Google opens up automated direct sales to all advertisers

Buyers and sellers can now transact with 'Programmatic Guaranteed'

Adding to the evidence that automated media buying doesn’t have to mean real-time bidding on low-quality inventory, Google is rolling out its platform for automating up-front media sales to all advertisers and publishers using the DoubleClick platform.

The company says the new product will help advertisers unify their programmatic and direct campaigns, so they can better manage and measure their digital spend.

Google began letting the first DoubleClick clients use its new feature, which it calls Programmatic Guaranteed, last summer. It now says that 300 advertisers and 200 publishers have used the product, and that impression volumes have doubled in both quarters it’s been in testing.

Programmatic Guaranteed, as Google defines it, isn’t quite the same as programmatic direct. A lot of other companies refer to this kind of buying as “automated guaranteed” or “automated guaranteed direct,” but Google’s decided to use a broader definition of programmatic to encompass automated direct buying.

Google’s next step is not actually launching the product, but instead opening up a public beta where all advertisers and publishers using Google’s DoubleClick products can access Programmatic Guaranteed. Although it’s still technically being tested and tweaked, now is when media buyers and publishers will start to scale their buying through the new channel.

Unlike other forms of programmatic, guaranteed doesn’t involve algorithms or exchanges — it is pretty much just direct buying, but with much of the legwork automated away. Guaranteed eliminates a lot of the manual steps involved in direct buying, like faxing I/Os back and forth, delivering tags and creative, and reconciling billing discrepancies.

Many publishers haven’t been willing to open up their best inventory to programmatic buying, fearing it could drag down their prices. But with Programmatic Guaranteed, they can lock in large-volume deals at negotiated rates, the same way they always have but with a much less work-intensive process.

DoubleClick’s blog post sharing the news is explicit that Programmatic Guaranteed is designed for “brand safe, reserved publisher inventory currently available through direct sales” (i.e. not remnant or mid-tier inventory).

“We’re talking about taking the top of the food chain, in terms of their most valuable inventory at its highest cost, and just moving it into a programmatic transaction,” said Matt Thornton, Google Canada director of agency and advertiser platforms. “We’re effectively creating a direct link between the seller’s ad server and the buyer’s DSP.”

Adding Programmatic Guaranteed to DoubleClick also serves to unify reserved and exchange-based buying on a single platform. That makes life a bit easier for both advertisers and publishers, but it also allows Google to offer advanced features like “universal frequency management,” which caps the number of times a user will be targeted with an ad across all inventory sources. Thornton said universal frequency is one of the biggest draws for advertisers using the product.

With this latest big release, Google is edging in on the long-held territory of media automation companies like Mediaocean and Centro. According to eMarketer, automated direct media actually represents about 52% of total U.S. programmatic spending — over $8 billion — and is projected to grow to 54% by 2017.

Google’s just the latest ad tech company to try and win a piece of that pie. The Rubicon Project got into automated orders in 2014 when it acquired iSocket and Shiny Ads and transformed them into Guaranteed Orders. AppNexus got in on it six months earlier, when it launched a subsidiary for automated orders called Twixt, and then doubled down in 2015 with its acquisition of Yieldex.

Many vendors distinguish automated orders from true programmatic, since the former doesn’t involve selectively purchasing impressions in real-time, based on audience data. With automated orders, ad placements are chosen up-front, based on human decision-making (though perhaps assisted by publisher data), the same way a manual media buy would be. Google’s Programmatic Guaranteed is the same way — there’s no algorithm picking and choosing which impressions to buy, based on whether the viewer is a luxury car intender or pet owner.

But Thornton said that Google called the product “programmatic” anyway, because buyers tend to think of “programmatic inventory” as any inventory bought with a DSP like DoubleClick. It also wants to ensure that major advertisers who have committed 50% or more of their digital spend to programmatic see this as an option that improves efficiency and reduces their media buying costs, in line with their objectives.

“From our point-of-view, this is a big step closer to that 100% programmatic buy, because you can take a lot of the budget that was considered non-programmatic and now you can buy it through your DSP,” he said. “If you can buy it through your DSP, you’re overlaying data, you’re automating the process. That would fall under our definition of programmatic.”

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