In our next edition of Insights from the Buy Side for 2022, we spoke with Justin Sous — Vice President, Head of Optimization & Innovation at Kepler Group. Thanks for taking the time, Justin!

As a member of the US Executive Leadership Team, Justin Sous leads Kepler’s Optimization & Innovation department, where his team manages all biddable media at the agency. His team is responsible for live media management, which includes campaign optimization, tactic testing, insight generation and innovation. Sous has also been developing Kepler’s Global Media Centers of Excellence (COEs), which include subject matter experts in TV/Video, Search, Social, Commerce, Programmatic, Amazon and more.

Sous has been focused on the digital marketing industry for over 12 years, driving business outcomes for brands of all sizes across Entertainment, Finance, Subscription, Travel, CPG, DTC, Retail, Telco and Home Improvement verticals.

OpenX: What are the key programmatic areas of focus for Kepler in 2022?
It’s been a busy 2022 already for Kepler, and we have a plethora of priorities, some organization-wide and some vertical/channel-specific. A few of our key priorities, which include programmatic, are:

1. Supply Chain Efficiency & Transparency: We continue to focus on improving efficiency in the programmatic auction. This includes, but is not limited to, working with like-minded partners who genuinely want brands to win. For example, there are the agreements for take rate fee caps, which Kepler now has in place with several partners, including OpenX, which put a higher percentage of our brands’ budget toward working media than fees and “tech tax.” We also continue to monitor and understand trends on the publisher side. Maintaining a line of sight into how publishers are thinking about and reconsidering yield management is helpful to inform our buying strategy to maximize scale and win rate while keeping CPMs flat (or driving them down).

2. Commerce: The commerce ecosystem is opening up, and there are a lot of great opportunities and partnerships ahead to build on our approach to retail media networks for both endemic and non-endemic brands. There are lots of valuable data sets owned by retail giants, which are now accessible to brands both within those retail networks, as well as off-network. Proactively building and maintaining a playbook for navigating this specific area of industry growth enables us to capitalize on early, unsaturated ad opportunities.

3. Identity & Measurement: This is a big priority for us, and we have a dedicated department called Marketing Systems Strategy (MSS) taking the lead with our partners and clients.There’s a lot of smart, proactive work and POV development in this area, and we’ve done a fair amount of early testing. Since we manage cross-channel digital marketing programs, our identity and measurement priorities are not limited to programmatic (and go beyond digital media, as well).

OpenX: How are you approaching audience and identity targeting, and are you thinking about the death of the cookie?
There’s a lot to unpack here! Without going in-depth on each of these, the future state must balance components like scale, measurability, privacy and comfortability. In terms of audience, we as marketers want to ensure we are delivering ads to the right folks, at a level of scale that makes sense for the brand’s needs. It’s paramount that targeting and measurement strategies remain privacy-compliant, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we need to adhere to a cookie-cutter approach. Agencies have an opportunity to apply their technical and marketing prowess to overcome these challenges, providing creative solutions brands are comfortable with.

With the announcement from Google on the Topics API, Kepler’s MSS team was quick to generate a POV that addresses the perceived impact on users, publishers and advertisers. There are still a number of key open questions, though, like whether or not this approach fully addresses regulator and user privacy concerns.

Overall, Kepler has been doing a fair amount of testing and evaluation of ID-based solutions from both a targeting and measurement standpoint, which will continue to pay dividends as the cookieless future becomes the present.

OpenX: What is a common misconception you see today in digital media/advertising?
There is a lot of “doom and gloom” regarding the death of the cookie. In actuality, we see this as an innovation-driving change to our industry. We are going to see a lot of new and interesting technologies and solutions as a result of these updates. As for Kepler, we like to think we thrive on industry complexity, as it gives us an opportunity to show our depth of knowledge and ability to produce and execute bespoke solutions. After all, losing cookies doesn’t make digital advertising less impactful: we just need to adjust and evolve our approach.

OpenX: What emerging trend or piece of technology are you most excited about today?
I have to say the metaverse. The more I research, the more I can envision this being a real part of our future. There are certainly aspects that are truly exciting, like the potential applications in health, fitness, education and more; however, there are also a lot that have not been addressed nearly enough. Topics like user safety and governance within the metaverse, for example, still require a fair amount of discussion. We are seeing a lot of user testing going on, which is yielding helpful feedback; still, we have a long way to go.