The Rise of Programmatic In-Housing

Understanding programmatic today

In a fast evolving, digitally accelerated world – particularly post-pandemic – programmatic advertising is a brand’s secret weapon to stay agile and use data to reach the right people, in the right channels, with the right message, in the right moment. 

Outlined simply, programmatic advertising describes the process of using automated technology (and crucially, data) for media buying, rather than traditional or manual approaches to buy advertising space. 

“Programmatic is buying digital advertising space automatically, with computers using data to decide which ads to buy and how much to pay for them.” – Kenneth Kulbok, LinkedIn Programmatic

Done well, programmatic allows you to reach your audiences with highly-targeted messages in a way that’s helpful, relevant and authentic. 

And if programmatic’s growth is any indicator, marketers sure recognize that potential!

As of 2020, “programmatic’s share of digital ad spend worldwide is expected to grow to 68%. And, more than 2 of every 3 display ad dollars are being spent programmatically”.1

“Programmatic disruption is creating a fourth era of digital, with programmatic advertising spend now accounting for more than 80% of digital ad spend.” – The Drum2

However, doing programmatic well can be complex. Getting it right hinges on data.

To truly target customers in an authentic, relevant way, brands need to;

  • Have the right, accurate customer data
  • Be able to collate that data from across all their MarTech and AdTech – no silos!
  • Have the right data strategy to make that data actionable in real time.

Facing an ever-complex network of programmatic agency models, more brands than ever are looking to take their programmatic in-house, to make the best use of their data, cut out the digital middleman and unlock advertising transparency – and control. 

  • As of 2020, 21% of organizations globally have completely moved programmatic buying in-house and plan to continue.3
  • Additionally, a further 48% of organizations globally have partially moved programmatic in-house, with plans to continue.4
  • 69% of brands (across US, EMEA, LATAM) have either partially, or completely moved programmatic buying of display, video and/or CTV in-house according to the IAB.5

What’s behind the move to programmatic in-housing? 

As the prominence of programmatic rises, brands are increasingly deciding to in-house their media buying, to take control over their media spend and activity, and gain transparency – which may have been difficult, where programmatic has been spread across multiple third party agencies.

There are many drivers leading organizations to want to bring programmatic capabilities in-house:

  • Control and transparency. To gain clarity over attribution, and control exactly how media appears, where it displays, and who to.
  • Brand safety. Linked to control, organizations need absolute confidence that their ads are appearing in the right environments, with the right message, and are visible in the right areas.
  • Change. Facing the demise of the third-party cookie, which has historically driven a lot of programmatic, brands are looking to leverage their own, first-party data for success.
  • Privacy regulation. Alongside the desire to gain control, and leverage first-party data, comes compliance; brands need to be certain they use customer data in a compliant way.
  • Agility. From evolutions in tech, to the impact of the pandemic, brands need to be more nimble in the face of change, and want the agility to adapt to what in-housing unlocks.
“The dual effects of the pandemic – which accelerated brands’ move to digital – and the coming demise of cookies should push more brands to in-house programmatic”6

Of course, there are also challenges to moving programmatic in-house. Getting it right requires the right in-house skill sets. It hinges on having the right integrated technology infrastructure; your efforts need to be fed by the right first-party data strategy, within the right data ecosystem – with no silos or walled gardens to block the view.

Below, we’ll explore these challenges further, and outline a true roadmap to programmatic in-house success.

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6

2 / Why Brands are Moving Programmatic In-House

It’s a logical step; move any marketing activity in-house, and you’ll gain a clearer view and control of the specifics, from cost, to targeting efficacy, and release efficiencies, and campaign effectiveness as a result.

When it comes to programmatic, this is precisely what in-housing aims to achieve.

“Not surprisingly, campaign effectiveness and cost efficiency were noted as the two most important objectives of in-housing programmatic globally. Better audience targeting was the third most important objective globally. “ – IAB Programmatic + Data Center with Accenture Interactive1


There are a number of benefits to moving a programmatic capability in-house:

Benefits of in-housing programmatic

Benefit 1: control & transparency

Moving from an agency model, when programmatic is in-house, it ‘cuts out that digital middle-man.’ For many brands, the benefits of transparency and control sit across multiple areas:

  • Accurate attribution. While agencies are there to help, there may be questions over the accuracy of actual reported results. Without direct control of the data, it’s harder for a brand to deep dive into what’s working – or not. In-housing releases that, giving a complete picture of activity, and allowing appropriate, business-aligned actions.
  • Better brand visibility. When you have control of your own data, and your own ad campaigns, you gain clarity over how media appears; where it displays, and who  sees it. The benefits here are wide ranging; from better resonance with target audiences, to ensuring brand messages are visible and accurate across the right cross-channel environments.
  • Leverage own-brand data. A clear advantage of having control of programmatic in-house, is brands being able to harness their own data, for a clearer picture and better targeting.
Campaign effectiveness (42%), cost efficiency (43%), and better audience targeting (40%) are the three top objectives for US brands when considering current and past in-house initiatives.2

Benefit 2: Keep pace with change, and ahead of third-party cookie demise

The data landscape is evolving. As of 2021, advancing privacy regulation, and the demise of the third-party cookie (which programmatic has, historically, been reliant on) are approaching. 

