“We think standards should be dead; standards have held back the industry for years,” says ReactX CEO Chip Meyers. “Thank goodness the leaderboard and skyscraper are finally going to the grave – there’s no money in them; the brands don’t want to use them; and publishers are getting rid of them left and right.”
Sad but true: programmatic has been limited by its reliance on standard units, even ones as fun and funky as IAB’s Rising Stars. Complex, high-impact units (think rich media and video) tend to fall under the purview of direct sales because they require custom integrations and seemingly endless rounds of testing. Constant hand-holding equals a lack of automation, depriving elaborate branded executions the glory of scale.
Meyers suggests this is a major reason massive offline budgets are only trinkling into the digital space: “There’s a creative problem in programmatic – a bunch of brands have talked about it. Until the creative problem is solved, programmatic – and really, RTB – won’t truly take off.”
ReactX was founded with the idea of bringing non-standard custom and rich media units into RTB streams. The original name of the company, Skinected, referenced the ability to sell skins on an RTB basis; as the company pushed further into non-standard units, the name was actually limiting. (And, yeah, some of the filthy-minded out there thought Skinected was related to porn.)
Typically if an agency has some crazy custom creative for a campaign, it will send out RFPs to maybe 100 popular sites. After some of these pubs give the thumbs up, the conversations start between development, tech and other departments regarding integration and execution. But what if you could bypass that, and instead target audiences across thousands of sites via RTB to receive your mondo creative?
It’s not the stuff of science fiction – Meyers says ReactX enables RTB buys to be “format agnostic.” Its technology determines browser type, screen size, presence of iframes, kind of device and more, basically certifying publishers and placements in real-time. Once understanding how a placement will look to a user in real-time, ReactX can determine how an ad can be displayed properly within milliseconds.
“When I talk to anyone, initially they’re incredulous – ‘How do you do this?’” Meyers says. “We’ve spent the last three-plus years, 10,000 hours working on how to display non-standard ads in real time.”
It works for responsive sites as well – ReactX has just launched an HTML5 creative builder that enables a single creative to be appropriately displayed across desktop, mobile and tablet. And viewability is actually baked in to the buys.
“That’s a byproduct of our tech – we didn’t set out to be a viewability measurer,” says Meyers. “It’s either 100% viewable or we kill the auction before it starts.”
Basically a platform-side integration with ReactX removes the need for manual verification of creative by publishers. An audit tool allows buyers to check their creative before entering the exchange. Then by piggybacking tags remotely, ReactX code “hitches a free ride” onto existing ad server code and site placements. For example, a 350X250 unit on a site with an AppNexus tag could host ReactX-enabled creative without any ReactX code ever appearing on the page.
“We actually prefer publishers not place our tag on their sites,” Meyers comments. “Many times code gets changed or something happens and the code is no longer there.”
However, ReactX doesn’t go chasing waterfalls – it can’t break through multiple layers of auctions. A direct relationship (e.g., SSP) with the owner of the placement is required to deliver non-standard ads. So while Meyers evangelizes to pubs, agencies and brands directly, ReactX integrates with intermediaries – watch for a slew of coming partnership announcements with SSPs, DSPs and exchanges.
This is not to say that publishers have no say in how ReactX operates. Because the company’s technology is truly intermediary, knowledge of its publisher-facing tools has been limited. Today marks the launch of advanced supply-side controls related to ad positioning, geo-specific price floors, frequency monitoring and more. Many of these were specifically requested by ReactX current publisher partners.
“We’ve always been a publisher-friendly technology, but we haven’t promoted all the features you can leverage with our publisher tools,” Meyers says.
Race to the Top?
On the programmatic front, talk of programmatic direct and private exchanges has shoved boring old open RTB out of the headlines. Well, not entirely – open RTB has mainly been in the news because of the bot menace and widespread questionable traffic on the exchanges. So what’s it gonna take to make open RTB sexy again? Creative seems a good bet.
At an AppNexus/CPXi event recently, I tweeted this quote, “Programmatic media is the norm; creative production needs to keep up.” While automated transactional technology has come a long way, nothing much has changed on the creative front.
Now’s the time for innovation, particularly since advertisers are gobbling up digital video following the introduction of panel-based metrics to the channel. As we’ve commented before, pre-roll is not the be-all and end-all of video – in fact, ReactX considers video merely a component of “high-impact ads.”
RTB has two central tenets: transactional efficiency and targeting audiences across the wealth of the Internet. It’s arguable that open RTB has been stuck in the direct-response darklands (retargeter’s paradise) because creative options have been limited. High-impact ads (with video that can be measured with panel-based metrics) traded through the exchanges already score impressive clearing prices, and could be the rising tide that lifts all digital boats.
First, brands pump up digital spend, devoting increased branding dollars to data targeting with custom creative. This jumps into the hands of agency trading desks, always hungry for brand dollars, working the exchanges. Publishers – particularly those beyond the top 100 sites who have high-value audiences – could see ramping revenue from unsold inventory, and increased competition in the channels may drive up all CPMs.
“I’d like to think this is the race to the top of programmatic, rather than the race to the bottom everyone is always complaining about,” Meyers comments.
But even thought the map is drawn out, we won’t see the change overnight, particularly when even the network mentality lives on – Meyers jokes that occasionally when describing ReactX to buyers, he will be asked for his “site list.” Still we might be witnessing the beginning of a new creative technology battle, one that will highlight the revenue-driving power of programmatic over its efficiency benefits.
“This is a huge mindset change,” he comments. “Agencies and publishers have had a standard way of doing this for years, through the RFP process and such. We’re saying, ‘Everything you’ve been doing for the last 10-15 years, you can now do in an automated fashion at scale.’ That takes time to digest.”