The time has come for marketers to demystify programmatic advertising

Thomas O'Donnell, head of advertising strategy at Gumtree
Thomas O'Donnell, head of advertising strategy at Gumtree

It's time for marketers to get to grips with programmatic advertising, writes Thomas O'Donnell is head of advertising strategy at Gumtree.

Despite the number of times it’s been touted, programmatic advertising remains a mystery to most marketers.

Sure, it allows you to use data on a large scale to procure media via automated technology, but the "automated" aspect doesn’t mean you don’t need people to manage the systems and relationships. It requires knowledge, expertise and co-ordination to be most effective. There needs to be a human being who can access and use that data (in the case of marketers) for buying media.

Programmatic technologies are developing and growing at a rapid rate on both the sell and buy sides. A lot of these tech companies have sophisticated stacks that can be highly effective; however, there are also a lot of "black-box" technologies that claim a lot but deliver very little.

At its inception, most marketers started using data for re-targeting, which proved very successful, especially for commerce advertising. Now we’re seeing a wave of data initiatives, especially from the likes of the dominant agency trading desks, which are getting more granular and sophisticated in the pursuit of driving the best ROI and targeting.

Marketers no longer have to use the 'Wild West' of open anonymous buying, which, while cheap, comes with the risk that you truly don’t know what you are buying.

However, just because you can track something, doesn’t necessarily make it useful. It can be an easy mistake for companies to go so deep into the granularity that they lose themselves in the complexity, and with more data, to inexperienced eyes, the lines can blur between cause and correlation. It’s the marketers and advertisers with the right tracking and attribution set-ups, as well as the expert personnel, that can easily gauge against their KPIs.

Private marketplaces have been a fair success story to date in programmatic – this is where a publisher offers their inventory in a transparent fashion at an allocated price, often with the combined benefit from an increased level of targeting and priority. This means that marketers no longer have to use the "Wild West" of open anonymous buying, which, while cheap, comes with the risk that you truly don’t know what you are buying. To execute a branded campaign, transparency on what sites you are running is essential.

The hot topic right now in the marketing and programmatic industry is the shift in advertising toward more responsive, cross-device advertising – campaigns built for a device-fragmented future that vary based on the screen via which they are delivered. The challenge here is being able to buy on multiple devices and not pay for reaching the same user twice.

Eventually, we’ll see new advertising dominance akin to Game of Thrones, where some extremely strong players try to shape the advertising world in the way they believe is best. First Google, now Facebook (et al): if history has taught us anything, it’s that there will be a new player shortly in this dynamic industry.

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