Here, moving in-house presents a substantial benefit, allowing brands to take advantage of their first-party data for programmatic use. And by centralizing programmatic in-house, brands gain direct clarity over how campaigns perform across various programmatic exchanges, from Google, to Facebook and to Amazon, and attribute better across those walled gardens. 

This need for greater data control has not gone unnoticed. According to AdExchanger, 36% of brands in the US now name data management and data ownership as leading reasons and objectives for moving programmatic in-house.3

Benefit 3: control brand safety

Hand-in-hand with control and transparency, when programmatic is in-house, a brand unlocks the certainty that ads appear in the right ad environments, and are visible in the right areas. In-housing enables you to optimize your supply path and create confidence in the inventory.

Benefit 4: adhere to privacy regulation

Aligning with privacy regulation must always be a priority – yet without in-house control over programmatic activity, how can you be sure your actions are compliant, accountable and adhere to regulation? 

With a move to in-house programmatic, where brands own their own AdTech contracts, comes greater control, certainty and accountability over how first-party data is used, to ensure compliance and connection to a wider data strategy.

Benefit 5: cost savings, ROI and streamlining

Where “two top reasons for bringing programmatic in-house globally are to increase campaign effectiveness (42%) and cost efficiency (41%)”4, in-housing offers a way to make marketing better – and cheaper.

In fact, when all areas are in-housed, and integrated well – from data, to strategy, to tech, it’s possible for a brand to achieve 20-30% greater returns on programmatic activity5 – critical in a post-pandemic landscape where making the most of budget is key. 

Add in the wider business efficiencies and control that an in-house approach to programmatic presence brings to a brand, vs. an agency approach, and it’s no surprise that in-housing is on the rise. 


In-housing objectives from decision makers who have in-housed at least one media function

Source: “The Brands’ Guide To In-Housing Media”, Forrester, September 17, 2020

  • 1
  • 2 IAB 2020 Programmatic In-Housing Report​
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5 Acxiom own data

3 / Different In-Housing Models

While 69% of US brands may have already completely, or partially in-housed programmatic1, keep in mind that in-housing is not a ‘one size fits all’ proposition. 

There are a range of in-housing models that an organization can choose from; selection will be unique to each business and impacted by multiple factors, from an organization’s current programmatic ecosystem, to existing in-house expertise, to the specific programmatic and wider business goals.

Typically, in-housing models will fit into one of three cases (and difficulty levels!):

  • DIY – a full competency, in-house team
  • Agency led
  • A hybrid model

Let’s look at these options in more depth:

Programmatic in-housing options and considerations

‘DIY’ – a full competency, in-house team

A DIY approach may be taken by brands who already have full digital and data competency, and existing specialist programmatic talent. In this model, a brand should already be confident in their data strategy, technology and integrated ecosystem, and have an experienced in-house team of programmatic specialists to manage the strategy and operation.


Following a more ‘traditional’ setup, in this case, a brand may need expert consultancy advice and support – at least initially – and hire an outsourced partner to manage all elements of programmatic, from strategy, to planning, and to ad operations. 

While this does offer time savings, ease, and allows an organization to benefit from expert knowledge, it may not bring the ‘full control’ element that many hope for. 

A hybrid model

Arguably the best of both worlds, a hybrid model for in-housing programmatic sees an experienced expert support, train and develop in-house competency. 

This allows a brand to gain greater control of their programmatic, while learning and benefiting from the ongoing support and advice of an experienced partner (such as Acxiom).

Specific support areas that a partner would deliver will vary case-by-case and be defined by an initial consultation. However a partner may support across the programmatic and data strategy, tech infrastructure optimization or implementation, and provide expert insight and training to in-house teams, as well as support programmatic process, execution and operation.

Which option is best?

Choosing an in-housing option will depend on a number of factors. 

First, there are four key areas to consider when in-housing. A successful program hinges on:

  • Strategy – which  will set the tone and focus for your media efforts
  • Data – which underpins the strategy and defines a consumer-centric approach to media decisions
  • Technology – which serves as the necessary enablement layer and connective tissue
  • Execution – which works to move media plans from theory to action

Different in-housing options will work to action these key areas in different ways, and whichever a brand chooses will depend on existing expertise and capability, budget, resource, the level of control desired and more.

Source: “The Brands’ Guide To In-Housing Media”, Forrester, September 17, 2020


Additional questions to consider when selecting an in-housing option may include:

  • What in-house capability already exists?
  • Does your organization have the internal expertise and team talent needed for success?
  • Is the first-party data that you have accurate, actionable and high quality enough for your programmatic campaigns to be specific? Specificity increases the need for expert programmatic and data support.
    •  Consider: how granular do your campaigns need to be? 
    • What is the uniqueness of the audience you’re trying to reach?
    • Can your data support that, uncover lookalike audiences – and importantly – identify who to suppress or exclude?
  • Does your in-house MarTech and AdTech infrastructure support your programmatic goals, and create a transparent, un-siloed view for effective analytics and attribution?
  • Can your in-house team support the data strategy needed to achieve your programmatic goals?


