Let’s Talk Programmatic: AW360 Sits Down with AI Digital’s Founder and CEO

Stephen Magli, Founder and CEO of AI Digital

In this AW360 interview, we speak with Stephen Magli, Founder and CEO of AI Digital to get his thoughts on the state of programmatic and what lies ahead for the industry in 2023.

 By R. Larsson, Advertising Week

AW360: Welcome to this AW360 interview, Stephen. Can you tell us more about your Adtech origins and how you became CEO and founder of AI Digital?

Stephen Magli: Being an entrepreneur was in my blood, for as long as I can remember. Before going to college, I recall telling my mom to give me the tuition money instead so I can start my own company. She said no. I went to college but still started my own company in 2010 when I founded a Nashville-based promotions and marketing business. The money I made in college ultimately ended up serving as seed money for AI Digital.

Afterwards, I went on to hold various roles in Adtech including roles at MediaMath, Nomi/Axper, and GetIntent which allowed me to hone my skills in business development, sales, marketing and advanced analytics. While I enjoyed the field of digital marketing, I did not enjoy having a boss – especially a dismissive one. However, the poor leadership I witnessed in other companies ultimately taught me a lot on what not to do while leading and growing a business.

Then in 2018, the entrepreneurial bug hit again as I felt there was a better way to serve agencies and brands and AI Digital was born. We’re a full-service, global programmatic consultancy that leads with an audience-first outcomes driven approach. Our goal is to help agencies and advertisers navigate the digital ecosystem, maximize performance of the walled gardens such as Amazon and Google along with hands-on, unrivaled data and technology access, outcome-based audience strategy, advanced analytics driven campaign optimization and advanced measurement.

AW360: Since its founding, how have you been able to steer AI Digital around uncertainty and what are the company’s biggest areas of growth today?

Stephen Magli: Like many companies who had to confront a global pandemic, we set out to make thoughtful adjustments and one of our main steps was to ensure employee flexibility and retention was a top priority. My previous experience in sales and management helped me pinpoint which tactics lead to high performance and which are demotivating. Leading with empathy and implementing workplace practices with our employees in mind contributed early to AI Digital’s success during difficult times. As a result, I’m proud to say that we have never had an employee quit in the past five years.

We did not only survive during the pandemic, but we also thrived as a growing business. AI Digital hit a number of key milestones this year. We believe that programmatic and digital can be a true growth driver for brands. We focus on being an industry leader in maximizing performance of the walled gardens. Furthering our commitment to ensure our clients leverage tech and data to drive better outcomes. In order for brands to succeed in 2023 and move forward, they can’t ignore channels like Amazon and the ability to own their own destiny in commerce. They need to win in both areas, and we provide them the tools and expertise to do just that.

We’ve grown our practice full of experts who understand emerging channels such as streaming, OTT, & commerce which has led to us diversifying our client base across various sectors including financial services, DTC, pharma/healthcare, political, state/local government, tourism, retail, QSR, B2B, and retail media. Additionally, we recently debuted a new in-house proprietary platform called, ELEVATE, to improve programmatic optimization and brand and business outcome measurement for our clients by providing comprehensive and accountable insights into the audiences, channels and publishers that are driving results.

AW360: Programmatic advertising is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about customer experience. In what ways can programmatic advertisers help make the consumer experience a positive one for audiences?

Stephen Magli: Consumers today have easy and unlimited access to their favorite content, and with that, comes high expectations for advertisers to establish connections and innovative ways to engage with their audiences. Consumers also expect ads to be a seamless part of the streaming experience, where their viewing sessions are interactive, entertaining and personalized.

To achieve this, OTT/CTV advertisers, publishers and networks can create a relevant ad experience for consumers by coupling accurate and precise data with dynamic creative optimization to ensure the right ad is shown to the right person at the right time.

Also, innovation of ad formats and experiences should continue to be a priority for streaming publishers and content owners. For example, it will be interesting to see how Netflix evolves their offering as I believe they could push other streamers and the marketplace at large to bring in new formats and experiences that will make advertising more relevant for consumers.

AW360: How can programmatic advertisers improve their first-party data sets when industry trends show second and third-party data is still favored?

Stephen Magli: Second and third-party data continue to remain important assets for any marketer. But there is an experimental shift happening now where marketers are seeing success with first-party data sets and not simply leveraging it for media purposes but for greater insights into their customers. First-party data can inform the products brands launch, the price points they are offering, and to help make their media drive a better outcome.

Leveraging first-party data efficiently has significant benefits to drive optimal performance and optimization, deeper insights into consumer behavior, measurement enrichment, and increased consumer engagement when used properly. Improving the quality of first-party data sets starts with understanding your first data and organizing the data into consumer profiles based on their preferences and value to your business. 

