Programmatic data: protecting key assets

As ad placement becomes increasingly automated and algorithmic, it’s difficult to tell where the data ownership lines should be drawn.

Protecting key assets

Programmatic buying of media has allowed brands to target their customers more precisely, media buyers to exploit new revenue streams and media owners to maximise demand for their advertising space. Each party has become more sophisticated in its deployment of programmatic mostly through ongoing data acquisition.

However, the speed at which programmatic buying has taken over the online media marketplace has also led to uncertainties about the ownership of that data, which in turn causes concerns that data from some brands’ campaigns is being made available to their competitors. It’s a situation that has forced advertisers’ body ISBA to write new guidelines for brands, due for publication this month, advising them how to draft contracts with their programmatic providers to make data ownership clearer.

Alongside individual customer information, data from other channels, third-party data and data accrued by the agencies can be involved in honing a programmatic media plan. But increasingly brands are asking probing questions about how their commercially sensitive data is being used. The answers they are getting aren’t always satisfactory.

Dan Michelson, digital innovation and capability lead at Telefónica UK, explains: “We have been really careful because some of the media owners we work with have tentacles in so many other businesses. Legal documentation doesn’t make it clear what our rights are over our data. Within the marketing department there isn’t enough data knowledge to answer this fully.”

Sharing data

Center Parcs
Center Parcs wants to share data with its agency but is nervous of it reaching competitors

ISBA’s guidelines are comprised of example contract clauses that will seek to clarify brands’ position and set out to the agencies involved exactly where the data sits in the process and how it will be treated end-to-end. But with their many years’ experience in placing advertising for clients, why the sudden queasiness around sharing data with agencies? The importance and value of proprietary data has long been recognised.

The problem lies with the new paradigm of programmatic trading desks. Programmatic trading brings media buyers’ and advertisers’ data very close together, which is necessary for brands to define the specific audience their ads should target, but which also means the boundaries are blurred. Without explicit contractual protections, what would seem to be one brand’s proprietary data can morph into third-party data for the other brands on the trading desk and may potentially be used to improve their own campaigns’ effectiveness. Client contracts often only cover first-party data.

This issue is compounded when you consider that media owners also own companies that are vendors of ad tracking technology. “Ad serving companies have the widest range of visibility on campaign performance,” says ZenithOptimedia’s chief digital officer, Stefan Bardega. ZenithOptimedia handles Telefónica UK’s media planning and buying account as well as its digital trading. “This then creates a level of complexity, with the media owner selling the inventory and providing the technology that tracks it. In that situation you need to make sure the data going into the system is separated out from the media owner.”

“We’re very cut-throat,” insists MyFerryLink’s digital marketing manager, Laurie Glover, which uses Rocket Fuel’s platform. “We know other customers use the same programmatic networks and while I can see it becoming more open-source, every company should be insistent that their proprietary data is utterly within barriers.”

It is expected that ISBA’s guidelines will go some way to clarifying where all parties stand in relation to data ownership, however marketers still express concern that, while well-meaning, these guidelines will not deliver robust protection for their data.

“It’s all very well having terms and conditions but how do you monitor it?” asks Simon Jarratt, digital acquisition and media manager at Center Parcs. “We’re passing over non-personal data on a millisecond by millisecond basis. I don’t know how we would prove it if data had been used for a competitor’s campaign and also what the penalty would be if it had.”

Jarratt concludes that “when we get into negotiations we will have to find some way of doing this”, but notes that largely it is down to trust.

Michelson adds: “How much can ISBA police and penalise? It’s guidance, not actual policy. It’s quite a challenge because there’s nothing there that says what [agencies] can and cannot do. The biggest challenge is making clients aware so we self-police. If clients start actioning their own penalties and leaving agencies that don’t use data correctly, it’s the only way it’s going to happen.”

If the guidelines are not expected to deliver the guarantees marketers seek to protect proprietary data, then some suggest there are other ways marketers can act to protect their interests. Jarratt says that tag management, which Center Parcs manages through Ensighten, is one way to track how data is being used (see top three tips, below).

MyFerryLink
MyFerryLink’s digital marketer Laurie Glover is ‘cut-throat’ about ensuring its data is kept confidential

Other suggestions include companies getting their data houses fundamentally in order. The question of how to manage the mushrooming volumes of data that brands handle daily hangs over many areas of marketing. Bardega advises: “One of the unifying elements here is the development of a data management platform that enables you to pull together all those different data sources and cross-reference them to push it into the programmatic environment.” He admits it doesn’t deliver the much-vaunted single customer view but it does begin aligning all the data in one place.

But the fact remains that legal recourse to protect data remains a shaky, unproven prospect until there’s a court judgement that can clarify the area. “Realistically, we need legal precedent,” states MyFerryLink’s Glover. “Until that has happened, we’re always going to be reliant on terms and conditions.”

