If you are an advertiser you may have heard the expressions “programmatic buying”, “real time bidding” and “ad exchanges”. You may be wondering what all this is and what it means for advertisers, if you are then read on…
“Programmatic” advertising, is effectively automated online media buying – often at large scale and at very high speed (faster than lightening in some cases). Advertisers use computers to participate in real-time automated auctions for digital ad space across a large number of publisher web sites.
Bidding is supported by big data analytics; predictive algorithms are used to target bids using information about web users such as location, platform, device, browser, and where available, other forms of behavioural data relating to specific but anonymous users. There is some big data science behind this, much of which has its origins in high frequency algorithmic trading in financial markets where the principles are very similar to automated online advertising. For example, information about a user is matched to a bidding rule in a minute fraction of a second – enabling a bid to be made and a relevant ad to be served by the time the page being visited by the prospect fully loads. This high speed automated decision making is not dissimilar to rule-based or algorithmic trading in financial markets.
So is programmatic advertising important? Yes; it’s important to the long-term health of digital display as a medium and it’s important to advertisers in terms of increased advertising efficiencies. Let’s look at each of these.
Firstly, automated buying is boosting the fortunes of digital display advertising by creating renewed interest in the medium. Online display has struggled to demonstrate efficiency in the face of PPC which is based on pay per click (PPC) trading. For many years display has been traded on a CPM basis, that’s simply the cost of reaching people in their thousands, with no accounting for click or sales performance. That’s why Google has commanded such as large share of digital budgets over the last decade. But programmatic buying allows advertisers to place data-driven bids to ensure campaigns deliver the most responsive target audience at the right rate. This will significantly boost the ROI delivered by digital display and make it much more competitive with PPC. This in turn should enable it to take larger share of digital advertising budgets.
For advertisers automated buying offers a real opportunity to increase ROI from digital display. This opportunity comes from three sources: ROI-based trading mechanics, better ROI based audience targeting and clear performance transparency. All this offers advertisers a chance to make digital display much more cost effective. Moreover, the increased efficiencies delivered by automated trading will make digital display more competitive against PPC. Long term, automated display buying could have the effect of diffusing spend out of PPC alone and across the two platforms – theoretically this reduction in demand could reduce bid prices in PPC.
Are there any down sides?
It remains to be seen whether automated buying – which by its nature can reduce ad revenue – will deliver consistent long-term growth to digital display. It’s also worth noting that not all media owners will sign up to ad exchanges; those who feel they can realise the value of a web site more holistically than the lowest CPC denominator may well be resistant to signing too much inventory over to automated trading platforms – leaving them to fight over the lowest value inventory. There are also issues around the quality of the traffic delivered through high volumes of remnant inventory – remnant inventory is by its nature ad space that can’t be sold by normal means because it’s not demanded by media buyers. Buying remnant inventory through ad exchanges can mean you are buying into some low quality sites which may not be right for your brand’s image.