The future of ad buying, according to 3 industry leaders

May 10, 2022

With new technology and the rise of streaming TV ads, advertisers need to be nimble—ready to shift strategies to meet audiences wherever they are, however they want to interact with brands. Ahead of the 2022 Upfront and NewFronts season, we spoke with three industry leaders (GroupM’s Matt Sweeney, Magna Global’s Carolina Portela, and Horizon Media’s Stephanie Eisenberg) about the current ad buying landscape and their predictions of where it’s heading next.

According to these industry leaders, the road ahead is one defined by streaming, interactive ads, and enhanced measurement capabilities.

Matt Sweeney headshot

Matt Sweeney

Chief Investment Officer at GroupM

What are the biggest trends you’re seeing in digital advertising?

The marketplace is incredibly dynamic. We’re seeing consumers shift to content that is either live or is on demand and streaming. These trends have accelerated during COVID and we are seeing more and more of it. Basically, the marketplace for what we’ll call traditional video consumption is now separated between live—which is basically news and sports and tentpoles—then on-demand. And this is all being directed by consumer choice and preference.

I think that the old ways of watching appointment TV are history. Programmers need to operate within this new world. We’re looking at an investment strategy that says, ‘Let’s find audiences where they are first; then we can fill in with traditional linear to help with some reach.’

Talk to us about the current landscape of ad buying. What will be crucial for the success of ad buying now and in the future?

I think it’s pretty clear that it’s going to be audience-driven. The digitization of traditional TV is happening. Demographics and buying based on demo had its time, but we’re moving away from that. We’re looking to engage with audiences wherever they are, whenever they’re there.

That’s the real big change in the industry now: valuing and measuring audiences. You’re going to buy some of your media with audiences and some of your media with traditional demos. You’re going to want to work as a hybrid approach in terms of how you value and measure those two strategies going forward.

What recommendations do you have for advertisers looking to optimize their ad buying this season?

Right now you need to do a lot of testing and learning, whether it’s a demographic approach in parallel with an audience-based approach or doing some of those translations from demo to audience. I believe that we’ll have different value metrics going forward, different KPIs, which will impact some of the models we’ve been traditionally using. Then, we’ll be looking at the different tools to actually do some of that evaluation and measurement. The best thing to do is don’t expect perfection and to test and learn with your media partner.

How do you see interactive ads impacting the ad buying season?

I think this will allow us to make advertising better for people. This is one of the missions of GroupM, which is to be at the forefront. It is not working very well right now for a lot of consumers, and they’re voting with their time and attention. They’re not engaging with ads that are coming across their TV screen or their mobile phone or their desktop.

We’re doing whatever it is we can do to make with more relevant, more timely ads. It comes back to an audience-based approach with a way to engage with the audience and creative that works for the consumers.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the industry right now?

The reality is that as more people engage with content through streaming, you’re going to have less ad supply than you get in traditional TV. But there’s still a tremendous amount of demand. So, marketers and media agencies and their clients, we have to be smarter about how we use those three minutes.

So, the future of the business is helping clients buy fewer, more engaging, more valuable impressions. And that’s a challenge because it’s very different than how marketers have traditionally done large-scale media and marketing communications.

The concept of a fragmented media landscape is old news, but as important as ever. How are you approaching media planning with this in mind?

It used to be really easy to put together a plan if you want to reach certain audiences at certain times of the year. Now, the reality is that consumers are in control and are holding marketers to a higher degree of accountability. You have to be authentic and follow through with that. It’s a hard thing to do when consumers are everywhere.

You need to reach consumers where and when they are in an environment that makes sense for your brand message. Develop an audience strategy and optimize it based on the insights from the marketplace and how your buy is meeting your multiple KPIs.

Carolina Portela headshot

Carolina Portela

VP, Director of Strategic Investment at MAGNA Global

What are the biggest trends you’re seeing in digital advertising?

The biggest trend this year is definitely this evolving marketplace that we are entering into. We have been in a multicurrency world when it comes to digital, but with the linear space really leaning in in a big way. This is a huge shift for the industry as well as for our clients and something that's gonna be front and center for this year's upfront conversations.

Talk to us about the current landscape of ad buying. What will be crucial for the success of ad buying now and in the future?

