12 Stars of Ad Tech Who Are Building the Future of the Industry Right Now

In the world of advertising technology, everything is new. Whereas just a year ago Facebook might have been considered a secondary player in automated advertising, mobile and data, today it is reshaping the business. Programmatic is no longer merely a niche buying tool. In fact, the IAB estimates that 20 percent of all digital ads are bought and sold programmatically, and the discipline is fast becoming the key to the future of brand marketing plans. And marketers are no longer leaving such advanced ad tactics to the geeks–they're bringing ad tech in-house.

Programmatic has expanded from mostly real-time exchanges to a private marketplace model. Advances in data are enabling cross-device advertising, giving marketers the ability to target an individual on his or her smartphone, tablet or desktop.

Advertisers are seeing that technology can control the whole experience. They can use technology to customize campaigns to the individual and manage lifelong relationships with consumers. Technology can let a clothing retailer know what kind of pants you want, and enable it to reach you at will. A consumer-goods marketer will be informed that its mobile ad has persuaded you to buy its brand of toothpaste.

In short, the full promise of ad tech is almost a reality.

Here, a look at 15 stars of ad tech who are helping set the cornerstone of advertising's future.

1

Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan

39, CEO, Drawbridge
Drawbridge is putting the data into mobile advertising. The company sits on an ecosystem of ad exchanges and compiles data for brand clients to use in cross-device campaigns. Sivaramakrishnan says the company is trying to democratize identity so that rivals like Facebook aren't the only firms with access to consumers. Drawbridge's mobile programmatic efforts are key to establishing that connection to identity, enabling it to match mobile and desktop ad data to establish a link to users who are jumping around.

2

Omar Tawakol

46, gm, Oracle Data Cloud
Tawakol was the co-founder of BlueKai and sold his data management company to Oracle earlier this year--a milestone in the programmatic space. Advertisers want to apply data to everything--ad campaigns, social media messages, public relations and sales strategies. Tawakol has since launched the Oracle Data Cloud, a platform with more than 1 billion anonymous consumer profiles. According to Oracle, the service allows organizations to prospect at scale and deliver relevant ads and content across online, mobile, search, social and video.

3

Stephan Beringer

51, CEO, VivaKi Data
At VivaKi, the digital programmatic arm of Publicis Groupe, Beringer has oversight for the audience-on-demand service, which helps advertisers go cross-device and "drive relevance for the individual at scale," he says. Beringer sees 2015 as a turning-point year in ad tech, a time in which the industry will make strides to solve the problems of ad fraud, fake clicks, attribution gaming and shady behavior in general. "The focus will shift back to the ultimate objective of creating relevance, relationships and results," he says.

4

Joshua Koran

44, svp, product management, Turn
Koran is an ad-tech wizard at Turn, helping brands use their own data to make smart ad decisions. More brands are bringing programmatic buying in-house, and Turn helps them make that leap. The maintenance of lifelong customer relationships is now being enabled through the melding of marketing automation and ad tech, and savvy marketers are looking to take technology beyond the banner ad, Turn says. With the programmatic infrastructure largely in place, Koran and Turn build customized tools for marketers to take advantage. 

5

Bridget Bidlack

43, vp, enterprise products, RocketFuel
Bidlack joined RocketFuel this year after it acquired her company [x+1]. She sees several major advancements in ad tech this year: the rise of cross-device targeting, programmatic expanding beyond real-time bidding into direct buying, mobile programmatic, and smarter data collection and normalization. "Models should use real-time signals along with first-party and third-party data to ensure that all the data you know about a customer or prospect is leveraged," she says.

6

Deanie Elsner

51, CMO, Kraft
Kraft is one of those big advertisers embracing programmatic and data, joining others like Mondelez International and Progressive. Kraft chose Turn as its programmatic partner and is running campaigns for 30 of its brands through the marketing platform. The idea was to pair first-party data, gleaned from digital interactions with consumers, and third-party data, and use that information to target ads. Kraft execs this year called programmatic "a centerpiece," noting that ad technology is delivering up to 200 percent greater return on investment.

