On May 14, Acxiom announced its intention to acquire LiveRamp, a "data onboarding service," to the tune of $310 million in cash. Several Forrester analysts (Fatemeh Khatibloo, Tina Moffett, Sri Sridharan, and I) cover these two firms, and what follows is our collective thinking on the impending acquisition after having been briefed by Acxiom's leadership on the matter.
The acquisition sets Acxiom up to displace traditional MSPs. LiveRamp has built integration relationships with four of the biggest managed service providers (MSPs): Epsilon, Equifax, Experian, and Merkle. Acxiom is claiming agnosticism, and it has told us that it is "open to many ways of proving neutrality, including contractual commitments, [and] third-party audits." The firm considers the acquisition "an evolution of Acxiom’s Audience Operating System (AOS), which was launched to connect the ecosystem of marketers, technology, and media more tightly together and make every part of that ecosystem work better." But when we project out a few years, we have a hard time seeing how marketers will justify a standalone customer relationship management (CRM) database when they could, for example, port their POS and order management system (OMS) data directly into AOS and use that as their "customer marketing platform-as-a-service."
On February 24, Oracle announced it was buying data management platform BlueKai for an estimated $350 million, to add to its enterprise marketing suite.
This acquisition is the latest in a string of big-ticket purchases that Oracle has made recently to further flesh out its marketing offerings. In 2012, it acquired Eloqua, a marketing automation firm, and in 2013, Oracle bought cross-channel marketer Responsys. There have been smaller acquisitions along the way, too. The combination is meant to position Oracle as a serious competitor to established enterprise-level marketers, specifically, salesforce.com and Adobe.
I think that marketers should take notice of this latest move by Oracle and ask themselves a few questions about it. More specifically:
Since the day the very first banner ad appeared nineteen years ago, advertisers and publishers have defined a served impression in a multiplicity of ways. Today, advertisers have little confidence that what they are buying is what they are getting, a factor that is contributing to the downward pressure on CPMs for display ads.
The Viewability initiative, slated to take effect formally in 2014, is the industry’s first step toward remedying the uncertainty about actual served impressions. It establishes a base line definition of what a viewable impression is and basic rules of engagement for the display ad industry, both of which I think are critical to its long-term viability.
It seems to me that agreement and implementation of a viewability standard starts the industry down the path of greater appreciation for content, context and the important work that publishers do. This is why I chose it as the topic for my first report: “Viewability Brings Transparency To The Display Ads Market.” In it, I examine the current state of affairs in the digital display market, review what publishers and marketers have to gain, and examine the costs involved in preparing for and executing on viewability.
A few findings from the report are particularly relevant for publishers:
Viewability will be table stakes by 2014. The host of technical obstacles will be overcome and a sufficient selection of measurement vendors will be accredited to allow for choice of partners
Accommodating the new standard offers publishers the opportunity to re-think site structures in order to optimize performance for both their constituencies – advertisers and consumers
After 20-plus years of working in publishing for brands as diverse as Inc., Fortune Small Business, Money, Martha Stewart Living, and the mother of them all, People, I recently joined Forrester as a senior analyst serving Marketing Leadership Professionals, covering monetization strategies and technologies for publishers.
Understanding publishers and how they thrive as organizations and businesses is my passion. I believe in the value of the content they create and the audiences they amass around that content. I also believe that without publishers and the content that is posted, discussed, and shared, social would be a pretty boring experience. There wouldn't be much to search if not for publishers and their content. And, if user-generated content was the only environment for digital advertising, there wouldn't be many ads bought.
But today, despite their crucial role in the communication and marketing ecosystem, publishers are struggling to stabilize their business model. Since the advent of ad tech, they’ve been struggling to keep a grasp on their businesses, searching for ways to stem the precipitous fall in CPMs, and sifting through literally hundreds of vendors that are eager to offer their services as a partner.
In the coming months, I will focus my research efforts on initiatives that can change the game for publishers. My first three areas of concentration are:
Viewability, the upcoming implementation of an industrywide standard against which ads will be paid for based on a real opportunity for ads to be seen by users. This is the basis of my first report, which I expect to publish in the second half of May. I will share the key findings with you in my next post.
Audience extension, or how publishers find look-alike audiences to extend reach for their best advertisers. This report will follow.