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Passionate about Programmatic: Ben Foster

Everyone is talking about digital these days, but how much do you know about programmatic advertising, the innovation that has transformed marketing on the internet as we know it? In this ‘Passionate About Programmatic’ series, we highlight the people driving forward the revolutionary and ever-changing field of advertising, sharing perspectives from around the globe.

Tell us about yourself and your current role. 

I’m Ben Foster, and I’m the managing partner of digital at The Kite Factory in the UK. My role encompasses all things digital, from the agency proposition and working with key media and technology partners, to helping clients formulate their digital strategy.

How did you get into programmatic advertising, and what do you love most about it?

Five years ago, we launched our own programmatic in-house offering using self-serve platforms. Previously, we worked in programmatic on a managed service basis. We’ve been working with Quantcast on a self-serve basis for about a year. The thing I enjoy the most about programmatic advertising is that it is always developing and changing. It boils down to the marketing principle of the right message to the right person at the right time. 

What are your thoughts about cookieless advertising?

I’m not surprised the Chrome update got delayed. I think that cookieless definitely still is the future–don’t get me wrong. Cookies were obviously never designed to do the job that they do. They were something that already existed, and the industry realised how we could adapt and use them for digital media. So, I do think that the future is still very much cookieless, and I do think that consent and privacy will continue to be at the forefront of ways of working. Even though Chromes update has been delayed, I don’t think it changes anything; you still need to be testing cookieless solutions. The delay has given our clients more time to test more systematically, and we can be a little bit more strategic about what we do when.

What do you think is the most exciting technology or trend in digital advertising right now?

I think the most exciting technology is Connected TV (CTV). The reality is that the average person in this country is still watching a huge amount of linear TV. The programmatic buying of inventory on the big hero screen in the living room is really exciting to me. Connected TV represents the biggest opportunity because the scale is just huge. That’s not to say that there aren’t other opportunities in the other media channels, but I think connected TV is the biggest and most exciting trend. 

Can you share a couple of insights gained from this transformational time in adtech, and with them in mind, what do you think are going to be some key trends in the next year?

The key trends are driven by macro factors, and I think the single biggest macro factor is the economic climate that we are already in. The economic situation puts pressure on marketing budgets, so I think performance will be a big trend. When I say performance, it doesn’t necessarily have to be just about sales and revenue; it could be another objective that we know has an impact on the business and the bottom line, such as engagement and awareness. The crucial element is that the performance is measurable and the technology is set up to optimise itself toward those measurement objectives.  

When an adtech solution doesn’t have its own proprietary data and good AI, it doesn’t work. It always falls down eventually. I’ve seen lots of technology solutions that look really good, and may be really strong in one of those two areas, but those brands don’t even exist anymore. If a company can actually do both, then you’re onto a winner, and you’ve got something that’s actually sustainable.

The Quantcast Query (a rapid-fire Q&A)

Who is your role model–in the industry or otherwise? 

My role model is the England women’s head coach, Sarina Wiegman. The reason that I admire her is that her preparation is second to none in terms of thinking of every eventuality, having a plan B in every scenario, and ensuring that everyone knew what those plans were. I think that it’s no different in terms of what we do in business. Sabrina has excellent preparation and rigour, and she’s very motivated. Her team is something to be admired; we could use more people like her in the men’s game.

What has been your favourite campaign over the past year?

A client that I have that I’ve always admired is WaterAid. If you don’t work with clients in the charity sector, there is a preconception that they are behind; they’re not early adopters of new technology; they’re quite risk averse. Actually, that isn’t true of charities at all. It’s like any other sector; some are bold, and some aren’t. WaterAid’s campaigns are always full of innovation and creatively extremely strong. The first campaign they did that really shook things up was when they actually created a whole scenario where they brought water to a village, they brought you into that village and you met the villagers; you could do a virtual tour around it. They also did live video with the villagers, and then they had a big reveal when the water actually arrived. 

What is the best or worst piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?

The best piece of advice was when you change roles, and your focus changes in some way, you should list the things that you’re going to stop doing. That is more important than the list of things you’re going to start doing. It draws a line in the sand, obviously, because you’re no longer doing those things; it allows you to actually do what you should be doing, rather than holding on to stuff that you used to do. 

Finish the sentence: To me, programmatic is…

…the future of media buying at scale. For example what stops the taps from turning on in TV is the legacy structure of the way that it works in this country with Channel Four, ITV, Sky, and other similar organisations. But once those walls are broken down, there will be serious momentum. Digital audio will be the same and increasingly digital out of home.

Learn more

If you missed earlier instalments in our ‘Passionate about Programmatic’ series, check out these EMEA, APAC, AMER (US), and AMER (Canada) perspectives.

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