AW Insider: Q&A with Jay Stevens, CRO, Adform


Jay Stevens made headlines when he stepped into his new role as Chief Revenue Officer of the ever-expanding Adform, one of the world's premier adtech companies. We caught up with Jay ahead of Advertising Week to discuss how programmatic is evolving, the challenges ahead, and converging technologies.

Q: Programmatic has evolved significantly in the past few years. Beyond new technologies, how does one stay ahead in the industry?

Indeed, and it will continue to evolve significantly and at a crazy speed - that’s the inherent beauty of this space. There’s an insatiable need to innovate, to push boundaries and find greater efficiency in the market.

One stays ahead by remaining curious, to constantly question the existing nature of the digital landscape and to ensure that the results of such curiosities directly translate into business benefits for clients.

Our clients - both agencies and brands - love the ideology behind, and reality of, a full-stack, interoperable and modular solution. This transparent approach encourages clients to take complete control of their data-driven campaigns, online and offline data consolidation, dynamic creative optimization and extensive reporting and analytics - it’s transforming the digital advertising as we know it.

As an industry, and as an innovative ecosystem, we must discuss, debate and even argue in an open, frank manner. We must question what we think, what we know and what we think we know, so that we can continue to innovate, as a community, well into the future.

Q: What are the new challenges in fighting ad fraud, and how do you see those challenges evolving in 2017 and beyond?

As the programmatic advertising industry innovates, ad fraud continues to evolve, but I think many companies have made good strides in combatting it although there is still a fair way to go.  

One growing challenge seems to be ad fraud in-app and mobile web where certain fundamentals are different and the inherent challenge of device identification makes fraud detection more difficult. On the other hand, the growing availability of trustworthy third party data including cross-device graphs are making fraud detection easier.

We are constantly investing considerable resources into maintaining our market leading fraud detection solution and are fortunate to have access to vast amount of data for doing so. Combining data from the ad server, DSP and DMP gives a level of detail that can make bot activity stand out. This data is strengthened by an increasing number of large enterprises implementing comprehensive tracking of all digital channels, which also aids fraud detection.

Although Adform has a strong data foundation, we also recognize that it is our collective responsibility, as an industry, to share knowledge, ideas, data and solutions and to stay vigilant, proactive and secure for the sake of our clients and the trust in our industry. Correspondingly, we are one of the first companies to receive a TAG-ID. The Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) is an industry initiative to help combat ad fraud and criminal activity in the digital advertising supply chain.

Q: Ad-Blocking was arguably the hot topic of Advertising Week XII last year, how has the industry adjusted? What more needs to be done?

It was, and just a couple of days ago Facebook announced an ad-blocker blocker, if I can call it that, for desktop. It’s a never-ending battle and publishers are facing increasing pressure on inventory availability, especially among certain audiences, namely male millennials and gamers.

However, there are best practice guidelines that aim to minimize the chance of consumers installing the all too brutal ad blocker. Ad tech companies, including us, should be promoting these guidelines much more – subtle movement, click-to-initiate, dynamic creative optimization, full transparency, appropriate weight adjustment, to name a few. Advertisers should also be using their first party data in more savvy, segmented ways in order to maximize the relevancy and personalization of their creative and content within their ad campaigns.

Providing relevant and rewarding personalized content and creative to consumers will decrease the likelihood of them installing an ad blocker. And it may be up to us to educate the general population around how harmful ad blockers can be, by using them, they jeopardize access to free, ad supported, editorial, research and other types of content. Agencies should also be taking responsibility in educating their advertisers on how best to use their data, and how this can decrease ad blocks and increase ROAS and ROI.

Q: What new roles will the trading desk play in the future? 

Trading desks have historically been trading hubs, with domain expertise and concentrated knowledge and expertise around programmatic, serving as a central resource for the agency holding companies.  However, as programmatic buying becomes the foundation for digital advertising, as opposed to a siloed, narrow discipline, the brains within those trading desks become increasingly valuable. We are already seeing the first green shoots of this trend as holding companies begin to distribute these resources back into their operating agencies.

Q: Setting programmatic technologies aside, what’s the most exciting new tech product you’ve seen lately? Why?

I’d have to say it’s the convergence of several technologies rather than just one: the increasingly affordable electric car combined with renewable energy generation and storage, artificial intelligence enabling autonomous control, and the proliferation of ridesharing logistics technology such as Uber.  The combination of these technologies will transform transport, urban planning, and even foreign policy in ways we’ve not seen since the invention of the automobile.   

Q: Once upon a time kids wanted to grow up to be astronauts and firemen. These days, kids everywhere want to be data analysts and programmatic ad buyers. What do you think the kids of 2066 will want to grow up to be?

Based on where we were 50 years ago, 1966, when it was just the early dawn of the digital age, it’s no telling where we will be in 50 years’ time.  I would imagine that engineering around advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, computer to human interface, sustainable energy and virtual worlds will be key themes.   

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