strong quality policies and deployed both proprietary and industry leading technology to protect both buyers and sellers.
JL: To that end, we scrutinize and vet the means with which inventory is being acquired and put into the marketplace. We fully support the IAB ads.txt initiative, a method for publishers and resellers to declare the companies they authorize to sell their digital inventory. By publicly showing record of Authorized Digital Sellers, ads.txt helps to prevent counterfeit inventory and to improve transparency. In addition our, partnerships with our ad verification partners, IAS and Fraudlogix, allow us to provide quality, brand safe inventory to buyers.
What three words or phrases would you choose to describe the future of ad tech?
Where will the industry be in two years?
JL: The future of the ad tech industry is a march towards transparency across the board. Publishers and Advertisers are rightfully beginning to question the partners they are working with, ensuring that their allegiance is tied to the goals of the partnership and not a self serving play to collect on both sides of the transaction. In two years, there will no longer be silos in which audiences are bought and sold, rather transactions will be based on audience, not impressions, with creative decisioning occurring in real time, pertinent to the environment the user is consuming media in. Ad technology platforms and data will be tied to not only create decisions based on ads, but to provide session-level optimizations on the media the ads surround.
SP: Programmatic is here to stay, however with great power comes great responsibility. The industry will continue to focus on improving the quality of inventory sources and ad formats. Brands have recently demonstrated that they do not hesitate to sacrifice volumes in order to guarantee brand safety and good user experience. At the end of the day publishers, advertisers and regulatory bodies share a common strategic objective, which is to keep sponsoring the free Internet via responsible and user-friendly advertising, in the mobile age.
MN: There is already a trend for publishers to better control their destinies and they will need a holistic view and better control of their direct and programmatic sales channels. The same is true for the relationship with their loyal audiences. They need to have a full view and control of how they address their audience across multiple screens as well.