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In-depth: Why in-house programmatic advertising is still a jargon for Indian brands spoke to experts from various brands and agencies to find why Indian brands are still dependent on third-party data sources and how in-house programmatic advertising is still a jargon for advertisers

As the digital skillset of marketers improves in India, brands are starting to go for in-house programmatic advertising. Brands, including Netflix and L’Oreal, use programmatic advertising platforms to promote their products and services and all campaigns are managed in-house, in the quest for increased control, greater visibility, brand safety and to purge ad fraud. There is a secular trend towards in-housing programmatic advertisements. However, this agenda is predicted to essentially be pursued by larger firms to drive more efficiency and control.

Barring few exceptions such as Unilever and P&G, which have started with data-driven programmatic approaches in South East Asia and India, other advertisers are yet to make a beginning towards in-house programmatic. Programmatic started with automation of buying, moved to data-driven programmatic, and is now shifting towards AI-powered programmatic. Every brand has to create its own secret sauce to become successful in this very complex landscape.

Aman Dhall

“Due to limited available resources in the Indian advertising space, people with relevant skillset, technologies that match in-house capabilities, lack of awareness and in-depth understanding, ad frauds and brands safety issues, brands face challenges in building in-house programmatic solutions,” said Aman Dhall, Head of Communications,, in an interaction with

Programmatic buying is a broad definition where a machine or an algorithm handles the buying and optimising of advertising campaigns using data and technology without manual intervention. Almost all digital advertising happening in the world today is programmatic at some level.

For more specialised and customised programmatic advertising, most companies work with external partners who have ready products and skillsets to come with solutions for them.

Because heavy skillset and expertise build-is up required in data sciences and technology, there are very few companies who really invest in in-house programmatic advertising solutions.

Rajiv Dingra

“If brands could manage entire advertising in-house, that would be the best thing for them because they know their brands best. More brands are best managing their core competencies rather than investing in programmatic and creating own internal agencies. If they can manage it, they should, else they should leave it to the agencies,” said Rajiv Dingra, Founder and CEO, WATConsult.

Ashish Shah

On why brands do not go for in-house programmatic advertisements, Ashish Shah, Founder and CEO, Vertoz said brands prefer to go with the ‘managed’ approach and rely on complete expertise, which have profiles similar to those of data scientists in the domain, to handle their programmatic campaigns. It is difficult to scout for such level of expertise in-house. Using managed platforms makes this quite easy for brands, Shah said.

Bharat Khatri

Referring to the task of hiring skilled resources, media planning, data science and specialisation of campaign management as a cumbersome task, Bharat Khatri, Country Lead, Xaxis India, said setting up an in-house programmatic team is neither feasible nor practical due the rapidly changing market landscape.

Amisha Jain

“Emerging brands in India achieve 90% of the benefits of digital marketing working with ‘out-of-the- box’ solutions from giants such as Google, Facebook, etc., through manual optimisation and operational efficiencies. It requires significant amount of investment in terms of talent and strategic focus to get any additional benefit on top of this. When the time comes for these brands to travel the next 10% of the distance, they’ll start looking at customised programmatic advertising solutions,” said Amisha Jain, CEO, Zivame.

Is big data a reason for not adopting in-house programmatic advertisements?

Big data is a high-intensity tech piece. Combining it with business acumen that is required to actually get the partnerships and starting to use the technology makes it further more complex in the ad-tech environment. Apart from advertising, multiple other industries like Internet of Things (IOT), telecom, gaming, surveillance, etc., have been able to successfully use big data. There are some advertisers that have started to reap big benefits from integrating data across first and third-party sources. However, because there is scarcity of talent and paucity of belief, there isn't mass adoption.

“If the business is clear with the ecosystem of the operational part of using data, then adopting a big data stack for a brand should be an easy walk. It won’t be right to say that big data tech is not delivering on the promise of managing large-scale data sets,” Shah said.

He said big data is specifically designed to manage unstructured data. The big data adoption problem is only one part of it; the problem further extends to driving intelligence and applying the insights in the media-buying process.

Need for brands to pursue new data in an ecosystem dominated by Google/Facebook

The duopoly, Google and Facebook, collectively controlled 84% of all digital media investments in 2017.

“Though the ecosystem of researched data is still dominated by Google and Facebook, there’s a need for brands to invest in building their own data sources since they understand their businesses better than anyone else,” said Jain. Therefore, brands are best placed to create algorithms for their customers and business and hence the best placed to drill down to the kind of data they need.

In India, brands are also looking for tier two and tier three targeting. Good programmatic platforms use advanced Data Management Platforms (DMPs) to understand the audience behaviour and analyse the data accordingly. Further, distribution of their ad spends is a must. Brands must leverage the variety of options and choose the right platform, which matches their needs and requirements.

