Under the hood: HP’s data-driven approach to Connected TV upfronts

Hear from HP’s former head of media investment, John Marshall, on how HP stays ahead of the CTV curve as well as the key insights they’ve gleaned by moving media buying in-house.

In the past few years, the TV industry has undergone tremendous transformation. The growth of new streaming platforms has led to a fundamental shift in the way people watch TV, and for the first time, advertisers can reach more consumers via digital video than traditional cable.

As head of media investment at HP, I oversaw HP’s global approach to media and advertising technology investment and partnerships. Early on, we understood the value of Connected TV (CTV) and we invested in it — primarily leveraging buying methods like programmatic guaranteed (PG) and direct insertion orders (IOs).

When it came to securing CTV upfronts, we initially relied on our agencies. But over time, we wanted to have more control and insight into campaign performance and audience composition, as well as to understand what was driving performance. That’s why we decided to move media buying in-house.

Now, don’t get me wrong — agencies remain an important part of HP’s campaign strategy and execution. However, by planning and activating campaigns in-house, we felt we could gain more visibility and efficiency and become more accountable for our media buying investments.

In this article, I’ll share a few learnings we’ve picked up along the way.

Bringing it in-house

Before we could bring programmatic buying in-house, we needed to assess the marketplace and ultimately decide which ad tech vendors to partner with directly. We also began to build out a critical data science capability, which would enable our team to start segment modeling with our audiences and first-party data.

As we ramped up our overall in-house capability, we made the decision to invest more in CTV. Why? Because we know that our target demographic — consumers 18 to 34 years of age — watch far more CTV than linear TV.

Plan ahead, but remain nimble

We purchased premium video inventory early in the year since it allows us to plan ahead.

But how did we plan early and remain reactive and nimble?

Well, we adjusted our approach. For example, instead of focusing only on scarce, premium inventory via PG deals, we now also consider inventory that is available via private auctions, and which is perhaps a bit more abundant in supply. We rely on data to better understand our audience, including where and when they watch TV, as well as how to reach them most effectively.

And, as the CTV landscape constantly shifts and expands, we try not to get overly enamored with a small subset of recognizable streaming partners.

We acknowledge that our customers are naturally going to move around — people are signing up for subscriptions, binge-watching content, then canceling and moving to a different platform — and we must move with them. It may be as simple as asking ourselves, What’s the hot show right now? then ensuring that we’re able to adjust in-flight to be where they are.

Additionally, we realize that the chances of an ad hitting our entire target audience with one or two streaming partners during a single campaign flight is slim. It makes sense to invest with the bigger players, but we should also react to where our audiences are gravitating toward, and that means investing in multiple and smaller platforms.

Thankfully, with The Trade Desk and other demand-side platforms, we can view and purchase inventory — from big and small players alike — all in one place.

Embracing CTV — the good and the ugly

CTV is an exciting space because it’s a growing and ever-changing opportunity. Technology and inventory integrations continue to expand and improve, and our customers are there. It’s also more cost-effective to reach viewers on premium networks with CTV than on linear TV. But it’s not all roses and sunshine.

With seasonal price inflation, under-delivery problems, transparency issues, and ad fraud, CTV can also be challenging for media buyers. We have mitigated these snags by balancing PG and private marketplace (PMP) deals, working directly with the inventory partners, and streamlining execution and measurement through a single ad stack.

We constantly ask ourselves: Are we confident that we’re purchasing legitimate CTV inventory? Are we reaching our audience at the optimal frequency? Or are we serving too many ads in some pockets and not enough in others? And most importantly: Did we see an improvement in our campaign effectiveness and with our campaign objectives?

An evolving buying strategy

To improve delivery and efficiency, we must strike a balance between pre-negotiated guarantees and real-time private marketplace buying — the versatility and flexibility of which offsets the former.

The combination of PG and PMP gives us the ability to execute everything programmatically, which brings a lot of benefits: We can lock in guaranteed impressions when demand is high, but also supplement that with the flexibility of PMPs. We can use data to both drive our strategy and make more informed campaign decisions in real time.

Always learning, pushing for results

There are so many innovations occurring in platform and inventory integrations from key partners, including Disney, Warner Bros., HBO Max, and Peacock — all of which make inventory available to us programmatically.

The Trade Desk account team shared insights with us from a network reach and overlap analysis, in which we were able to look at unique reach by network against our target audience and see how consolidated frequency control could help us reduce waste and achieve greater efficiency.

The gap between data usage in traditional upfront planning and programmatic digital execution is wide. These insights helped evolve how we think about buying and running ads, and assisted us in having more informed upfront conversations with partners.

As with anything in the media business, it’s about doing your homework and due diligence, being patient, and applying a logical lens — because it’s easy to get wrapped up in the buzz of a new show or platform. But when you dig deeper into the data and lean into your partners, you can uncover new things about your audience and the CTV landscape.

Looking to the future

The Trade Desk has been instrumental in helping us understand the evolution of the marketplace — not just via the platform, but via the account team and The Trade Desk’s network of data and publisher integration partners.

Sure, there are challenges with creating an in-house media team, but for us, it was well worth it. As the CTV channel evolves, we can be more agile and cost-effective; we enjoy greater transparency; and we are more accountable and in control of our digital marketing efforts.