But could it also be said that brand owners are being too protectionist in their attitude to programmatic buying and its data issues? Few marketers would disagree that this is a brave new world in terms of marketing innovation, meaning sharing best practice could be valuable in lifting performance across the board. After all, the majority of data being considered here is anonymised while targeted prospects remain the closely guarded secret of each brand looking to exploit its own particular USP. Could the sharing of programmatic advertising data eventually become as commonplace as open-source software is today?

Internet media companies seem to think so. Video and search platform Blinkx says in a statement: “As the industry changes and Google and Facebook use customer data to drive advertising, publishers must adapt to remain competitive. By joining forces, sharing data assets and creating a central data repository of standardised customer data, publishers can remain profitable and gain usable consumer insights to develop unique content.”

There is no suggestion, however, that the company is sharing first-party data between clients without permission.

Despite a stringent attitude to the need for first-party data accountability, MyFerryLink’s Glover admits: “The [campaign] results are more important. I’m willing to accept a degree of murkiness.”

It would appear that brands are yet to feel much of a sense of collective and continuous improvement: “From our perspective we don’t want to share data with any competitors. The environment in telecommunications is so aggressive that any data insights we give that are shared can mitigate what we do very quickly,” Telefónica’s Michelson notes. “We pay a lot of money to technology companies to be able to do what we do. We expect for that cost not only to have a market-leading partner but we also expect them to protect our data from competitors as well as the industry at large.”

Center Parcs’ Jarratt adds: “Data from our own site visitors is our way of gaining leverage over the competition. We are the ones paying for the inventory, it is the brand’s data and we’re trusting [suppliers] not to share the information.”

Michelson also notes that if the concept of data sharing were to become more widely known, it would impact what customers think of the brand: “What would they think if we were sharing their data?”

The most viable solution to the conundrum of data ownership at present is that brands must simply do their due diligence in respect of customer data by shopping wisely for programmatic providers, MyFerryLink’s Glover says: “It comes down to choosing the right companies. [ISBA’s guidelines] will just codify what all respectable companies do. We have to lead by example and this is by taking on the reputation of the company we’re working with.”

Top three tips on navigating data security

Make trust explicit

No watertight legal remedies exist for brands seeking to protect data in the programmatic advertising market, meaning that the implicit trust between client and agency might need to be made explicit in a contract. Client volume enables providers to access inventory at prices that provide them margin and ultimately profit, but it could cost brands competitiveness unless they don’t make it clear that agencies can’t pass campaign-specific data on to those other clients.

Get control of data

With data flooding into companies “millisecond by millisecond”, as Center Parcs digital acquisition and media manager Simon Jarratt notes, brands that feel a lack of control over their proprietary data could hurt their bottom line must bring greater rigour to their internal data management. Organising data is time-consuming and expensive but should also improve traceability and data security, and deliver efficiencies across the operation from CRM to personalisation.

Understand the technology

All the brands interviewed for this article admit, to a greater or lesser degree, that when it comes to the data aspect of programmatic they don’t quite know how it works. Without the resources or in-house knowledge to scrutinise each transaction, clients would do well to acquaint themselves with their programmatic network and the experiences of fellow customers. “The challenge is looking into the future and seeing what you’re getting into,” Telefónica’s Dan Michelson says.

Viewpoint: Simon Jarratt

Digital acquisition and media manager, Center Parcs

Woburn Center Parcs

There’s a responsibility for publishers that any contract that is in place is adhered to. It would be very easy for them to merge data, which would make it extremely difficult to trace.

When we’re trying to find lookalikes or a target audience and do it all at the right time I understand that other pools of data must be used, but the industry has a responsibility to the end user to ensure that this is done in a transparent manner. It’s in everybody’s best interest to ensure that this works well for brands and their audiences.

We’re moving platform shortly and one of our objectives is to drive lots of new customers to our fifth UK resort in Woburn, Bedfordshire (pictured above). We’re doing lots of our own work on data and we want to share this with the agency to find out who are going to be repeat customers, but there is a part of this that makes us nervous that this information won’t purely be used for our benefit. You are empowering a company’s system to do this and we can’t be 100 per cent sure that this information is just for our own advantage.

With ISBA guidance coming out mid-September, we’re starting to have conversations where we look in detail at where our data sits and make sure it doesn’t go anywhere it shouldn’t. It’s also about how we use the [programmatic] tools to our greatest advantage. The timing is working for us because we’re changing platform while the industry is trying to help brands make sure they have some contractual buy-in to this process.

It’s also part of our responsibility to the customer. The individual can go into Google and find out how it views you but there’s no such access with programmatic tools so it’s up to brands to make consumers feel relaxed [about their privacy]. It’s great that there is the technology to allow brands to find the right audience but there needs to be human intervention to make sure it’s working as it should be.

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