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Why Your Programmatic Strategy Sucks Without Curation (And How to Fix It)

I’m Pesach Lattin, and if you’re not familiar with me, you probably haven’t been paying attention to the ad tech world. I’ve been in this racket since the internet was powered by hamster wheels. I launched back in ’96, sold it to Cybereerps for just under half a mil, and that was my jumping-off point. From there, I rolled out networks like Total Women and Total Health, all about curated content and sites. Fast forward to now, and the ad tech scene is in desperate need of a shake-up. Enter the curated marketplace, which is basically the reincarnation of those old-school niche ad networks, but with a slick, high-tech vibe.

Programmatic advertising has turned into a monster, an over-engineered mess where everyone’s fighting over scraps. The impending cookie apocalypse has thrown the industry into a tailspin, with folks scrambling to figure out identity resolution, targeting, and attribution. But here’s the kicker: the solution isn’t some shiny new tech—it’s something as old as the internet itself: curation.

Think of curation as that cool DJ who knows exactly what tracks to drop to get everyone moving. In the programmatic world, curation is about handpicking the best data and supply, packaging it up into unique PMP-based deals, and selling it through any DSP. It’s quick, efficient, and fits right into the existing programmatic workflow without breaking a sweat.

For agencies, curation is a lifeline. Remember when agencies were chosen for their media buying prowess, optimization skills, and cozy publisher connections? Then programmatic came along and flattened everything into a bland, automated soup. But with curation, agencies can reclaim their mojo. They can centralize their campaigns, making sure every dollar is tracked and maximized. No more black box nonsense—curation brings transparency, letting agencies see exactly where their money is going and how it’s being spent. This newfound clarity also means agencies can rebuild those direct relationships with media owners, cutting deals based on volume and aligned brand values, just like the good old days.

Data providers, those unsung heroes, have always been stuck in a thankless role. They’re like the middle children of programmatic, always overlooked and underappreciated. They face issues like lack of reporting visibility, difficulty reaching media buyers, and safeguarding data. But curation offers them a way out. By packaging their data with media on the supply side, data providers gain control over their segments and can track usage in real-time. This not only improves revenue forecasting but also protects their proprietary data. And with third-party cookies on the way out, curation allows data providers to leverage the best identity resolution solutions, keeping them relevant and in control.

Publishers, on the other hand, have their own set of challenges. Their first-party data is like gold, especially with third-party cookies disappearing. But to let advertisers target their audiences off-network, they’ve had to give up some control over this valuable data. Curation changes that. By integrating their first-party data into curated deals, publishers can protect their assets while extending their audience reach. They can target their own visitors on the open web without having to run an in-house trade desk, which is often expensive and resource-intensive. Curation offers publishers a streamlined way to monetize their audiences with minimal friction, using the same programmatic workflows that are already in place. It’s like getting the best of both worlds—control and monetization—without the usual headaches.

To put it bluntly, curation is turning the tables on the programmatic ecosystem. Agencies are finding new ways to stand out, data providers are gaining the control they’ve always wanted, and publishers are finally able to fully leverage their first-party data without losing their grip on it. This isn’t just a subtle shift; it’s a revolution that’s putting power back into the hands of those who create and manage content.

Drew Stein of Audigent is all in on curation, calling it a simple yet transformative approach. The old way was all about the buy side, using DSP platforms to optimize data and inventory. Curation flips that script, pushing data through the supply path and opening up new opportunities for targeting and optimization. It’s a future-proof strategy that marries data with the sell side, creating better results for brands and media agencies.

And let’s not forget the economic and regulatory landscape. With privacy laws tightening and the end of third-party cookies looming, advertisers are scrambling to find new ways to engage consumers. PubMatic, for instance, is working with top advertisers on sell-side data activation to build resilient, channel-agnostic strategies. Sell-side targeting is emerging as a privacy-safe tactic that helps brands navigate these changes while maintaining high performance and visibility.

So, where does this leave us? It brings us full circle to the concept of the curated marketplace. Back in the day, niche ad networks like the ones I created thrived on curated content and targeted audiences. Today’s curated marketplaces are the sophisticated descendants of those early networks, leveraging advanced technology to deliver highly targeted, effective advertising solutions. They bring transparency, control, and efficiency back to the table, addressing the shortcomings of a fragmented and often opaque programmatic landscape.

The rise of Curation Houses like Kargo, Concert by Vox, Audigent, and Multilocal is a testament to this shift. These modern intermediaries are campaign-oriented, driving demand directly from clients and media agencies. They’re equipped with advanced data targeting features and are poised to take over the decision-making layer that DSPs once dominated. Publishers, wary of data leakage and rising costs, are more than willing to collaborate with these curators in hopes of unlocking new revenue streams.

In essence, the curated marketplace is reshaping the programmatic world, offering a sophisticated, data-driven approach that benefits everyone involved. It’s a reminder that sometimes, looking back can help us move forward, bringing timeless strategies into the modern era with a fresh, innovative twist.

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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