AW360: As consumers opt into ad-driven streaming services, what types of ad formats and innovation practices should brands and companies explore within CTV and OTT?

Stephen Magli: Any ad format that makes the consumer experience more immersive, valuable, and personalized. Streamers have always been consumer first with their advertising products. That’s very important as ad breaks are typically shorter than linear television and prioritizes a clear consumer value exchange. We believe that providing consumers interactive experiences and commerce driven offerings will not be the main advertising format moving forward, but streamers will continue to innovate in introducing commerce driven experiences that provide value to both consumers and brands.

AW360: With retail platforms continuing to leverage first-party data for accurate audience targeting, how can brands and companies work with retail media to drive outcomes more efficiently?

Stephen Magli: Retail platforms adopting walled garden-type principles from Google, Facebook and Amazon will remain a predominant trend generating billions in programmatic ad revenue.  However, these platforms have an opportunity to provide greater transparency and the ability to deliver optimization across platforms, and use holistic management practices to ensure marketers are not spending beyond the point of diminishing returns.

Another pivotal prospect is making sure CPG and retail brands manage their retail media in concert with their broader brand and programmatic initiatives. This will guarantee that dollars are spent efficiently, ultimately allowing marketers to understand and regulate total reach/frequency of their total investment and improve return on ad spend (ROAS). 

AW360: What kind of forward leaps did you see the programmatic industry make this year? What challenges do you think marketers will face in 2023?

Stephen Magli: This year, we saw significant progress in the availability of premium inventory programmatically across OTT/CTV, video, streaming audio and DOOH with most high value ad supported inventory being available programmatically across both traditional and nascent digital channels. A few years ago, there were premium publishers that were not making all their inventory available programmatically.

However, there’s been a fundamental shift in publishers’ willingness to make their inventory available programmatically, within PMPs/programmatic guaranteed and/or within their own walled garden platforms. As publishers become more comfortable trading programmatically and see the economic benefit, I believe there will be another evolution in the private marketplace/programmatic guaranteed space.

Going into the new year, people-based and cookieless data still need to improve. Match rates are still limited in some cases, and there’s a clear need to provide marketers lower dependence on the cookie as an identifier and optimization lever. Additionally, as walled gardens make it more challenging to share data between platforms, it’ll be imperative for marketers to have a deeper understanding of performance within the walled gardens and holistically across walled gardens. Data clean rooms might be a critical part of this evolution. However, we hope some of the recent developments are only the first step into privacy compliant data sharing and more importantly, more granular performance insights.

I also sense invalid traffic and brand safety will continue to be a challenge, especially in OTT. Now that the OTT market is beginning to mature, it’s clear that we’ll begin to uncover the nuances of the medium and invalid traffic/fraud challenges. At AI Digital, we have been clear with clients regarding the best practices and actions our trading team is taking to minimize fraud.

About Stephen Magli

Stephen Magli is an entrepreneur and leader in the advertising technology & digital advertising industry, ensuring technology delivers against marketer goals. As Founder and CEO of AI Digital, he leads a global team providing full-service, programmatic services. Stephen brings technical Adtech experience combined with a deep understanding of marketer expectations from technology to data centric solutions. In addition, he has experience in business development, sales, marketing and advanced analytics.

Previously, he served as Vice President of Sales and Business Development at AI-powered programmatic Adtech company GetIntent. Prior to that, he worked at Nomi/Axper and MediaMath. Stephen’s entrepreneurial roots go back to his first company, the Nashville Social Group, a promotions and marketing company. He lives in New York City with his mini goldendoodle Willie. 

About AI Digital

AI Digital is a full-service, global programmatic consultancy that empowers agencies and advertisers with digital expertise and instant data enabled programmatic infrastructure across all media types and access to all leading premium publishers and inventory. Leading with an audience-first approach, the company helps agencies and advertisers navigate the digital ecosystem by delivering hands-on, unrivaled data and technology access, outcome-based audience strategy, advanced analytics driven campaign optimization and advanced measurement including detailed, real-time transparent campaign reporting.

AI Digital is a priority Amazon Partner with access to over 150+ people-based data sources and in platform optimization expertise to maximize value of all walled gardens including Google and Amazon’s data and tech stack, along with 10+ DSPs. AI Digital leverages technology through its proprietary platform ELEVATE and the expertise of its world-class, global team to drive a more ELEVATED consumer experience, measurable action, and brand and sales lift for more accountable results. Learn more about AI Digital at www.aidigital.io.