What I'm really excited about in the landscape and seeing where we're going over the next few years is the ability to reach one unified audience regardless of where they're consuming content. As marketers, we need to make sure we're putting the consumer first. I think it's going to be crucial in this marketplace to really get cross-channel measurement right. We are currently testing and in beta with a lot of our partners and third-party measurement companies to understand, what does that look like? And how can we help our clients truly see the larger picture that is video?

What are the major benefits to interactive ads and/or streaming ads versus traditional TV ads? Why is it impactful?

The key benefit of interactivity, especially in the CTV space, is the ability for longer storytelling with our brand's message. We have the ability to bring consumers further down the funnel with interactive ads, which is great and something that we weren't able to do previously in this mass awareness channel.

What recommendations do you have for advertisers looking to optimize their ad buying this season?

I think working with a collaborator like Amazon Ads, where you have the full picture and consumer journey is super important and very helpful for our clients.

Stephanie Eisenberg headshot

Stephanie Eisenberg

VP, Advanced Video and Agency Partnerships at Horizon Media

What are the biggest trends you’re seeing in digital advertising?

One of the biggest trends we expect to see is anything and everything online retail. Whether it’s in-stream shoppable moments to interactive ads, getting the product and/or service into the hands of the consumer will be a huge takeaway from these events.

Programmatic has been pulled into the Upfront discussions early on. We are expecting to increase our transactions on that buying channel more, as part of the 2022/2023 buying strategy. We also expect data and alternative measurement to continue to be a hot-button topic. Horizon’s BluID and discussions around that will be front and center throughout the Upfront process.

Talk to us about the current landscape of ad buying. What will be crucial for the success of ad buying now and in the future?

Programmatic continues to push forward as the future of ad buying, especially in streaming environments. Managed service may not be enough to ensure the success of a campaign, especially when working with 5-10 different partners. Automation, in-campaign optimization, and frequency management across multiple partners makes for a more holistic view on those buys to ensure the proper delivery of ads from a household level. Since there is overlap of inventory sources across vendors, frequency management is crucial to a successful campaign. Working in contextual targeting and brand suitability as part of these programmatic buys are a way to ensure the success of these campaigns.

What are the major benefits to interactive ads and/or streaming ads versus traditional TV ads? Why is it impactful?

Traditional linear ads have their place, and they do a great job at brand awareness and the upper-funnel tactic that it sets out to achieve.

Interactive ads (whether it is purely just interactive or has the option to become shoppable) in a streaming setting give the viewer a deeper dive into the product/service on their screen. They can choose which ad they want to be served (or not), pick up a coupon for a free sample, or purchase that product they are looking at on screen. Traditionally viewers had no control over the ads they were being served, and now that control is given back to them and can choose their own viewing adventure.

What recommendations do you have for advertisers looking to optimize their ad buying this season?

It’s important to think outside of the box when thinking streaming partners and how to use device-type targeting across publishers to help increase CTV presence. There are the tried-and-true streaming partners, but there are plenty of premium content publishers that can be included in the video mix, just by layering on a CTV target. Contextual targeting is another tactic that has been gaining momentum to ensure our clients’ ads are running in the right environments to reach the right audience.

How do you see interactive ads impacting the ad buying season?

Interactive ads will be a hot button in this year’s Upfront as shoppable offerings on streaming TV continues to advance. Digital teams have done a great job of incorporating interactive ads as part of their campaign tactics. As more truly shoppable placements are being offered in CTV environments, the video investment teams will incorporate this into their go-to-market strategy for their campaigns, hitting on both ends of the funnel.

Gen Z, millennials, and the next generation of streamers, sports fans, and music lovers have high expectations for advertising. How are you working to deliver the authenticity they desire?

The biggest thing for advertisers to keep in mind, especially with younger adult viewers, is frequency management to ensure they are not being hit with the same ad over and over, which ruins the viewing experience. The ad should be complementary to the type of channel the content is being watched on. An ad that runs on traditional linear may not translate into a live feed of their favorite music festival that is being streamed. This is also a way that contextual targeting can come into play, to ensure that a client with a music-focused initiative only runs next to content about music.

The concept of a fragmented media landscape is old news, but as important as ever. How are you approaching media planning with this?

It’s important for digital and video investment teams to continue to educate themselves on all the players in the streaming space. While it is vast, there is a lot of overlap, so understanding the difference between inventory, capabilities, and scale is imperative.