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How The Trade Desk Became the Ghost in the Marketing Machine

Enter Olivia Kory, the Head of Strategy at Haus: “The Trade Desk has to be the most successful company that no marketer I know is using.”

That’s like saying the Pope is Catholic – an obvious statement, yet somehow still shocking.

Eric Benjamin Seufert of Heracles Capital swoops in to provide some clarity: TTD, despite its massive size, is apparently playing in a different sandbox than Google’s gargantuan Network business.

Here’s the kicker – Eric breaks it down, pointing out that while Google’s Network raked in $31.3 billion in 2023, TTD is sitting pretty with $1.9 billion. And TTD’s strategic focus? Retail media and CTV. So, what’s the deal with the open web? Eric’s tweets unravel the open web’s sad story: it’s in a state of systemic decay. Translation? Banner ads are the walking dead. And if you’re a DTC brand looking for that sweet, sweet ROI, the open web is not your promised land.

It’s more like a haunted house – spooky, a little outdated, and definitely not where you want to set up shop.

Adam Heimlich at Chalice Algo decides to chime in with a question that makes you wonder if you’ve been missing a crucial page from the ad tech manual: why does Eric separate CTV and retail campaigns from the “open web”? It’s like trying to distinguish between artisanal toast and regular toast – confusing, yet somehow important to those in the know. Heimlich’s frustration is palpable as he points out that “open web” has morphed into this nebulous blob of ad tech jargon that nobody can quite pin down. It’s as if the term has been stretched and twisted until it’s about as meaningful as “synergy” in a corporate meeting.

Heimlich doesn’t stop there. He goes on to argue that everything should fall under the OpenRTB auction protocol. It’s all the same circus, just different clowns, right? Why the need for these artificial distinctions? The debate then spirals into a semantic black hole, akin to a group of hipsters in a Brooklyn coffee shop passionately arguing whether vinyl really does sound better than digital. Spoiler alert: nobody wins, and everyone leaves a bit more confused than when they started.

As the Twitter debate rages on, it becomes clear that ad tech is as much about marketing lingo as it is about actual technology. Terms like “open web” get thrown around with the casual precision of a hipster using a typewriter – it looks cool, but does anyone really understand what’s being typed? Meanwhile, Heimlich’s valid question hangs in the air, unanswered, like the eternal mystery of why avocado toast costs so much. It’s a reminder that in the ever-evolving world of ad tech, clarity is often the first casualty.

Another user, channeling the spirit of a seasoned carnival barker, threw in his two cents and then some. He pointed out that if he owned a CTV platform, he’d make damn sure it wasn’t lumped in with the open web. This isn’t just about semantics, folks; it’s about survival in the cutthroat world of ad tech. CTV commands higher CPMs – and rightfully so. It’s the difference between dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant and grabbing a soggy burrito from the gas station. Both technically feed you, but one experience leaves you feeling like a king while the other just leaves you with heartburn.

The logic is simple: CTV, with its glossy high-definition allure and prime-time positioning, is the gourmet meal of the advertising world. Advertisers drool over its potential to captivate and convert audiences who are lounging comfortably on their couches, popcorn in hand. In contrast, the open web is like the microwave dinner you heat up because you’re too tired to cook – it’s functional, but it doesn’t exactly scream luxury. CPMs, or cost per thousand impressions, are the currency here, and CTV’s higher rates reflect its premium status. Advertisers are willing to fork over more cash for the chance to appear on the big screen, rather than a banner ad squeezed between cat videos and clickbait.

The conversation, like a roller coaster designed by Escher, twists and turns into new territory. Enter Rob Leathern, an old friend and fellow ad tech aficionado, who notes that most people don’t bother to differentiate between “web” and “internet.” It’s a fair point. To the average user, the terms are interchangeable, like “couch” and “sofa.” But in the labyrinthine world of ad tech, these distinctions matter. It’s the difference between understanding that the web is a subset of the internet, and assuming that everything online falls under one giant, amorphous digital blob.

Leathern’s observation underscores a fundamental issue: the ad tech industry’s penchant for jargon often leaves outsiders scratching their heads. The term “open web” gets bandied about with the frequency of a buzzword at a Silicon Valley pitch meeting, but its precise definition remains elusive.

Is it just websites and banner ads? Does it include apps? What about mobile versus desktop? These questions swirl around the conversation like leaves in a gust of wind, leaving a trail of confusion in their wake.

Adam Heimlich, ever the contrarian, points out that to most folks, anything they can’t access when the Wi-Fi is down falls into the same category.

But, oh, the nuance! CTV isn’t just the web; it’s a shiny new playground where the ad dollars flow like wine at a Roman orgy.

Retail media, on the other hand, is a different beast entirely. As Heimlich points out, much of it happens on the open web, but it comes armed with targeting data that adds a twist. This raises the question: is it truly the open web, or is it something more sinister? It’s like a Trojan horse – it looks familiar on the outside, but there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface.

This targeted approach makes retail media a powerful player in the ad tech game. While it may seem like just another part of the open web, the depth and precision of its targeting capabilities set it apart. It’s not just about placing ads; it’s about strategically reaching consumers with laser-like focus, turning the familiar landscape of the web into a battleground for consumer attention. This stealthy, data-driven strategy makes retail media both intriguing and a bit unsettling, as it redefines what we thought we knew about online advertising.

Back to the sad reality of banner ads. They’re the forgotten relics of a bygone era, much like MySpace or Blockbuster. Eric Seufert’s lament about the decline of Google’s Network business underscores this point. It’s not just that banner ads are declining; it’s that the entire model of open web advertising is losing its luster.

As Doug Lauretano of Civic Science Advertising wisely notes, the term “open internet” is often used as a buzzword, a way to virtue signal in sales pitches. It’s like saying “organic” at Whole Foods – it sounds good, but does anyone really know what it means? The ad tech world loves its jargon, and the open web is just the latest casualty in this linguistic bloodbath.

In the end, the conversation about The Trade Desk and the open web is a microcosm of the ad tech industry’s larger identity crisis. It’s a world full of innovation, but also full of confusion. And while TTD continues to rake in the cash, the DTC marketers are left scratching their heads, wondering if they missed the memo.

So, here’s to you, The Trade Desk – the valedictorian nobody talks about, the unsung hero of the programmatic playground. Keep doing you, even if the DTC crowd doesn’t get it. They’ll come around eventually. Or not. Either way, you’re laughing all the way to the bank.

Pesach Lattin
Pesach Lattin
Pesach "Pace" Lattin is one of the top experts in interactive advertising, affiliate marketing. Pesach Lattin is known for his dedication to ethics in marketing, and focus on compliance and fraud in the industry, and has written numerous articles for publications from MediaPost, ClickZ, ADOTAS and his own blogs.

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