The Marketing Corner: The Rise of Programmatic Buying

November 2, 2013 Updated: November 2, 2013

What is “programmatic buying?” In simplistic terms, it is the buying and selling of display and/or video advertising using automated technology to enable the real-time trading in getting an ad in front of the right consumer at the right time. 

Yes, technology has forged a new frontier of being able to drive cost efficiencies in the ad purchasing process. Also, programmatic has been clearly successful for direct response advertisers who typically purchase tonnage to hammer the message home and evoke an immediate response. With direct response success, many are looking to apply programmatic buying to branding campaigns. 

Before one strays too far off in celebrating, there are some nuances to consider. Below are a few thought starters that not only are concerns for programmatic buying but for all digital purchases.

This is the ability of having the user (or prospective customer) view the ad without scrolling the page. 

This is still an issue with many digital ads. How much of the ad is really in-view? Many large companies have the expectation not to pay a premium to guarantee their ads are in-view by the user/consumer. There are third-party companies that can audit the viewability of current digital campaigns and make suggestions on how to optimize buys. 

Using third-party assessments can assist in future negotiations with publishers.

There is still a debate about using cookies as a model to target consumers. 

In addition, due to privacy concerns, users will periodically delete their cookies. Hence, eliminating the trail of where they have been and what sites or ads resonate with them. 

Cookie-based demographic targeting limits the ability to campaign to selectively reach a given target audience. Plus, if a computer has multiple users, it affects the ability to accurately serve the right ads.

Brand Safety
Using programmatic buying, one may not be able to safeguard your brand against questionable content. 

Many big-box retailers and other consumer package goods companies have brand guidelines to safeguard against having any messages land adjacent to questionable content. For many brands, this is a paramount concern and can adversely impact potential customers’ willingness to buy that brand.

There is still a concern about if the click-thru rates are all legitimate. 

With the high degree of fraud taking place, click-thru is occurring but in actuality the main goal is only driving up the cost to the advertiser. Conversely, this limits the true impact (or real value for the advertiser) of having a legitimate click-thru from a potential customer who is in the market to buy.

It may seem like programmatic has popped out of nowhere to become the buzz in the advertising industry. Nevertheless, the reality is this notion of programmatic has been in the background for a few years. 

It is now coming to prominence due to technology and since some advertisers have begun testing its viability. Given initial results, there are clear advantages as a cost-savings method. Like with all new trends, it is best to test the proposition first before going all in. 

While the “science-side” or technology is now allowing automation and ease of purchase, there is still the “art-side” to buying that involves a human making decisions that factor in a variety of consumer insights, past experience, product details, and so on, to creatively manipulate the environment in which the message is being displayed! Clearly, investing a small amount to gain cost savings makes sense. 

Just use a bit of caution by not overinvesting in programmatic buying to ensure that the results do justify the means.

Adele Lassere is a marketing/advertising consultant with 20+ years of experience, freelance writer, and author of “Elements of Buying: A How To Reference Guide on Advertising for Business Owners,” available at Adele was listed on Black Enterprise’s 2011 Top Execs in Marketing & Advertising and Black Enterprise’s 2013 Top Women Executives in Advertising & Marketing. Contact: