Understanding Curation: the pros and cons of a new way of trading ads

Mattia Fosci

Isabel Rodriguez

March 1, 2024
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min read

As cookie-based targeting is set to retire later this year, the programmatic world is getting excited about Curation. As advertisers want access to high-quality inventory and data, the trend towards curation is taking off big time and many are calling 2024 the "Year of Curation”. But how well does the industry understand Curation? Here are some thoughts that can help you understand what Curation is, how it works and what you can expect from it.

What is Curation?

Curation is like creating your own playlist of data and inventory whereas cookie-based targeting is like turning on the radio. They both play music but in a different way. A playlist tends to have a limited choice of music and can be repetitive (until it grows big enough!), but you are going to like most of the songs. The radio will give you greater choice but much of it will be rubbish and you might have to wait ages to find a tune you like.

Curation is the same: it might not be able to deliver at scale against the variety of all your campaign briefs, but once you’ve selected a good few sites it will do a good job at associating your brand with high-quality publishers and, hopefully, deliver performance. 

What are the key benefits of Curation?

Data Asset Protection: Programmatic curation emerges as a robust solution for safeguarding data assets. By bundling them into PMPs, businesses can control and protect their valuable data in an increasingly privacy-conscious environment.

Efficiency and Speed: A notable advantage of programmatic curation is its efficiency. Deals can be created and activated in just a few minutes, making the transaction process smooth for both the sellers and buyers using any Demand-Side Platform (DSP).

Premium Inventory Opportunities: Ad tech companies will curate Private Marketplace (PMP) deals, offering premium options that capture advertiser’s interest and drive engagement. This is a game-changer, cutting down fraud and MFAs for programmatic campaigns.

Enhanced Campaign Performance: Now, ad tech companies can craft custom deals that fit their clients like a glove. These Private Marketplaces (PMPs) get a makeover from both the tech side and the traders, making campaigns run smoother on the other end with the Demand-Side Platform (DSP). It means traders have to send some reports over to the tech companies in order to optimise the PMPs, but here's the cool part: traders can now bid more precisely on what they need, making campaigns run smoothly and saving them from throwing ads into the vast unknown. 

Sustainability: Curation helps the planet too. By skipping the need for big and expensive tables "listening" costs, curation is all about being green in the programmatic world.

What are the challenges of Curation? 

Cookie deprecation: Curation by itself does not solve the cookie deprecation problem. In fact, most curators still use a blend of cookies and alternative IDs to deliver at scale. So curation must be combined with the right cookieless (and ID-less) data strategies to deliver campaign performance once signals are deprecated.

Scalability: Curation is only as good as the inventory and data it brings to the table. In order to build effective curated marketplaces, the Curator must have access to a wide range of publishers and those publishers need to make enough of their inventory available. Growing these networks requires commitment from both buyers and sellers.

Supply-side mind: buyers need to understand that curation moves the targeting criteria to the publisher side. Campaign set ups and optimisation still rely heavily on cookie-based DSP-settings and planners still use gender and age-based audiences (did they even ever work in the first place?). We wrote a piece on that a few weeks ago.    

Ad tech pipes: programmatic advertising was built around the cookie and open market bidding. So it’s no surprise that Curated deals struggle to deliver on their potential scale, especially when they are combined with ID-less strategies. DSP-SSP connections need to be optimised for curated PMPs and troubleshooting by the tech platforms need to become much better much faster.


As signal deprecation takes up speed, Programmatic Curation is poised to become a powerful force in digital advertising. But to do so, the market needs to accept it, adopt it and standardise it. Half-hearted tests from overworked agency client teams, hands-off attitudes from publishers relying on open market revenues, and unfinished products from SSPs and DSPs won’t cut it. If the industry wants this activation pathway to scale, it must start to take it seriously. 

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