Explaining RTA to a Martian

Blog posted by Stuart Aitken
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The IAB's Editorial Manager Stuart Aitken reports from the trade body's second annual Real Time Advertising conference.

There are times during discussions of Real Time Advertising (RTA) when I am reminded of Martian poetry - a short lived movement in the late 1970s which found its most famous expression in the Craig Raine poem 'A Martian Sends a Postcard Home'.

The Martian poets used exotic metaphors to describe the familiar in unfamiliar ways - as though these were words written by Martians experiencing human life for the first time. In Raine's poem for example, books are "mechanical birds with many wings" that "cause the eyes to melt" and a phone is "a haunted apparatus" which "snores when you pick it up".

There are times when RTA can seem like an alien concept - and yes, the practictioners can sometimes seem like Martians. This is perhaps the key challenge for the RTA industry to face - trying to explain what they do and why it is so important in as simple a way as possible. Or, to put it another way, trying to describe the unfamiliar in familiar ways.

It's perhaps for this reason that the speakers at yesterday's IAB Real Time Advertising conference so often made use of analogies to explain their points.

Some examples:

- Quantcast's Jag Duggal likened the development of the RTA sector to that of the commercial aviation industry (he also talked about roosters).

- Real Media Group's Nicolle Pangis compared real time ad buying with 19th century French cattle trading.

- Mediacom's Robert Webster argued that one of the key challenges of RTA is making sure that the Don Drapers (planners) talk to the Terminators (tech guys).

- Tim Webster of The Exchange Lab likened DSPs to decathletes arguing that "they all have their strengths and weaknesses".

Why all these analogies? As many of the speakers pointed out, this is complex stuff - so complex indeed that, as Darren Bentley pointed out, it took 8 months work for a team of 25 people before MoneySupermarket could run their first RTB campaigns. As Steve Hobbs from Amnet pointed out, it does then make some sense that this is something that we shouldn't all be able to explain to our mums. But it is something that we should be able to able to explain to the Financial Director.


As several of the speakers on the day pointed out, this is an industry experiencing huge growth as advertisers tune into benefits such as increased reach, relevance and convenience - Infectious Media's Martin Kelly pointed out that in 2012 the medium grew 112% in the UK, 120% in France and 171% in Germany.

There are however still several challenges to be faced such as viewability, brand safety, cookie stability and the challenge of multiple devices.   

For SpotXchange's Andrew Moore and several others the key challenge is to move the sector from being seen as a direct response mechanism to a branding opportunity. He wants to see the rise of what he calls "programmatic branding". In order to do this, the medium must learn from the wider digital industry where brand spend is growing at a rate of 21% while direct response is growing at a more humble 7%.

So how is this achieved? Education. Enter the Martians...

Making RTA understandable is a challenge for the whole sector. As a result it is a challenge for the IAB. This is why we put on events like yesterday's and why we hold workshops like our upcoming practical event aimed specifically at media owners and publishers.

It is also why we produced the video below explaining the key developments in this ever evolving sector which tried to explain how the process of buying and selling advertising inventory has changed over the years - apparently it's been seen in the White House so it seems we've been doing something right!

If you'd like to know more about the sector - and what we're doing within it - visit the Display Trading section of the IAB website.

You can also access a gallery of pictures from yesterday's event here.


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