TechBytes with Dan de Sybel, CTO at Infectious Media

Dan de Sybel

Dan de Sybel
CTO at Infectious Media

According to an eMarketer report, programmatic display ad spend will reach $33 billion this year and would hit $46 billion by 2019. Earlier this year, Infectious Media partnered with Screen6 to offer targeted, cross-device digital campaigns on a global scale. We spoke to Dan de Sybel, CTO at Infectious Media, to explore how businesses can maximize programmatic performance using data science, analytics and brand safety strategies.

MTS: Tell us about your role at Infectious Media and how you arrived at this position?
Dan de Sybel: As CTO, I determine how we deploy technology to achieve our goals, whether that’s buying it in or building up from scratch. I also manage the team that builds the tech once the decision is made to go down that route.

Although I originally wanted to work in banking, I first started working at a local data company due to family commitments. By the time I was ready to move on in 2002, relevant opportunities in the banking sector had largely dried up, so I stepped into a business analyst role at

This was right at the point when digital advertising grew rapidly, almost exponentially. I joined a team of 12, and when I left we were at 1,000 employees across the world. I joined Infectious Media shortly after and was lucky enough to find many of the people I worked with had moved into the programmatic space. This proved invaluable when building Infectious Media’s Impression Desk platform.

MTS: How do you see bot traffic clashing with programmatic results? Do bots negatively affect the programmatic ROI?
Dan: The greatest thing about programmatic advertising is its flexibility and openness. Unfortunately, these are the qualities that bots have been able to take advantage of, albeit for nefarious purposes. It’s incredibly frustrating to see how much this has negatively impacted the perception of programmatic and ultimately the real ROI that it drives.

One of the main problems has been the fact that advertisers haven’t been given the knowledge they need to properly interrogate the numbers given to them by agencies and root out the influence of fraudulent traffic. Bots existed long before programmatic advertising, as have the systems involved in detecting them. It’s just there’s never been any motivation to tell the client about those risks. With programmatic continuing to highlight the true impact of bot traffic, that’s quickly going to change.

The tools required to better protect advertisers are out there and becoming more sophisticated by the day. It’s just going to take a more honest and open dialogue across the media supply chain to ensure everyone is benefitting equally and programmatic advertising is delivering on its full potential.

Read Also: AD/FIN and Infectious Media partner to bring Greater Accountability to Programmatic Media

MTS: What is the correlation between bot traffic and ad fraud metrics? How can programmatic capabilities resolve false reporting?
Dan: It’s safe to assume that higher bot traffic results in higher levels of fraud, but there’s no accepted standard to measure this. The closest we have is measuring the probability of fraud. The level of acceptable fraud varies from advertiser to advertiser – for our clients we aim for no more than 1%.

Programmatic is a great tool to minimize false reporting, thanks to the fact that much of its data is transparent and open to quick analysis. We’re now seeing an influx of new ad verification companies focused solely on processing other company’s data to identify and remove threats. Rather than having to spend months looking through huge amounts of data on their side, the right ad verification company allows brands and agencies to hand three months’ worth of data over and have it analyzed in rapid time. With these capabilities and added protection, it’s then that programmatic truly shines.

MTS: Most programmatic advertising platforms, networks, and exchanges have come together to provide a brand safe environment for advertisers. How do you see such collaborations helping the international programmatic ecosystem?
Dan: I think consortiums are a good idea as long as they can achieve something. It’s all very well to say that you’re actively handling brand safety, but if you do nothing but set up independent audits then it’s all hot air. What we need is some agreed best practice standards to work towards, that can be shared and used to effectively measure brand-safe environments for advertisers. Some consortiums, such as TAG, are developing these to provide a way for individual companies (and other consortiums) to measure their efficacy.

This actually rings true for fraud as well. In an ideal world, collaboration between advertisers, agencies and anti-fraud companies would be instant and seamless. If we received a request to purchase high-value inventory and we suspected it was fraudulent, we could then let others know via the real-time pipes of programmatic. If other people flagged it using these methods as well, then the consortium could act to block the inventory and use the signals to predict fraud and prevent it from happening again. But in the real world, sharing information can be problematic, not least because many companies earn money from developing new ways of detecting fraud who could lose their value, if such data was shared.

MTS: How can analytics and optimization tools allow advertisers to continually evolve their campaigns to maximize programmatic performance?
Dan: Ad tech is now hugely focused on data science. We now can interrogate every single data point, using smart analytics to turn that data into useful insights. Optimization allows you to act on that insight, with programmatic technology ultimately allowing you to automate the actions to deliver continuous performance with little human intervention.

The adaptability of programmatic means a single person can make changes to a campaign in seconds, based on the real-time data that’s constantly being fed back. Advertisers gain a much deeper understanding of what’s going on in their digital advertising, with programmatic continually improving performance.

MTS: What would be your advice to CMOs who are planning to invest in programmatic adoption in the near future?
Dan: Don’t think of programmatic simply as a new toy to invest in – instead, consider how it fits into your advertising strategy and how it can improve your offering. Go in with open eyes, and work with partners you trust.

That being said, don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Many agencies and advertisers are scared of programmatic due to concerns over brand safety, ad fraud or highlighting long-standing errors in the execution of their campaigns. These have always been concerns in the advertising industry; the transparency of programmatic simply makes them more visible. Brands shouldn’t be afraid of this visibility – we can certainly learn and achieve more because of it.

MTS: Thanks for chatting with us, Dan.
Stay tuned for more insights on marketing technologies. To participate in our Tech Bytes program, email us at

Read More: Infectious Media and Screen6 partner to bring the promise of “Programmatic Everywhere”

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