Heineken – Tell us the limitations with programmatic

by: Lucinda Southern on 20 November 2014

A panel with Heineken, B&Q and MoneySupermarket shows that transparency is still the biggest issue for advertisers

“To start with programmatic was slipped into our media plan with no real explanation, and that’s where you start seeing the question marks.”

Elizabeth Hodson, media manager, Heineken 

With the latest IDC report estimating that programmatic ad spend is expected to grow globally from $230.3 million in 2013 to $14.2 billion by 2018, with most media predicted to be sold in this way, more brands are putting in place their strategies.

Speaking at the Festival of Marketing, three brand advertisers at different stages of their programmatic journeys outline their challenges.

Sammy Austin, head of programmatic at MoneySupermarket brought programmatic trading in-house three years ago, and was joined on the panel by Elizabeth Hodson, media manager at Heineken, who started trading programmatically a year and a half ago. The final member, Bonnie Jackson, digital advertising campaigns at B&Q, most recently started using these methods in May 2014. 

While data-ownership is the main plus point for MoneySupermarket, all three said education within their organisations is still a slow road for them, getting senior marketers' interest is challenging, and sharing the successes and results a key way in overcoming it. A test-and-learn approach is still a crucial part of the strategy for B&Q and MoneySupermarket.

Heineken is a different story. “We don’t have a strategy per se,” explains Hodson, “to start with programmatic was slipped into our media plan with no real explanation, and that’s where you start seeing the question marks.”

Transparency appears to still be the most thorny issue between advertisers and agencies, fuelled by Sir Martin Sorrel’s comments earlier this year at being “troubled by the debate around transparency.”

“If we’re coming across as negative or sceptical,” says Hodson, “it boils down to that one T word. “We all believe in it but it’s that feeling of frustration.”

The panel felt that broadly speaking programmatic ad selling is still being sold as the Holy Grail.

“Transparency is aligned to honesty,” says Austin. “We’re rarely told about the cons of programmatic and that’s where the lack of trust comes from.” Austin recounts hearing someone from an agency express fears about their clients' expectations, “they were worried that the client was going to stop spending money with them knowing that the ad viewability was 34%, when really viewability is an industry-wide issue. And if the client understood that and was made aware of the limitations and what agencies are doing to try and overcome them, that news would be easier to take.”

Asked at what point would they be happy at the level of transparency they are getting, Jackson says it comes down to two issues – “one is about delivery - getting those learnings internally and passing them around. We’ve had very little visibility there in the past.” The second is cost breakdown, “as a client you want transparency in all those things. You need to understand the whole landscape otherwise you can’t possibly make the right decisions.” Jackson recounts that the frustration with a lack of transparency forced B&Q to find another partner.

Even so, the representatives from Heineken, B&Q and MoneySupermarket recognise the importance of iterating and learning with this technology is crucial for them to remain ahead of competitors.

“There’s a whole black box in the middle that isn’t as complicated as they would like you to believe,” says Hodson. “Tell us the limitations. It is an industry issue, if the clients and agencies work together hopefully we’ll force some change a lot sooner.”

Echoing the sentiment, Austin finished “The role of the agency is changing, so that's calling for greater collaboration.”