Four Things I Learned at Advertising Week

This week, I was lucky enough to attend Advertising Week in New York. For those who haven’t been, it’s an unorthodox conference in that there’s no central meeting place or locations to check-in. Instead, various venues around Times Square in Manhattan transform into presentation spaces for the leaders in the marketing and advertising world.

One could surmise from the long lines leading into panels this week that there’s tremendous interest in hearing more about how companies are tackling their biggest marketing challenges. Here are a few of the major themes that stood out to me:

1. Programmatic’s promising future  

Advertising Week covers a broad spectrum of advertising topics – you’ll find upstart digital agencies and more established, traditional advertisers. You’ll hear conversations about fashion, entertainment, and even mascots (a panel featuring Smokey Bear and Mr. Peanut was a dream come true!). And there were certainly plenty of discussions about AI and its future.

Despite the range of topics, it was clear that programmatic buying was at the very center of conversations this week. Statistics from eMarketer about the projected $33 billion spent on programmatic display ads in 2017 were seemingly a prerequisite to include within the first few slides of each presentation.

In a panel about the “Next Era of Programmatic,” Tim Cadogan of OpenX projected that we’re arriving at the third stage for programmatic. The first stage proved the business model, the second stage focused on expanding scope – this third stage will include additional expansion of scope and scale, but will also reflect programmatic becoming the default transaction for digital media.

2. Transparency is the right side of history

Brands and publishers who had been flying blind in the past are now laser-focused on getting transparent data from partners to minimize their wasted spend. This led to plenty of stories being shared on stage about revelations from the past few months of reviewing their supply chains.

Jess Barrett of the Financial Times recalled how her team found that 15 exchanges, including many of the well-known players in the industry, claimed to be selling programmatic video inventory from, even though they don’t even sell video ads programmatically. Sarah Warner of GroupM recalled the eye-opening article about Chase reducing their advertising from 400,000 sites to just 5,000 – but Warner says that’s still too many sites for her; her whitelist only includes about 1,000 sites today.

Jason Fairchild of OpenX told the crowd at a panel on radical transparency that buyers have a choice – they don’t have to be subjected to “flea-market marketplaces,” a description he assigns to marketplaces that aren’t revealing the origin data or additional insights on their inventory. Instead, they can choose to work with the right technology partners who care about transparency. Scott Gifis of AdRoll reminded us that sometimes that means bringing some bad news to your buyers that reveals areas where they wasted money and showing them how to fix it.

All in all, it’s clear there is an industry-wide conversation happening about working with more transparent partners and that we’re starting to see an impact made with companies who’ve already made changes.  

3. Who solves the problems?

There were several debates this week about how we should tackle the industry’s problems with trust, transparency and accurate measurement. I heard at least a few conversations where industry leaders expressed their thoughts that agencies in their current model weren’t properly equipped with the right tech to address these needs.

Ideally, brands are looking for guidance from their partners, be it agencies, DSPs or another tech provider, to help them navigate the ever-changing digital landscape with new technology. But it’s also important that everyone in the transaction recognize their role in fixing the industry’s problems. Brands who don’t take control of their data, or who don’t have a basic understanding of the programmatic process upon which they’re spending their money, will be most vulnerable to wasting dollars by not asking the right questions.

There’s also a need for balance between the Walled Gardens of digital marketing and neutral third-parties that can validate their data. One of the more popular panels at the show featured executives from Facebook, Pinterest and Google discussing their approaches to analytics – it was clear from the responses of the panelists that these large companies have heard the concerns of marketers and are working to become more transparent. Google’s Babak Pahlavan talked about the importance of trust: “We know our first party solutions need to be trusted, but we need accredited, trusted third parties to measure us as well.”  

4. Demand for insights, not just data

Often times, you can learn a lot by paying attention to the job titles of panelists discussing a particular topic.

During one session on data accuracy at the Tech Xperience stage, a panelist pointed out that everyone on stage was a CRO – in a panel about data accuracy, there were no data scientists or Chief Data Officers. This was a reminder that data is really the vehicle to getting insights that drive revenue. We can’t just focus on exposing data for the sake of exposing it – instead we should remember that transparency is about revealing data in ways that get us to the revenue-driving insights quicker.

To that end, several discussions were focused on the need for better methods of measurement that actually accomplish this goal. A partnership between the ARF, CIMM and Pre-Meditated Media announced a new “data labeling” program. It’s a step in the right direction to helping tell complete stories with data.


Needless to say, it was a productive week hearing from industry leaders across the ecosystem and diving deeper into the problems each player is facing. If you’d like to continue the conversations from this week, we’d love to talk about ways to help you be more transparent with programmatic data using interactive analytics! Visit us at to learn more.