More companies are throwing their lot into offering some form of retail media network on a seemingly daily basis. The latest move comes from Microsoft, which on Tuesday launched the U.S. version of the retail ad network it announced back in January that allows retailers to tap into Microsoft’s many ad opportunities.
That gold rush to monetize the hills of first-party data has created a glut of inventory and a lot of varied approaches to selling, which has created as much confusion as opportunity in the $45 billion-plus retail media network (RMN) marketplace.
Criteo is just the latest ad-tech platform to try to bring some order to the chaos, having launched a DSP and a series of data tools and solutions two weeks ago — and claiming to have the involvement of more than 200 RMNs.
One of the biggest is Albertsons Media Collective, which has pushed forward on standardization issues. It’s a major area of focus for Kristi Argyilan, who is svp of retail media for Albertsons Companies, the parent of Albertsons Media Collective. She oversaw the publication of a white paper that lays out a framework for best practices.
Now Argyilan is handing off some of the responsibility for that standardization effort to be led by the IAB’s Retail Media Network Committee — a move announced two weeks ago at the IAB’s Connected Commerce Summit.
But the longtime brand and media veteran of Target and IPG, among other jobs, is not letting go entirely of that responsibility. Argyilan explained to Digiday the work that needs to still get done to bring standardization to the world of RMNs.
The following conversation has been edited for space and clarity.
Explain how Albertsons will remain involved in the standardization process and how the IAB kind of picks up the proverbial torch from here.
While we published the framework in the white paper — the reason for standardization — there was already a ton of work that was underway with the IAB in terms of pinning down the philosophies behind standardization. The intent of our work was to add more momentum to what the IAB was starting. So once the philosophies are pinned down, then really what’s the roadmap — the actual work that needs to be done — in terms of what areas of retail media need to be standardized? We did that framework based on the input that we were getting from, from clients across the board — high, low, big, small — where they were struggling with retail media in its infancy, because we were all so wildly different.
Remember digital display back in the late ‘90s, early 2000s? We’re kind of in that same place where there’s so much activity, so much potential, but also so much opportunity for everything to be slightly different — to where it becomes nearly impossible to be able to manage it as a media buyer or as a marketer.
The biggest challenge by far is measurement, and the fact that we’re all doing it a little bit differently. Clients are at this place where they’re struggling to be able to compare us to each other to understand where they are getting the greatest impact on the investment they’re making. And if they can’t even compare us to each other, then how would they ever be able to compare us to all of the other marketing channels that they use? Which is really what we’re hoping standardization will lead to — an ability to get into third-party measurement platforms, so that we can be compared to effectiveness across the marketing funnel.
It’s also interesting that [RMNs] use the same terms, but the terms often mean different things. So how do we define impressions, or ROI, or attributed sales? The fact that we each define those a little bit differently is really interesting.
How far off is the retail media business from forming its own industry association?
It doesn’t really exist [today]. You can see the need for it. But I think that right now, we are so focused on just trying to be similar to each other. I think that the idea of a trade association is just kind of a big leap. It’s a really good question to ask, especially when you consider the assets that make up a retail media network. There’s data, there’s owned media, there’s measurement capability — things that are unique to us where a trade organization — or a unit within the IAB, which they already have technically stood up — is something that will become more and more important over time.
What do you make of Criteo’s moves to bring unity to a chaotic RMN marketplace?
Criteo made some really smart investments over time, and they’re great at integrating those investments, which not everybody is. The fact that they could actually be the technology support for smaller retail media networks is a really interesting position for them to play in the marketplace.
There are many others that are entering the marketplace. Look at what The Trade Desk can do. Look at Publicis, which made all of these investments in CitrusAd as well as a lot of data that they’ve acquired over time.
The question is, how do people feel about using those platforms? Are there any barriers to the industry adopting them? An agency holding company has probably more conflict issues — OMG [Omnicom Media Group] is not going to use Publicis’ stack. That’s one reason why we like The Trade Desk so much, because there’s so much volume going through there.
As a retail media sector, we are still waiting to see how Google is going to lean in here because they could have a significant play. They’re probably the most prepared to dive right in — and kudos to them for timing the market appropriately.
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