A Publisher Technology Trend Improving Media Buying Today

By Sonobi Archives

Not all new publisher technology trends cause the entire industry to take notice, but the introduction of header bidding, late in 2015, was important enough to get everyone’s attention. Header bidding allows a buyer to see every available impression immediately before it is served, providing a true first look at inventory, and thus delivering unprecedented control over what is being bought. Buyers saw the value almost immediately, and began to adopt it through their trading desks, using it on a remnant basis (RTB), spot basis (PMP) or Upfront basis (programmatic guaranteed or direct audience).

The advent of header-based technology represents a seismic shift in the direct media procurement process, and thus is important for the entire community of advertisers and buyers, impacting far more than just the programmatic teams.  Gone are the days of publishers pre-packaging inventory for activation; welcome to the days of advertisers selecting the media and audience that will deliver on their brand’s objectives.  The shift is from push to pull.

Ultimately, header bidding means you can curate campaigns that are delivered to only addressable people, on brief and in a viewable environment -- guaranteed.

To understand the benefits of header technology to the buyer, it helps to understand the basics of how it works.  Before any content renders in the consumer’s browser, header-bidding technology processes all of the opportunities on the page, allowing buyers to buy or bid on all available inventory, not just the remnant supply historically available under the legacy SSP model.  This means advertisers can understand their audience and the quality of a given advertising experience, including share of voice, viewability and more, all before buying the media.

But this technology is undergoing an evolution that buyers should be aware of, called header bidding wrapper management (usually simplified to just “wrappers”). Wrappers allow publishers to put multiple tags in the header, and this can dramatically change the value proposition. It can make the ad experience somewhat blind, limit the impressions that are available to the buyer and restrict the buyer’s ability to directly negotiate their position or commit a guarantee to a publisher.

Not all wrappers do this.  Some of them leverage a server-to-server framework, with support for ad quality, viewability and guarantees.  But others leverage a browser-based framework, placing the purchase decisioning into a bubble, creating restrictions and limiting the ability to make guarantees.  Additionally, the browser-based wrapper damages the user experience. After all, the wrapper is only another layer of javascript, further adding weight and latency to the consumer’s device, be it a mobile phone, tablet or desktop, and thus making the ad experience more expensive and obtrusive to the consumer. This has proven to negatively impact brand objectives and goals and is one of the key reasons why ad blocking is on the rise.

While publisher technology is not usually a major subject of interest for the media buying community, header bidding, done correctly, is important enough that it ought to be an exception.  We have the opportunity to improve the efficacy of the digital advertising channel and improve how we activate media campaigns on behalf of our brands for the consumers that we serve.  Advertisers should chime into the conversation to reinforce the value of header technology and make their voices heard regarding what they expect out of this new capability.  By working with publishers to allow the procurement of media and audiences based on relevant availability, measurable ad quality, and viewability, we are able to ensure we are creating an impression, and not just buying an ad.

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