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Since the dawn of programmatic, there has been an arms race between demand side platforms to integrate with just about every SSP under the sun, in service of presenting their clients with an comprehensive (if massively duplicative) array of impression opportunities. 

Back in the early days, achieving sufficient scale of high-quality supply was a concern for programmatic buyers. This made the “just plug into everything” approach that many DSPs practiced make good sense -- after all, more is better. 

Except no, more is not better. Adopting the well-worn strategy of “more suppliers, to infinity!” inevitably results in the quality supply being drowned out by ultra-long tail or even downright embarrassing supply. Marketers should focus on quality, performant supply that’s available at a good value.

In recent years, the rise of supply path optimization (SPO) has helped marketers take a surgical approach to choosing the best platforms on which to buy each publisher. I would argue that now, the scalpel should be replaced with a machete.

Supply is not scarce

Unlike the situation 10 years ago, with very few exceptions (largely at the ultra-premium end of the spectrum), there is no scarcity of available programmatic supply. In fact, the sheer volume of media inventory today makes it difficult for buyers to separate the good from the bad, and to be able to share a site list of which they can be proud.

Moreover, there is zero value to marketers in receiving bid opportunities that are duplicated across multiple SSPs for the exact same impression.

If anything, this bid opp multiplication can actually increase marketers’ media costs, by causing the buyer to unwittingly bid against themselves. The answer is not to manage an unwieldy exclusion list of ever-increasing low-quality suppliers, but rather to run solely on an inclusion universe consisting of fewer-but-higher-quality suppliers operating at scale.

SSPs have stratified

As was always inevitable, there are now clear lines of demarcation between supply side platforms of varying quality. Through consolidation and organic growth, a group of top-tier platforms has been established.

From a media addressability standpoint, there is virtually no difference between the supply positions of the top-tier Open Web multichannel SSPs, save for a very few number of publisher exclusives. This removes most of the benefit attained when DSPs integrate with more than a concentrated selection of the best, largest platforms.

Beneath the top-tier, the situation becomes even more stark: lower-tier platforms typically access the same underlying impressions as the top-tier SSPs, but often do so via intermediary platforms (which extract value out of working media) and often don’t have any of the technological or economic advantages that the leading SSPs boast. 

Demand more

Concentrating spend among a smaller cadre of top-tier SSPs gives agencies increased buying power on behalf of their clients. This can be of particular value to smaller marketers or mid-market agencies, who can often gain access to supply-side capabilities that are generally associated with very large buyers.

If marketer spend is instead spread peanut butter-thinly across myriad SSPs, the buyer will be relatively less important to any of their individual supply platforms, which could impact the support experience as well as limit their eligibility for differentiated offerings. 

More accountability when something goes wrong

While it is certainly the case that even the best SSPs can be subject to invalid traffic or brand safety issues, the more established platforms often have scaled inventory quality teams that are responsible for protecting buyers from fraud and bad ad environments. When working with a small number of high-quality SSPs, buyers have fewer “throats to choke” when something goes awry. Conversely, it can be difficult to wrangle a large number of SSPs when a problem arises, with each of them executing just a fraction of your buy. 

Moreover, staying away from platforms that are subject to multiple intermediaries between themselves and the underlying publisher decreases the likelihood of invalid traffic creeping in to one of those points of intermediation. 

In summary

Are there exceptions to this rule? Sure: the existence of any “must-buy” publishers for your clients may necessitate an SSP integration that brings about some duplication, if that SSP is the only source for such supply. 

Even in this case, though, it is often in the buyer’s best interest to have the SSPs pre-filter out any duplicative supply based upon the supply path that makes the most sense for their business. And in more emergent channels, such as certain video and streaming audio, the same degree of consolidation and stratification that has played out among the multichannel SSPs has yet to occur, leading marketers to “play the field” in order to achieve scale of reach.

Achieving optimal outcomes from their marketing spend necessitates that buyers insist upon a supply position that is capable of achieving even their most aggressive demands for reach and scale, but that doesn’t bombard them with needlessly duplicated opportunities to address the same user at the same time. Marketers should work with their DSPs to understand why they are integrated with the supply sources that they are, and make certain that everyone who has a prime stall in the marketplace has indeed earned it.