Putting the novel COVID-19 pandemic aside, 2020 has been an interesting year in programmatic advertising. Back in January, Google Chrome announced it will no longer support 3rd party cookies in two years. In June, Apple declared it will deprecate its IDFA (identifier for advertisers) limiting the ability to target and track users within apps on iOS devices. And just this past month, major brands including The North Face, Unilever, Verizon, and Clorox have decided to boycott Facebook in an effort to #StopHateforProfit.

With many things in flux, the Insights from the Buy-Side blog series looks to facilitate a great “Xchange” of information between programmatic’s buy and sell-side. This month, we interviewed John Marshall from Hewlett Packard (HP).

John Marshall
Head of North America Digital Activation at HP

John is the Head of North America Digital Activation at HP. He’s been with the company for over 5 years and currently oversees the North America in-house digital media team. During the COVID-19 pandemic, John has been at home with his family trying to balance Zoom calls, facilitate team chats, and help his kids with their school work.

OpenX: How has your day-to-day business changed as a result of the pandemic?

John Marshall: There have clearly been changes to consumer behavior and as you can imagine, some of the biggest category trends during the COVID-19 pandemic have been around enabling a remote workforce, home offices and home schooling.

At an HP level, we’ve clearly seen an increased demand around enabling remote work and education, so our products make sense from that standpoint. We have significant relevance there and we’ve seen a corresponding demand in computing and print products. Obviously, supply chain implications from the pandemic have been a factor in everything, whether you’re trying to get hand sanitizer or a laptop delivered for your kids’ schooling. So, we saw a pretty good spike in demand for consumer applications, and from a commercial standpoint it’s disrupted the typical sales model because you’d normally attend in-person events, and  conferences and sales calls, all of which have become virtual.

Also, from a commercial perspective, buyers are changing how they equip their enterprises with equipment that provides secure and adequate technology so their people can get their jobs done. All of this has to be accomplished in a way that protects intellectual property and company security. It can be something as simple as an employee’s wifi getting hacked – the remote work movement creates a whole new set of demands for an IT decision maker.

OpenX: How has COVID impacted your team as people and as marketers?

John Marshall: Our team has changed. We quickly pivoted to remote work like most companies and because a lot of our teams were already distributed, I haven’t seen a decrease in productivity or communication. We’ve gotten a glimpse into people’s homes and their lives and we’ve evolved very quickly into working via video, and I think it’s been a good thing. With all that has happened we have also had to do a good amount of replanning and reassessing of tactics as well as establishing new benchmarks and goals.

From a media planning standpoint, we’re trying to be opportunistic and make sure we’re taking advantage of an influx of supply with reduced demand as some advertisers have slowed down spend. I think we have seen a bit of a shift towards more of a buyer’s market than we had pre-Covid 19.

On the supply side, our partners have been very eager to work with us, think outside the box on proposals and build custom programs to meet our evolving needs. 

OpenX: When do you see your marketing activity returning to normal?

John Marshall: Ultimately, it depends on when and how things evolve related to everyday life and work. Many of our marketing activities have been operating as they normally would while others are shifting a bit with the COVID-19 restrictions in place.

We’ve been reassessing where and when we should be investing relative to changes in consumer demand as a result of COVID-19. This includes making some priority shifts between demand generation and branding efforts based on these changing dynamics.

OpenX: A number of brands are targeting away from several types of content: news, COVID, social unrest and more. Facebook has also been very publicly in marketers’ cross-hairs. How are you navigating this dynamic?

John Marshall: Brand safety is definitely a priority for us, but we have found it’s not as simple as avoiding certain keywords and broad content areas. We have to be a bit more fine-grained in our approach.

One under-explored aspect of the advertising dollars leaving Facebook is the potential impact on supply and subsequent pricing for similar alternatives. This would likely be a good thing for open web publishers, especially those that produce content at scale and don’t rely on Facebook as a distribution channel.

OpenX: Has COVID-19 made you rethink what you look for in technology and publisher partners?

John Marshall: It certainly helps if our partners remain flexible and collaborative with us as we shift and change our efforts. Partnership is key now more than ever.

As an example: for a recent campaign, we were looking for a premium video opportunity against an important target audience. Certain partners we RFP’d really stood out in their response with more creative ideas and flexible pricing options that reflected the decrease in demand the marketplace was seeing. We’re looking for partners who genuinely try to understand our business and will build things that help us engage our customers. It’s not just about buying banners and video – it’s about creating connections to our customers through our publisher partners. How do we create a common community with them that allows us to show up in brand-safe, high-quality environments while maintaining efficiency and scale? We want to work with partners who are willing to acknowledge the current landscape and the need to create mutually beneficial programs.

Right now, it’s a little bit more of a buyer’s market than a seller’s market. That said, it still is about mutual benefit and value. We’re all trying to adjust to the changing business landscape, and we all have to think about how to evolve our approach to advertising, content and customer engagement.  

OpenX: One last question – what are you most looking forward to when the lockdown is over?

John Marshall: The return of live sports.

We hope you enjoyed this conversation with John Marshall from HP. Be sure to look out for our next Insights from Buy-Side blog post.