Inside eBay’s Programmatic Only Week

by: Lucinda Southern on 25 August 2015

Earlier this year the online auction house ran a programmatic-only pilot with partners Vivaki and Essence, director Phuong Nguyen explains the findings

 More than 1 billion ad impressions were purchased on eBay.co.uk - all of which were sold exclusively through programmatic trading

For programmatic advertising to progress, the industry has called out for successful use cases and best practices to lead the way in galvanizing publishers and partners. Online auction house eBay undertook a UK pilot in February this year where all inventory was sold programmatically, as opposed to working with it third-party agency Ad2One for more direct, manually negotiated deals.

The site, which Statistica data claims had 157 million active users in the second quarter of 2015, has access to purchase behavior and intent of 60 million UK monthly sellers.

During the week, which ran from Feb 16-22, more than 1 billion ad impressions were purchased on eBay.co.uk - all of which were sold exclusively through programmatic trading.

As a result of the pilot, and indication of its success, eBay is changing the focus of its agency sales team to deliver a more flexible way of trading ads.

We spoke to Phuong Nguyen, eBay advertising UK director, more about the process.

Why did eBay Advertising run ‘Programmatic Only Week?’

At eBay Advertising we felt that programmatic was being held back from widespread adoption by a lack of understanding of its potential within the industry.

The misconception was that it was only a channel for getting rid of remnant advertising inventory. We wanted to run Programmatic Only Week to accelerate its adoption by kick-starting greater industry collaboration and creativity.

Who was involved with its implementation

For one week all standard display ads on eBay.co.uk were only traded programmatically. We analysed campaign performance, brand participation and operation process across the week.

We worked with a number of our brand partners during the initiative and had really positive feedback on campaign performance. Baby food provider Hipp Organic ran a particularly successful campaign to precisely target parents with infant children in real time. The team at Hipp Organic was surprised by the smoothness and accuracy of programmatic trading.

Agencies like VivaKi and Essence also welcomed Programmatic Only Week as it forced them to take a close look at how well set up they are to trade programmatically and where they need to improve to future-proof their operations.

What light did this shed on the status of the programmatic industry?

The overarching out-take for us was that the industry isn’t yet set up to use programmatic to its full potential – far from it in fact.

Programmatic Only Week also highlighted publishers, brands and agencies need to collaborate more and must put tools in place to standardise programmatic trading. It’s crucial that the industry is equipped with the right talent too. It’s now about Math Men as much as Mad Men – we need strong data analytics skills to complement creative, and ideally people who can combine the two.

What’s ultimately clear is that programmatic will never replace the human touch in our industry; what it will do is drive efficiency and free up human time to develop smarter and more creative camps.

How can the industry move forward?

Up until now agencies and brands have grown their programmatic offers through a bolt-on approach, working with new partners and creating new teams as demands have changed. The industry now needs to move away from that and fully integrate programmatic as a core business function, instead of an add-on. For this to work, alignment and education will be key.


The nature of eBay’s marketplace has meant that this has been an accurate testing area for the progression real-time bidding.

Anna Stoyanova, Essence, head of programmatic EMEA, said as much to ExchangeWire, commenting that “eBay’s ‘programmatic-only week’ focused on buying through auction. During the week we saw a massive increase in supply relevant to demand, but we haven’t seen a devaluation of the inventory, which is really encouraging for publishers and brands.

“With eBay focussing solely on auctions, this led to the greatest possible pressure testing of a pure RTB environment. In the future, it would be good to test a more realistic scenario that includes preferred and guaranteed deals as well as open exchange and PMPs.”

The time has come for more publishers to take on programmatic field experiments.