eBay comment: We went programmatic only for a week. Here’s what happened.


Is a programmatic only future good for brands and marketers? eBay recently ran an experiment where it only traded adverts bought on a programmatic basis. Rob Bassett, Sales Director (Hard Goods) eBay reports back with the results…


Earlier this year, we ran a “Programmatic Only Week” at eBay – seven days during which we changed the way we worked, only serving ads that were bought on a programmatic basis and only trading programmatically.

This wasn’t the first Programmatic Only Week. Two years earlier, we launched the initiative with the aim of understanding what stage the industry was at in its adoption of programmatic, and encouraging a movement towards a programmatic-dominated advertising landscape.

We found that there was a lingering perception of programmatic as a solution for remnant inventory and that, although many stakeholders grasped the potential offered by programmatic, the industry as a whole wasn’t putting its weight behind it.

This time around, we wanted to explore how the industry had evolved since the first iteration of the experiment – and what needs to change in the years to come, to make a programmatic only future a reality.

So, what had changed?

The preconception that programmatic is a channel for remnant inventory has been dispelled. Broadly, programmatic is viewed simply as an alternative means of trading inventory: an enabler, rather than a channel in its own right.

When we looked at what had changed within our own organisation, it’s clear that our investment in header bidding over the past two years has brought us much closer to being programmatic only, because it facilitates fair valuing and trading. We are now 99% header biddable.

But despite this progress we know that elements of the industry just aren’t ready to be programmatic only. We weren’t able to map all direct sales to a programmatic line, indicating that not all campaigns could be moved.

What still needs to change?

There are structural changes that need to take place in the industry to facilitate the shift from direct sales to programmatic. Presently, too many organisations are split into ‘programmatic’ and ‘direct’ silos, making it almost impossible to create fluidity between the two.

We believe that this will change over the next two years. In fact, it is already changing.

A number of our agency partners have invested in spreading programmatic knowledge throughout their organisations in a holistic way, making it a part of the fibre of their businesses. Programmatic from the inside, rather than from the outside, if you will. This has been achieved through building staff expertise and even, in some cases, absorbing their trading desk into the organisation. Publicis Media is a fantastic example of an agency group that is at the vanguard of programmatic – breaking down silos within the business and building programmatic capabilities across the organisation.

This is significant progress from where agencies were two years ago, and we hope to see other following the lead of these trailblazers.

We asked Danny Hopwood, EVP at Publicis Media for his take on Programmatic Only Week. He said:

“We welcome eBay's commitment to encouraging the industry to embrace the value that programmatic can offer. At Publicis Media, we have invested significantly in building our programmatic capabilities.  We have placed programmatic at the heart of how we trade media in order to provide our clients with best in class products and services, creating the optimal alignment of resources and talent in a model that is simple to engage with and that supports our clients.”

“As part of this commitment we launched IQ Academy last year as Publicis Media’s global learning platform, which includes a Programmatic Certification which is endorsed by the IAB and which all our employees are being trained in.”

What next?

Programmatic evolves in line with other market forces, as the values it attributes to inventory is broadly based on supply and demand. Trading via IO can never be as fluid, and ties the industry to standards that are not only inefficient, but unfair. It’s a bad deal for publishers, brands and agencies.

We hope that if we replicate the Programmatic Only Week experiment in another two years we will be able to announce that the industry has made further strides to truly embrace the potential of programmatic to transform – and improve - the way we do business.

In the meantime, we have a role to play in helping to improve readiness. We know there is still some skepticism as to the value of header bidding in the industry. So we want to help to allay these concerns, and are offering to act as a test bed for any partner who would like to explore the benefits and measure the performance of header bidding.

Our aim here is to focus on building a framework that makes transitioning to programmatic as painless as possible for everyone we work with, and to collaborate closely with agencies to ensure the direction we travel in is aligned with their business interests.

By Rob Bassett

Sales Director (Hard Goods)



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