Programmatic, Native & Other Trends to Master in 2016

Posted by Suzanne Kammer on December 29, 2015
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2016 will be here before we know it! It’s never too early to start planning ahead for the New Year. What does your online marketing strategy look like for 2016?  Have you considered programmatic or native advertising for the year ahead? What trends dominated the digital space in 2015 and will they last in the new year? We answered all of these questions and more in an exclusive interview with Garrett Gan from Thalamus.

Thalamus is the largest crowdsourced database of ad vendor data in the world. With 50,000+ partners, Thalamus houses the most comprehensive dataset of ad partner capabilities, contacts, marketing collateral, ad specs, network data, and marketer reviews for vendors worldwide.

If you’re wondering what’s in store for the year ahead, read our interview below and start leveraging Garrett’s insights for your 2016 online marketing campaigns.  

Programmatic experienced major growth in 2015. How do you think this will affect digital marketers in the new year?

Programmatic has experienced tremendous growth since it’s inception in 2009/2010, and is showing no signs of slowing down. I see it only proliferating further as more large brands and agencies adopt private marketplaces and programmatic direct in 2016.

However, this doesn’t mean that the direct sales model is going away anytime soon, as there are still many kinks to work out with private marketplace, programmatic direct, and automated guaranteed technologies.

Currently, it’s mostly larger ad buyers that have the capability to transact this way, as the custom integration required by a publisher necessitate that a buyer must provide a larger, upfront guaranteed buy to justify the technical sunk cost of publisher integration into the Trading Desk or demand source.

Also, it is in our view that mid-long tail buyers will be unaffected by private marketplace and programmatic direct deals (sans ShinyAds, iSocket, and BuySellAds). They will continue their ad buying through the major platforms (Google, Facebook, Twitter), Self-Service DSPs like Sitescout, specialized/verticalized ad networks, and through site-specific endemic buys on relevant publisher sites. For these smaller buyers, the biggest pain point isn’t efficiency, but finding the right ad partner to meet their objectives.

Here are some insights I can share based off of data from 500,000 user interactions (searches, opens, filters):


We’ve identified several new trends for mobile this year. What should we expect from mobile in 2016?

I don’t think there is a doubt in anyone’s mind that mobile will continue its upward rise as the main consumption channel, and as a corollary, advertising medium for marketers. Adoption by brand marketers on mobile hasn’t been quite as rapid as we all expected, but there are premium mobile networks like KARGO and HyprMX leading the way.

While still new to many digital marketers, we’ve definitely seen a significant increase in native advertising this year. Do you think native ads will become even more prevalent in 2016?

Native is an interesting category, but if people look back far enough, it’s really not something that’s all that new. Publishers have been doing this for years with advertorials, and bloggers with sponsored posts. Content Marketing Platforms like TaboolaOutbrainRevContent,AdBlade, and can technically be considered ‘native’, but are really more content recommendation platforms. So in the wider context of Native being any ad unit that shows ads with the same physical format as content, then I’d say yes, this will increase in 2016. Another reason for this is because publishers are starting to rely heavily on these content recommendation platforms to pump up their traffic numbers, as was reported in a Bloomberg article about fraudulent traffic. Google also announced in November that it now offers programmatic support for native ads.

What new trends are on the horizon for the upcoming year?

I’m not one to prognosticate, but if it were pin it on something, it would be the widespread adoption of programmatic buying across the board for all marketers. They may not be spending all of their budget through programmatic means, but I’d say most will at least dip their toes by shifting some of their ad network budget to self-serve DSPs like SiteScoutDoubleclick Bid Manager, or AdRoll with their new Prospecting product (still in Beta).

Another key trend on the publisher monetization front would be header bidding, once all the data leakage and latency issues are worked out. From the many publishers we’ve talked to, switching to a single unified auction (header bid) as compared to a sequential waterfall has dramatically increased eCPMs as it forces the demand sources to compete against each other. It’s hard to say what the long-term consequences of droves of publishers implementing a header bidding strategy will lead to, but for right now, it seems to be all the rave amongst publishers.

What are your thoughts on the rise of distributed audience?