Nitin Chowdhary, Director, Digital Infusion said, “Most advertisers should pursue an agenda to de-risk their revenue from a single digital marketing channel, especially paid. Otherwise they're completely at the mercy of what that channel would want to charge them or create competition for them.”

Khatri said that while the third-party data may be losing some of its glamour, any form of deterministic data that are known to be true and verified will continue to be in high demand.

Will programmatic advertising steer digital advertising?

“Programmatic advertising is taking digital advertising from vanilla advertising to an advanced goal-oriented advertising medium,” said Shah.

Programmatic advertising (in-house and managed) is considered as the future of digital advertising. In countries like USA, more than 80% of the display ads are already traded programmatically. Western countries have observed a major shift of their ad budgets towards programmatic advertising. Apart from enabling brands to reach the right audience at the right time, it also facilitates brands to offer a personalised brand experience to their customers. Programmatic has the potential to systematise and automate the process of ad buying, and is believed to dominate the digital advertising sector in the coming years.

“The programmatic solutions, once it proves its worth consistently over a period of time, will further streamline the media planning and ad buying process. This mechanism, if used well along with full funnel attribution, has the potential to increase the scale of digital marketing with performance,” said Chowdhary.

Rajeev Saxena

A legal and safe data compliant eco system would push programmatic advertising in a great way. Third party data platforms would play a critical role is making valuable data available to drive programmatic adoption. It will drive the whole media planning exercise with that data matching rather using the age-old practice of soiled approach of assumption and guess work, predicted Rajeev Saxena, Co-founder and Country Head, Adskom India.

Venugopal Ganganna

Given the efficiency challenges of delivery and fraud it involves, Venugopal Ganganna, CEO, Langoor, said that the cost of acquisition of a customer through programmatic is not lower than Facebook, Google and hence will need some improvement to make a big dent.

Why it is still a jargon in India

Khatri said the changing landscape made it difficult even for programmatic experts to keep themselves up to date with new tools and technologies.

He said the whole idea of deploying programmatic in the marketing ecosystem was to bring automation in buying and selling of inventory with overlay of data but for the past five years, the landscape has been changing rapidly.

“Not just in India, programmatic advertising is still a jargon not understood deeply by digital marketers across the globe because of a layer of abstraction created on top by big players like FB and Google, and affiliate marketing channels. So, marketers might not understand programmatic advertising, but they do use it unknowingly,” said Jain.

Talking about the Personal Data Law in India, Saxena said the implementation of such laws will drive advertisers and marketers to use their in-house CRM data, on-boarding it through programmatic platforms to make intelligent marketing strategy for different stages of product life cycle. “A solid data protection law is must for growth of programmatic advertising,” he said.

Scope of in-house programmatic advertisement in India and challenges involved

India is still on the cusp of a digital revolution, yet to go full throttle and is an evolving market considering programmatic advertising. This industry is growing at the rate of 25.4% in India. It has moved beyond the ‘early adopters’ phase, and is gradually transitioning into the ‘early majority’ phase.

In the western countries, more than 80% of digital ads are traded programmatically as compared to India where the penetration is just 32%.

Indian advertisers have long been using the traditional mediums like television and print, and are more accustomed to working with the ‘insertion order’ based model. As opposed to the traditional methods of advertising, it demands in-depth knowledge of handling, managing and utilising data to uncover relevant insights and patterns and to incorporate them into the campaigns to get optimised results.

The major challenge is that people are still not fully aware of the benefits of this technology like targeting and automation. Advertisers are still exploring this tech. They are not ready to dedicate a substantial chunk of their budgets to programmatic advertising. Programmatic has to work with only experimental budgets. It has to further compete with ATL.

“This will need a mindset shift in business owners and traditional marketers as they will have to develop an appreciation of new-age machine learning and data science tools to work on programmatic buying solutions with conviction,” said Jain.

Most brands don’t have technically sound in-house resources to manage the programmatic advertising campaigns and they rely on the agency to manage the same. Also in India, agencies’ charges for managing the campaigns are on a lower scale. This reason outweighs setting up in-house teams for campaign management.

“In countries like India, programmatic advertising is being sold under the name of remarketing campaign. It's still a concept that marketers are trying to get a grasp of and piloting things on a smaller scale; however, with some case studies of Indian brands successfully turning it around with programmatic advertising, you will see the format picking up, said Dhall.

Saxena said, “Data becomes a key ingredient for programmatic revolution. CRM data on-boarding into digital ecosystem, personal data protection law, independent third party data platforms (telcos, electronic payment transactions data, etc.) would help promote the facilitation of real-time bidding-enabled advertising. Besides, the cost of creating a big data environment and running it is a hurdle.”

He added, “I reckon, in the next three to four years, we would see adoption of in-house programmatic in at least CPG/financial/auto verticals in India.”

Khatri predicted that it is expected that by 2022, all inventory will be traded programmatically across desktop, mobile, digital radio, digital out-of-home, connected TV and connected cars.

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