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Getting the future of scale right

Vox Media’s Head of Concert and VP of Programmatic Advertising calls for the industry to demand better

Programmatic technology is, quite simply, the most revolutionary innovation in the history of advertising. It grants marketers the ability to reach any audience at any time, on a one-to-one basis with a tailored creative message. This capability brought with it promises of less waste and better performance for marketers, and more relevant, personalized experiences for audiences.

Instead, a decade in, the meteoric rise of automation has created an open web ecosystem fueled by cheap scale and low quality. Audiences are fed up with “bad ads” — trust in advertising is at an all-time low, and use of ad blockers is at an all-time high. Marketers face a minefield of risk as quality, safety, and transparency have fallen by the wayside. Content and context have become devalued in the race for scale, creating a threat to the value and very existence of publishers.

The stakes have never been higher

With programmatic accounting for 85% of the digital display market in 2019, it seems clear that automation represents the future of advertising online. Unfortunately, until this revolutionary technology becomes associated with traits like quality, safety, and trust, this future will be one that equates the open web with risk for marketers.

As former AppNexus CEO Brian O’Kelley summed up regarding the state of programmatic earlier this year: “If I’m an advertiser, do I feel like I’m getting higher quality ads in better places? No.”

It’s with that sentiment in mind it becomes less surprising that three companies are gobbling up almost 70% of every dollar spent online — a figure that is only growing, at the expense of publishers and media owners. This is nothing short of an existential threat: if we aren’t able to reverse the increasing dominance of the “walled gardens”, there are dire potential consequences for publishers great and small, many of which we’ve already seen.

It doesn’t take a wild imagination to follow these consequences to a logical conclusion: what’s at stake is the health of the publisher ecosystem, and the future of journalism as we know it. If programmatic is the future of the open web, then the future of publishing depends on sustainable, high quality programmatic solutions.

It is time for a holistic solution

The industry has recognized the need for change, and marketers are demanding better. The so-called “walled gardens” have abused their position by creating plenty of their own issues around brand safety and accountability, resulting in a desire for fresh alternatives. Brands are learning that they don’t need to run across the dregs of the open web to reach their audiences at scale, and evidence continues to mount proving the value of high quality environments and creative experiences in driving meaningful interactions with customers.

Despite this widespread acknowledgement, few real alternatives exist: while many initiatives have launched attempting to clean things up, each is either too narrow in scope, or too limited in meaningful output. Coalitions, alliances, and white papers are great first steps, but they don’t translate to real solutions that help marketers feel secure about where their dollars are going, or where and how their brands will show up.

What’s needed is one holistic solution — a real product that creates better experiences for audiences, a sustainable outlook for quality publishing, and a safe, dependable environment for brands. The formula for this promised land is simple: scale without compromise, reliable and responsible data, turnkey activation, and innovative creative experiences that build real connections with audiences.

Getting the future of scale right

The opportunity is there for the taking, but only if publishers and marketers alike come together in pursuit of a better future for advertising — one that aligns the goals of audiences, marketers and publishers. It’s with this opportunity in mind that I re-joined Vox Media earlier this year to lead Concert, an initiative developed specifically for this cause.

Concert brings together many of the most trusted and well-known publishers on the web into a single marketplace, underpinned by a proven, innovative creative product and proprietary data solutions. With reach to 85% of the total US digital population, it provides a centralized entry point to the trusted web for advertisers — combining scale, quality, transparency, and innovation into an easy to execute programmatic solution.

Concert is the only solution that checks every box: providing a real alternative for brands, creating aligned incentives for a quality user experience, and generating sustainable demand and revenue for top-tier publishers.

We’re investing in Concert to help lead not only our business but to set a blueprint that the industry can learn from — one that can lead to healthier growth for programmatic, and a more promising future for everyone in the advertising community. After all, as stakeholders in the future of the open web, it’s on all of us to work together to demand better.

AJ Frucci joined Vox Media in April 2019 to grow the Concert, programmatic, and display businesses — returning to Vox Media after beginning his career at the company.

Frucci was previously at Axios as the VP of business development and has 12+ years of experience in high-growth media companies, Gawker and Vox Media, responsible for driving revenue and building partnerships. Additionally, AJ spent some time at Carat.

As VP, Concert & Programmatic at Vox Media, Frucci continues to push the industry forward with Vox Media’s creative technology platforms. These growing lines of business were recently nominated for Best Video Distribution & Programming Strategy by Digiday and Most Innovative Publisher by AdExchanger. Vox Media was also named one of AdExchanger’s Top 10 Programmatic Publishers of 2018, while Concert took home the award for Most Innovative Publisher at the Digital Trading Awards.