Success and Failure: Brands Bringing Programmatic In-House

In an attempt to take more control of their programmatic buying, many brands are making investments toward bringing such functions in house.

In fact, plans to that effect were reported by 68 percent of brand advertisers in an AOL study last year. But other sources say the AdTech world is quickly realizing in-house programmatic is difficult to execute, and unlikely to be a widespread trend.

“What started as a trickle has yet to turn into a flood — and most likely won’t anytime soon,” wrote Yuyu Chen in “If brands want to execute programmatic media plan on their own they need to gather tremendous amounts of data, hire experienced staff and put considerable work into setting up a campaign. For many brands, this is a bridge too far.”

Still, some agencies (especially those with their own programming technology and products) are responding by enhancing their proprietary programmatic capabilities in order to retain clients.

An overview

What spurred all this? The accuracy, immediacy and relative ease of programmatic has made it extremely popular, such that 79 percent of advertisers in a Forrester survey reported making such buys over the past year, and 93 percent planned to use these online display capabilities in the next year. Others in the survey planned to use it for search and video, and expand beyond digital to programmatic TV, print and outdoor buys.

Over the past two years, however, more have become uneasy about buying programmatic inventory; 69 percent of respondents voiced specific concerns about higher bot fraud and 64 percent don’t like the lack of transparency around costs. Other gripes included high agency costs and a lack of visibility into inventory, the firms involved and the data used to define audiences.

Advertisers are partly countering that with requests for detailed campaign reports from agency partners, the updating of “blacklists” and the targeting of “whitelists.” Others are taking a different tack: Last year several Fortune 500 companies including Allstate, Unilever and Netflix opted to take some programmatic buying functions in house.

Analysts argue larger firms may be the only ones able to profitably take a DIY approach given the need for scale, complex strategy and copious data. But many companies report they’re already finding the process incredibly complex, without the hoped-for efficiencies and cost reductions. In-house specialists can be hard to come by, and even when the correct technology is in place marketers can be hard pressed to build analytics systems that can create targeted audience profiles.

“It’s a massive undertaking because you need to be rethinking how you structure your advertising spend, your organization and how you set up your technology stack and manage your data,” says AOL’s JoAnna Foyle on

The ultimate success of pending in-house programs remains to be seen.

“Brands and agencies alike certainly appreciate the efficiency programmatic brings from a pricing standpoint,” writes Giselle Abramovich on “They also like its scalability, the way it brings in immediate returns and that it clearly shows how messaging is optimized. But the truth of the matter is programmatic isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, and much is often left unsaid.”


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