Working at the intersection of economics, programmatic advertising, and radical transparency.
I work with marketers who want to know what makes programmatic advertising tick by discovering the truths of the trade. Doing this rigorous work means finding ways to utilize programmatic as a tool for great advertising. While it is certainly easy to spend ad budget on programmatic inventory, the idea of delivering great ads is not always in the cards for many marketers today.
The notion of blending economics, game theory, and programmatic tools to reveal meaningful stories through data and human observation is a huge opportunity for marketers, but it isn’t easy to get there. The supply chain has historically struggled to achieve the delicate balance of doing things right in programmatic and while also doing the right thing.
Nailing great advertising is never easy, and doing it with programmatic ads is even more difficult — the more it is sold into marketers as an 'easy button' solution, the further they wander from that destination.
Knowing What to Do And Getting Your Supply Chain to Do What You Know
Knowing what to do with programmatic tools is the first tricky step for many marketers. Only when marketing leadership knows exactly what to do will winning strategies and precise execution emerge.
But that's not enough. If marketing leaders cannot effectively share this knowledge with their partners across a complex and opaque supply chain, then no amount of planning and execution will achieve the advertising outcomes they want. Marketing leaders today need to know as much about programmatic bidding as their supply chain partners do. By tilting the informational balance in the marketer's favor, new competitive advantages will prevail, making them better off. As more and more marketers find terra firma with their programmatic setup, the industry as a whole will become more credible and better positioned for sustainable growth.
My programmatic experience began in 2007 while developing addressable TV and data product requirements as a consultant for Project Canoe in New York. That team worked day and night for a year straight at the Time Warner Building in Columbus Circle. Although words like "Connected TV" or "DMP" did not yet exist back then, we slogged away creating detailed product requirement documents that described what would eventually become today’s pervading digital media norms.
From there, I joined Yahoo!'s new Barcelona office in 2008. Yahoo! had just acquired Right Media for $680 million — the first real-time bidding exchange — and I was charged with building a pan-European team of account managers, traders, and analysts. Not only did that team get tons of early training on the nuts and bolts of ad auctions, but we also experienced the inner workings of bidding code, arbitrage, and behind-the-scenes deal-making.
Cutting my teeth at Yahoo! in the very early days of programmatic was an immensely rewarding experience. However, it was not until I joined pre-IPO Criteo in London that I had the chance to apply economics and game theory to programmatic. At Criteo, I learned from the most talented minds in programmatic at the time and had the opportunity to build and manage a supply-side team that put "passback code" on thousands of publisher pages well before header bidding was popular. Not for nothing, we also built out a wicked smart Hadoop team of programmatic quants.
My next career chapter led me to Yieldr, a European DSP. As an incoming CEO, I was charged with repositioning the company for the in-house market. That was in 2014, when the notion of in-housing programmatic was a big bet for marketers and tech companies alike. Not only did I learn firsthand how financial and growth pressures can put DSPs and other ad tech companies in difficult situations — best described as moral hazard — but the experience also gave me an acute sense of why things are the way they are in the programmatic ecosystem.
With thousands of field hours under my belt, I launched Labmatik in 2015 — the first programmatic transformation consulting firm. The idea of starting a new kind of consulting firm from scratch was based on a simple hypothesis: How much better off would marketers be if only they could think and act more strategically like Criteo? After all, if marketers could identify bidding and negotiating advantages simply by knowing where to look, then they would gain substantially more managerial control over the supply chain.
Not only would they be better equipped to turn programmatic advertising tools into real business outcomes, but they could also avoid paying the consequences of fee transparency and other issues related to moral hazard. In essence, if marketers could learn the real tricks of the trade, their teams would be much better prepared to practice what is true to get what they want.
Programmatic Lemon Market Game
After traveling around the globe doing consulting projects for the biggest programmatic spenders, frustrated as I delivered viable solutions only to run up against supply chain actors who either blocked innovation outright or did not have the right incentives to prioritize the client's needs ahead of their own, I stepped back to examine the problem in a new light.
One day, while explaining my frustration to a good friend and colleague of many years, I was reminded of an economic concept called a Lemon Market. A lemon market is when buyers overpay in auctions because they don't have enough good information about potential ad quality. In other words, when sellers misrepresent their inventory looking to fetch the highest price, buyers pay peach prices for low-quality "lemons."
I already knew about the theory of lemon markets from my undergrad days at UCLA, so I re-read economist George Akerlof's original paper from 1970, which is one of the most cited papers in economic research. With my past project experience working with log data and a solid understanding of the statistics described in Akerlof's paper, I applied one to the other and turned my field observations into a methodology paper called the Programmatic Lemon Market Game.
Having worked in and around digital advertising since the early Dotcom days, I never could have imagined how struggling through an undergrad degree in economics and serendipitously taking Lloyd Shapley's class on Game Theory (he won the Nobel Prize in 2012) would turn out to be so invaluable. The same goes for my business school experience at the University of Notre Dame — never did I think I would use every single course in so many unforeseen ways.
Experience Is What You Get When You Don't Get What You Want
My programmatic journey is what led me to create Lemonade Projects — the only programmatic innovation agency putting these amazing tools to work with a total focus on getting the actual advertising job done for clients.
Our talented team and Lemonade Community do this work by practicing what is true about programmatic ad quality so our clients can finally get what they want. Not only do they want to spend growing ad budgets responsibly on auctioned inventory across display, CTV, audio, and DOOH ads, but they also want to get the best ad quality in return. Accomplishing both outcomes at the same time is not easy, which is why we call this fundamental trade-off "The Struggle."
Lemonade Projects is in business to get our clients through the struggle by running campaign experiments with precision and speed. We are completely reimagining campaign design and management into a system of fast experimentation with fresh-eyes talent, clean ad tech choices, and exceptionally high ad quality standards.
Through creative experimentation, our clients master the struggle, gain a large competitive advantage, and own the programmatic conversation.