Buzzfeed stated back in September that it’s audience was distributed across many platforms: 23% direct to it’s site or apps, 14% through YouTube views, 27% Facebook Native Video, 4% Images on Facebook, and 21% through Snapchat Content Views.

Publisher audiences now live across all platforms. These include audiences on their website, mobile app, readers of their email newsletter, and followers on their Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Pinterest/YouTube accounts. Audiences are engaging with these publishers and consuming their content across all these platforms– the next logical step would be for these publishers to monetize these audiences across all these distributed platforms (including email).

How can digital marketers monetize these audiences across platforms?

This can already be seen through many bloggers doing sponsored blog posts, sponsored email blasts, and sponsored updates to their entire social network following. Many of the Advertising trade publications like Digiday and AdExchanger already do sponsored email blasts – as do many large publishers and bloggers – and I suspect the monetization of audiences on social platforms through sponsored updates (already happening with celebrities charging to tweet) is next. Keep in mind all of these sponsored email blasts or posts cannot be done programmatically.

How is the digital advertising industry showing early signs of adoption for these trends?

I think a surefire sign of this is that 90% of APAC Ad Professionals are using programmatic for mobile buying.

As far as header bidding is concerned, Google was quick to respond to the market and announced a beta to provide First Look optionality to publishers using DFP, which they claim is similar to header bidding but without the latency issues.

What advice do you have for digital advertisers that will help them thrive in 2016?

For a larger advertiser, I would say it would be to test private marketplace deals and work with programmatic publisher reps. For mid-long tail advertisers, it would be to implement a programmatic practice but while keeping in mind things like ad viewability, and transparency. I think the scale of programmatic outweighs the cons as long as an advertiser is cognizant of the viewability and placement of their ads.

Another core consideration is cross-device identification. So far, only major platforms have had the deterministic ability to identify and target users cross-device. I suspect that in 2016 there will be players like Drawbridge and others that will democratize a cross-device identity layer that can be used across all other networks and platforms.

What trends are absolutely necessary for digital marketers to leverage if they want to build a strong online strategy for the new year? 

I think all trends are trends for a reason. The main challenge that we have in this industry is that there is too much hyperbole around a new ‘trend’ that will be a silver bullet for a marketer. There is no such thing as a silver bullet.

A marketer has to be in every channel, paid and non-paid, and maximize their time investment to return ratio. He/She has to be doing SEO, SEM, Affiliate, Social, Programmatic, and Site-Direct Buys, all (for the most part) through different platforms.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there will be no One Platform to Rule them All. Walled Gardens will always exist and as long as publishers are incentivized to maximize their eCPMs by selling direct, all their inventory isn’t going to be available on the open exchanges. The closest that any marketer can get to a single buying platform is by using Doubleclick Bid Manager, and that still leaves out a lot of other major social platform inventor, and guaranteed direct inventory from publishers.

I think it would be to streamline the number of programmatic partners they work with, to avoid duplication. If you have multiple programmatic partners all accessing the same inventory, you not only could potentially bid against yourself, but you could also end up serving ads to the same user without the protection of a global frequency cap.

It would be ideal for an advertiser to work with the major platforms, one main programmatic partner, and do ad hoc buys with specialized network and site-direct publishers.

How can Thalamus help digital marketing professionals stay on top of trends and capitalize on them?

Currently, we capture data from these ad vendors on their capabilities, reach, geographies, creatives, ad specs, and much more so that buyers and the industry at large can be kept up to date as to which vendor does what. As we release more features, we’ll give a marketer the ability to follow categories/companies and see curated news and data around their selections.

We’ll also be starting a weekly newsletter with a curated set of must-read articles & resources from the week before so that anyone in the industry can be caught up as to the most important news in a single email.

And there you have it! It looks like we’ve got an exciting year in store for us. With the continuation of some 2015 trends and the anticipation of new trends coming down the pipe, 2016 is sure to be a big year for the digital marketing industry. Thanks again to Garrett from Thalamus for sharing his insights to help you build a strong online strategy for the new year!


Topics: SEM, Native Advertising, Mobile, digital marketing, programmatic advertising, Advertising, SEO, distributed audiences


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