7

David Jakubowski

42, product marketing director, ad tech, Facebook
Facebook morphed this year from a social network to a mobile- and data-focused ad network and server, making it a force in the business. Jakubowski is among the ad-tech brains at the company, which has essentially solved the identity problem that explosive mobile usage created. It used to be difficult to identify users without cookies that only worked on desktops. Except for those who happen to have a billion people as users. "Facebook is uniquely positioned to lead the charge to move the industry toward people-based marketing," Jakubowski says.

8

Neal Mohan

41, vp, display and video advertising, Google
An early pioneer, Google continues to push the frontier of ad tech. This year was all about developing video and private marketplaces, where Google is opening premium inventory to premium advertisers. (Partner Select gives clients access to top-tier video ads.) And it is focused on bridging technology and creativity with programs like Art, Copy and Code. "Investments in richer formats, digital video, programmatic technologies and real-time measurement of the things brands care about, like awareness and reach, are showing real results," Mohan says.

9

Bob Lord

51, CEO, AOL Platforms
Lord oversees technological changes at this pioneering digital company, which is committed to programmatic. AOL bought digital video marketing platform Adap.tv for $405 million this year, instantly boosting sales. It recently announced its cross-device ad technology, reporting that big brands are already seeing success. The company is trying to provide an alternative to the likes of Facebook and get into people-based marketing, where ads aren't going out blindly to a device without knowing something about the user on the other end. 

10

Eric Hastings

45, evp, technology, Lotame
Lotame is working with a range of brands on its new cross-device advertising solution, recognizing it as the direction in which the industry is headed. Hastings notes that the company's clients are able to customize their marketing strategies using Lotame's data-management platform. "We see our clients looking to do unique things, and while our core platform is foundational to these strategies, there are still layers to be built on top to realize their specific goals," he explains.

11

Steve Katelman

49, evp, global strategic partnerships, Omnicom Media Group
Omnicom is making big bets on technology, and Katelman is the media giant's ad-tech guru. He had a big year as Omnicom solidified closer relationships with Facebook and Twitter, applying technology and data to buying ads via those platforms and others. Media planning is changing, but the argument is the same: Bigger players have the expertise and relationships to remain relevant even as some brands try to take ad tech into their own hands. Companies like Omnicom aren't worried--with auction-based buying, they feel they can win every time.

12

Kirk McDonald

47, president, PubMatic
PubMatic has a number of top publishers plugged into its platform-selling ad space, and McDonald is tasked with generating growth. PubMatic is investing in mobile, which is intimately tied to location. It partnered with xAd on what is billed as the first "geo-enabled mobile private marketplace." A key focus for McDonald and his company is the direct programmatic selling of premium inventory, and it has tough competition going up against the likes of Google. PubMatic also bought ad server Mocean Mobile this year.

13

Chris Johanesen

37, vp of product, Buzzfeed
Johanesen has been with BuzzFeed since the start, and recognizes the company is more about technology than media. He's in charge of the product vision, execution and design. This year, BuzzFeed has upped its platform with more video capabilities. The website is trying to educate brands on how to make their content as sharable as the stories its staff creates. In the age of social, brands need a good teacher on how to get maximum impact for content and how to measure that social lift. BuzzFeed is filling that roll.

14

Jason Richman

39, head of monetization products, Spotify
The digital radio service isn't simply using its data to serve ads: Its product monetization team, led by Richman, is taking what it knows about its over 40 million active users to create customized experiences that will help brand messages resonate. For example, it created a "Tinder for Music" service in partnership with The Weinstein Company's "Born Again" movie to help users find likeminded individuals with similar musical tastes. Richman and his team also introduced video ads that allowed listeners to get 30 minutes of ad-free play in exchange for watching a short clip. And, with $1 billion revenue paid to rights holders since it launched in 2008, it seems to be succeeding in making music lovers and music makers happy.

15

Vikram Somaya

38, general manager of The Weather Channel’s WeatherFX
Somaya has already established his two-year-old division as a major player in digital advertising, while boasting the ability to draw from three million data points. The stats derive from TWC’s proprietary systems as well as third parties such as Twitter, and his team has attracted big brand partners—including Disney, Travelers and Walmart—for innovative efforts. For instance, Walmart is using WeatherFX data to target promos across television, radio, Facebook and mobile—as smartphone-toting consumers decide where to buy snow tires, umbrellas and suntan lotion before heading home.