MarTech Interview with Ben Plomion, Chief Growth Officer at GumGum

“I sincerely hope that brands and marketers start to wake up to the negative impact that keyword-based brand safety strategies are having because those strategies don’t just hurt publishers but also brands.”

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You were recently promoted to Chief Growth Officer. How has your role at GumGum evolved since then?

My role as CMO was largely devoted to pinpointing our differentiators then promoting them. In my new role, I’m still doing that, but I’m also validating our value proposition because the client-facing nature of Sales offers a more practical picture of how we’re perceived in-market. I’ve been able to take that more credible picture back to Marketing to develop strategies that promote our differentiators in ways that are more relevant to clients. One facet of that shift toward validation as a guiding force is a more data-driven approach.

As a CMO, I didn’t make any bones about chasing trends, even if it meant I occasionally hit a dead-end. I always felt there was something to be gained by taking a creative risk. For a CGO, growth in the form of increasing revenue always has to be top-of-mind, plus the mandate is broader so the impact of mistakes are amplified. I can’t chase a caprice because the potential to do real damage is far greater.

If I take a risk as CGO that doesn’t pan out, those wasted resources have drained some of the fuel that supplies your tried-and-true growth engine. By putting more trust in data than I did as CMO, I’ve been able to avoid my old impulse to give something new a try just because it’s new.

We heard you’ve partnered with the Ad Council. What is GumGum doing to support efforts around COVID-19 awareness?

I am extremely proud of the work we’re doing with Ad Council, so thank you for this question. Our partnership was actually coming together prior to the pandemic. As part of a unique platform initiative called GumGum Smile, we were in the midst of planning, a few times a year, to donate a portion of our revenues toward creating and distributing digital messaging support Ad Council PSAs.

When the COVID-19 reality struck, we immediately recognized that we needed to expedite the GumGum Smile launch to support the Ad Council’s social distancing PSA initiative to slow the virus’ spread. We moved so quickly — the whole process from contacting the Ad Council, to building creative, to launching the first ad unit took less than 48 hours — that I believe we actually released the first PSA of the whole campaign.

GumGum is generally agile when it comes to execution, but the speed with which this came together was unique because everyone on our team had a terrific sense of urgency about it. We’re currently running three pro bono COVID-19 awareness campaigns with the Ad Council, including one utilizing our new In-Video ad format. You can see them all on the GumGum Smile page of our website.

GumGum recently released the findings of a new study leveraging Verity, your Machine Learning-based ContentAnalysis and Brand Safety engine on COVID-19 and brand safety. Could you tell us a bit about the results?

At the highest level, the data show that a significant majority – over 60% – of online content that contains COVID-related keywords — including words like pandemic and quarantine — is actually brand safe. What’s troubling about that fact is that most brands rely on keyword-based brand safety systems that are blocking ads from appearing on anything with those COVID-related keywords. It’s actually more than troubling. It’s starving publishers at a time when we need them most. Digital publishers are a vital source not only of potentially lifesaving information but also of diversion at an extremely anxious time.

Rather than being supported in their important work, they’re being punished for it––in the name of brand safety. I sincerely hope that brands and marketers start to wake up to the negative impact that keyword-based brand safety strategies are having because those strategies don’t just hurt publishers. They also hurt the brands by depriving them of the reach afforded by ad inventory that surrounds content that is being consumed the most right now.

Keyword-based brand safety has been billed as a more refined, smarter approach to brand safety than wholesale white and blacklisting, but the Verity data show that it makes the right call less than half the time. I wish more of the industry were getting the nuanced level of brand safety insight that Verity offers––and not because it’s a GumGum product.

In fact, I’d welcome the competition, because the more nuanced and subtle brand safety technologies there are, the more quickly we’ll restore a market that has contracted far more than it should have at this point.

Have you conducted other studies around contextual targeting?

In the past, we’ve conducted various surveys of marketer sentiment regarding contextual advertising, but most recently, we partnered on two very interesting contextual studies. One was a Forrester TEI case study looking at the revenue impact of GumGum’s contextual advertising solution in action and the other was a neuro analytic study we developed with SparkNeuro to understand the cognitive impact of contextually relevant ads.

The Forrester study evaluated an 11-week seasonal campaign for multinational food and beverages brand, where we used our contextual analysis and targeting system to drive sales. The findings were resoundingly positive, showing a risk- and value-adjusted ROAS around 280 percent. That figure speaks for itself and should convince most of the contextual doubters out there. For those who aren’t convinced, I’d recommend they also check out our neuro study, which found that contextually relevant ads are 2X as memorable and inspire over 40% more neural engagement than contextually irrelevant ads. That study also showed that they produce a statistically significant increase in purchase intent.

With the impending death of the cookie, you’re already starting to see more favorable attitudes around contextual targeting, but I hope these studies we’ve been doing help build people’s confidence in contextual targeting as an alternative to behavioral––especially since contextual analysis AI for targeting has become so accurate.

What do you love about your role at GumGum?

What I really love is the alignment between all the different teams that I lead here. There has always been fairly decent alignment between Marketing, Pre-sales, Sales at GumGum, but bringing those teams under one department has allowed me to get everyone on the same page in terms of both goals and responsibilities. That’s something that is actually extremely unusual.

Normally marketers and sellers are at odds, fighting over who owns what, which is a useless energetic drain. We’re all working together at GumGum and I love contributing to that alignment.

One word that best describes how you work.


What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?

Zoom on Slack.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Learn to recognize your weaknesses, so you can turn them into strengths.”

Which superhuman character/literature icon do you readily connect with in life?


A unique message for all young professionals in the tech business –

Contrary to what many people think, you can actually age well in this industry––so long as you stay attentive to trends and client needs.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Kathleen Kayse, Chief Media Strategy and Partnerships Officer, Ad Council.

Thank you, Ben! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Ben Plomion is GumGum’s Chief Growth Officer, a newly created executive role responsible for creating value for clients, ensuring product-market fit, developing go-to-market strategy, and elevating customer experience. Ben leads GumGum’s Planning and Sales teams in addition to the award-winning Marketing team that he has led for the past several years as Chief Marketing Officer. Before he was hired by GumGum, Plomion was Head of Marketing for the programmatic advertising company Chango, where he established the business development and marketing organizations and helped guide the firm to its acquisition by Rubicon Project.

Earlier, he held a variety of marketing leadership positions at General Electric, where he helmed the company’s global digital media practice. Plomion is a French native and a graduate of GE’s Experienced Commercial Leadership program and McGill University’s MBA program. He lives in Venice Beach with his wife and son and is an avid surfer and skateboarder.


GumGum is an artificial intelligence company, with deep expertise in computer vision. Its mission is to unlock the value of images and videos produced everyday across the web, social media and broadcast television. Since 2008, the company has applied its patented capabilities to serve a variety of industries from advertising to professional sports. GumGum is based in Santa Monica, California, with eight additional offices in the US, the UK, and Australia. Pioneers in image science, GumGum is backed by leading investors including Morgan Stanley, NEA, Upfront Ventures, First Round Capital and Crosscut Ventures.