Programmatic for branding - marketing's best kept secret?

Attila Jakab, client strategy director at Infectious Media
Attila Jakab, client strategy director at Infectious Media

Programmatic is one of the industry's hottest topics but one important angle has been pretty much overlooked, reports Attila Jakab, client strategy director at Infectious Media

At last year’s IAB Engage, the question was asked "what needs to be done to get brands spending on programmatic advertising?" At that time programmatic was seen solely as a tool for direct response or performance-based advertising on remnant inventory.

However, over the last year a quiet revolution has been taking place that could answer this question.

Some clients have already begun asking how they can spend more brand money through programmatic, something reinforced by recent announcements from the world’s largest brands, including Mondelez, Ford, Heineken, and Kellogg’s. P&G stated it aims to buy 70% of digital ads programmatically.

The IAB predicts programmatic will account for 46% of display this year, including video and mobile, up from 28% in 2013. So, what is creating this turnaround?

Premium formats

The first element is the largest and most premium formats can now be bought programmatically – including video, expandable’s and large brand formats – and that clients have begun to think more innovatively about employing them.

The availability of video formats has probably been the biggest draw for brand marketers.

John Lewis achieved a media first for their 2013 Christmas campaign, with the first programmatic buy of a half-page format on, which has historically been a strong fit for the brand.

More recently, a high-profile entertainment client achieved another media first with the programmatic take-over of all display advertising alongside Big Brother content on The large, impactful masthead, half page and mobile formats were bought programmatically across Channel 5’s desktop and mobile inventory to perfectly amplify the client’s TV advertising to second screeners whilst the show was on air.

The availability of video formats has probably been the biggest draw for brand marketers. The IAB predicts programmatic video will account for 25% market share this year – up from just 6% in 2012. Recently the same entertainment client implemented a programmatic video campaign with pre-roll and in-banner ads in premium placements that reached an 88% relevant audience.

Large ad formats and video have become available because of the explosion in publisher private marketplaces. With restrictions on who can buy and strict floor prices, these provide the security publishers need to sell their most prized inventory programmatically.

Smart decisions

The second element in the turnaround was summed up by Mondelez’ VP of global media, Bonin Bough, at Cannes: "Why wouldn’t I buy media in a way that I can get data back and use it to make smart decisions?"

Programmatic is about using data to advertise more intelligently. Even when a brand wants to appear on all of a site’s ads, programmatic now allows for the collection of data on each of these buys. Thus, the audience can be segmented and different messages shown to each user based on their past engagement and awareness of the brand. Plus, viewability and exposure time can be measured to determine the impact and value of the advertising.

The data available to measure and target programmatic campaigns has evolved so video advertising not only parallels and amplifies TV brand campaigns, it can be measured using similar metrics. With companies like Nielsen, comScore and Experian joining up their data, marketers can directly compare the reach of digital and offline brand campaigns.

A major fast food client found this particularly useful when targeting 18-30 year olds through premium placements. In an initial campaign, over 20% of their UK audience was reached with programmatic ads. The client then matched this with other advertising to ensure media spend maximised reach.

Wealth of data

Considering the wealth of data available, campaigns are only limited by the imagination of those planning them. Kronenbourg was able to advertise a new summer beer with fruits flavours based on the weather where the user was at the time the ad was served. Over 25 degrees and sunny and we’d buy the placement, translating to a larger impact for the advertiser’s spend.

Linking up the different stages of advertising with sequential messaging is a key part of the future of programmatic for brands.

The most forward looking clients, however, want awareness to be part of the customer journey. Argos have connected their data to show advertising to encourage preference, then to follow up with relevant messages throughout the lifecycle, from visitor to customer to repeat customer. Linking up the different stages of advertising with sequential messaging is a key part of the future of programmatic for brands.

However, despite the radical change in premium formats now available programmatically and the quality of data, it must be said for every brand advertiser we work with there are ten that have barely heard of programmatic.

As an industry, we’re only at the beginning of engaging brands. But with momentum gaining, advertisers will find it increasingly difficult to ignore programmatic as a fundamental element of brand spend, which should lift all display as a branding medium.

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