MDC’s Varick partners with Wave Digital

Deal expands Varick in Canada and gives Wave access to new data management and buying platform

Varick Media Management, the programmatic media arm of MDC Partners, has licensed its digital ad buying technology to a Toronto trading desk, Wave Digital Media.

Wave and its clients will have exclusive access to Varick’s data management and buying platform in Canada, as well as its third-party data partnerships with major providers like Nielsen and Mastercard.

Varick’s demand-side platform, known as The Lens, drives real-time media buying across display, video, mobile, social, streaming audio, digital OOH, and programmatic TV. Its onboard data management platform helps clients combine first-party data about their customer base with third-party data from providers like eXelate, Nielsen, Mastercard, Vizio and AddThis, in order to build an extremely detailed picture of the Canadian digital audience for targeting campaigns.

Wave’s traders will manage Canadian campaigns on The Lens platform, with support from Varick’s technology specialists.

On Varick’s end, the deal is part of a strategy to capture a wider slice of the programmatic media market in Canada. “The partnership right now is designed to help Wave expand our business outside of MDC and to leverage what we’ve done for MDC already up there,” said Varick vice-president, product strategy, Jim Caruso. “Really we didn’t have the bandwidth, or the manpower, or the expertise about the market to expand outside of [existing] relationships.”

Caruso said Varick’s ties to MDC can throw a wrench in the gears when putting together deals to license its technology to competing agencies and their brand clients. Working through an arms-length independent trading desk helps them avoid conflicts of interest, and expand its business to previously untouchable clients.

“Even though Varick operates very independently, unlike the other [agency] trading desks, they do know we’re linked to MDC, so we do run into that roadblock,” said Caruso. “The beauty of this is that [Wave] really does have the full autonomy that we don’t always have here in the States to pursue that kind of stuff.”

He said Varick chose Wave because of its familiarity with the Canadian market and its alignment with Varick’s vision of the industry’s future. As a Canadian company focused on Canadian media, Wave is already plugged into the market and has existing relationships with agencies and brands.

On the other side of the deal, Wave gains exclusive access to Varick’s powerful, data-rich platform. Wave chief commercial officer Josh Rosen said The Lens will give the company a significant advantage in a market full of competitive independent and in-house trading desks.

By now, most demand-side platforms have access to the same aggregate inventory through ubiquitous supplier partnerships, meaning reach and premium inventory are no longer major differentiators on the demand-side. What separates DSPs, and the trading desks that use them, is how well they can sort through that massive volume of inventory to find the best audiences.

That means more and better audience data is all-important – and The Lens has data in ample supply. “That’s what attracted us to Varick in the first place,” Rosen said. “What they were bringing was a robust data component… That gives us an opportunity to have a different conversation with agencies that previously wouldn’t listen to us.”

He was also enthusiastic about Varick’s measurement and ROI tools, especially the unique real-time visualizations of campaign performance that are built into its reporting interface.

In the past, Wave Digital has managed programmatic campaigns using technology developed by Acuity Ads. Rosen said Wave will continue to leverage that platform alongside the Lens, but that it’s become clear that to succeed as an independent desk, the company needs to license more than one platform. Multiple platforms can be applied selectively to different campaigns with different objectives, making the company more agile and efficient. (Though not everyone agrees on that strategy.)

Rosen takes inspiration from U.K. trading desk The Exchange Lab, which leverages DSPs from nearly a dozen different providers; as well as from the software company where he worked previously, OnX Enterprise Solutions, which licensed technology from diverse companies such as HP, Cisco and Oracle, and combined them into enterprise packages for businesses.

Varick, meanwhile, is shifting in the opposite direction, and focusing on refining its proprietary technology and licensing deals. Caruso said the company plans to eventually offer The Lens on a self-serve basis to agencies or brands that want to use it for in-house trading, following a trend towards software-as-a-service media buying technology.

“Our long-term goal is to build a robust, consumer-level software platform,” Caruso said. Varick’s vision for The Lens platform is a complete media planning and execution platform, that can “operate your campaigns from inception, all the way through building creative, buying media, and measuring the effectiveness of that media and creative.”

Varick will continue to manage programmatic campaigns for clients of MDC media agencies in Canada, but may migrate some of that business to Wave Digital in the future.

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