  • For already-experienced teams who have full digital and data competency, and are able to keep ahead of changes in data legislation, and technology evolution; a ‘DIY’ in-house approach may be the best fit.
  • For brands without the internal expertise or capability, an Agency model requires least resource, yet may offer less control.
  • For most, therefore, a ‘middle ground’ – the hybrid model – allows room for a seamless transition to in-house, while supporting and training an in-house team for maximum control, transparency – and long term success.
  • 1

4 / How to Implement Programmatic In-Housing

Finding and hiring the right talent to manage in-house programmatic media buying, and creating transparency and control can be complex. 

An expert partner, such as Acxiom, in a hybrid model, can solve this, providing the experience, support, advice and data/tech integration/ optimization to take in-housing to the next level – whether it’s a new initiative, or optimizing an existing program.

As an example of implementation, a partnered roadmap to programmatic success may follow these stages:

Step 1. Assess / advise

Every brand will start an in-housing program at a different maturity level. Starting with a consultation period, a partner would work to assess that maturity and evaluate the best model for success, dependent on these key areas:  

  • Strategy, and data (what data do you have, and need?) 
  • People (do you have the right people in place?) 
  • Technology infrastructure (what technology do you own? What technology do you need? What technology do you own that you don’t need?) 
  • Process – Do you have the right organizational, data and technology process in place for seamless, real-time programmatic?

Step 2. Standup / operate

In this phase, an expert partner would work with the brand to get the in-housing project off the ground and running in the interim, with a view to transition into a training, support, handoff, or managed service phase. 

This phase typically involves onboarding (data, technology and people), optimizing, and ensuring there’s no gap in activity or performance. 

Step 3. Transition / optimize

In the third phase, a quality partner will train and support a brand in expanding and training in-house teams, with a view to handover (or maintain a level of partner consultancy advice, to make use of experience and expertise.)

Note that for best support throughout this process, it helps to partner with experts who are practitioners, not just consultants, and are able to provide support across data, technology and tradecraft, including:

  • Holistic strategy
  • Data solutions, audience segmentation
  • Campaign management
  • Advanced analytics & reporting

Obstacles when in-housing

When a 2020 ‘State of In-housing’ report1 asked about the biggest challenges involved when facing an in-housing initiative, marketers responded that the main obstacles were:

  • Lack of existing talent
  • Not enough resources to build a competent in-house team
  • Lack of internal support
  • Lack of knowledge around programmatic buying
  • Difficulty in communicating the value of in-housing programmatic

Every organization is, of course, different – and the right expert partnership will work to solve  these challenges, as well as other key obstacles:

  • Organizational commitment. Initiative success depends on internal expectation management and C-level commitment. Make sure your programmatic champion – or your programmatic partner – can support this, and communicate the true benefits of programmatic for best buy-in.
  • Prioritization. It is unlikely that a brand can in-house 100% of all media at the same time. Deciding (or seeking advice on) which channels are going to be in-housed first is another key consideration. 
  • Advice, talent and expertise. From the standing up, to the operating of programmatic in house, to optimization and any transition phase, having the right expert knowledge in the right place is often hard. Again, this is something that the right expert partner can support and unlock realistic expectations of what you can action, and how quickly.
  • Time and resource investment. Moving programmatic in-house can take time to release true value and return, especially if you need to stand up a new team and train them. Again, managing internal expectations, and securing buy-in and investment can be a challenge.  
“It’s a long-term journey,”… it often takes 18 months or more. Brands must develop a business case for in-housing that supports investments in AdTech and talent. They also often evaluate platforms and consolidate who they work with as part of the process – another time-consuming effort.2


  • 1
  • 2

5 / The Role of Data

Data unlocks the door to in-housing success

Of course, we can’t forget the role of data in the in-house programmatic process.

But, getting the data that informs your activity right, is always the first step on the road to in-housing success. Effective programmatic relies on quality, real-time data to stay relevant and resonate with the people it displays to. 

There are lots of data considerations to make. To harness the value of data, and gain transparency and control over budget, as well as paid media investments, it’s important to:

  • Enable a centralized data strategy
  • Review, and optimize MarTech and AdTech to allow the right data to move between the right platforms. 
  • And, have the right expertise and skill sets available to know how best to build a cohesive, responsive, and relevant programmatic media approach.

It’s here that aligning with an expert data partner – who can advise and support all elements of the data ecosystem, including continued practical implementation support – can get your in-housing efforts off to the best start and ensure the best use of your first-party data.


Ultimately, with the right centralized approach to data as a foundation to programmatic in-housing, brands can become more nimble and agile in the face of change, unlock complete transparency to their audiences, and enable clear understanding and control of media performance, for more effective, relevant and efficient marketing.


Acxiom empowers brands and advertisers to manage, optimize and scale their digital media practice thereby gaining full transparency and control of their data and programmatic in-housing.

Discover Acxiom's In-housing Roadmap and Execution Services