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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Programmatic is not just for media buyers. What the rest of us need to know

July 11, 2018 | By Raquel Rosenthal, CEO – Digilant US @Digilant_US

It’s a message we’ve been hearing percolate through the industry now for years: programmatic is the future of advertising. Brands, in search of more control over their media buying activity, have embraced technology-based approaches that promise efficiency, precision, flexibility, and superior ROI. Warts and all — and there are plenty, ranging from flat-out false value propositions to rampant fraud and monopolistic marketplace control by actor behaving badly — programmatic is here to stay.

Media planners and buyers have arrived at this conclusion, however begrudgingly. But other participants in the advertising ecosystem — designers, copywriters, developers, and publishers — are wading into programmatic territory in earnest now as well. Here’s what they need to know about programmatic.

Audiences Increasingly Rely on Programmatic-Driven Experiences

Digital users — across desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones — increasingly expect tailored experiences, from both independent and sponsored content. And the most the efficient way to deliver custom experiences is via programmatic platforms.  

For progressive advertising professionals, this is a welcomed opportunity (more on that later). Technology companies and developers benefit from this market evolution via an increased need for their solutions and services. Publishers, however, don’t have much of a choice in this regard. In order to encourage engagement, and minimize the deployment of inhibitive tools such as ad blockers, user experience must be a paramount consideration. Content providers that deliver optimal UX — which includes unobtrusive but effective advertising, such as native tactics — will win in the long run.

Dynamic Ad Creative Is a Genuine Game-Changer

One of the underlying historical maxims of the ad business has been its aim to distribute messages “to the right person, at the right time, at the right cost.” Though this has typically been more aspirational than realistic (and a regular source of frustration for creative professionals in particular) technology-enabled advertising does genuinely provide the opportunity for more specific customization.

To be sure, as a broader umbrella category, “digital marketing” was a step in the right direction on the road to customization (and what will eventually be widespread “personalization”). But due to a combination of hypergrowth conditions and the lack of internal structures to accommodate customization, the industry as a whole has lagged in this regard. As a recent BCG analysis explains, “Within both agencies and publishers, organizational silos with little cross-functional interaction lead to excessive work and rework, including costly handovers, long wait times, and fragmented decision making.”

Programmatic seems poised to serve as the bridge to genuine, industry-wide progress on the customization front. In a few short years, most campaigns will adjust art and messaging to accommodate fluid factors such as time of day, geography, demographics, user interests and behaviors, and the like. This will almost certainly improve campaign performance. It will also impact the underlying cost structure of campaign delivery. This will require more creative labor, for example, so the net ROI effect remains to be seen.

The Programmatic Train Has Left The Station

Like “digital” before it, programmatic will likely lose its specific designation over the next decade, and morph into a marketing channel line item or equivalent. But until it does, it will continue to be popular fodder for industry publications and conferences. And not without good reason. Most estimates peg the U.S. programmatic marketplace in the tens of billions of dollars annually, and growing in the double-digit range. eMarketer sizes the market at $46 billion in 2018, and comprising more than 80% of the entire digital display category, and a major factor in mobile advertising.

That said, in spite of its formidable size and growth forecast, all is not well in the programmatic category, and brands, publishers, and vendors alike are scrambling to address problems related to the big three challenges: fraud, transparency, and viewability. To wit, also according to eMarketer analysis: programmatic growth through 2020 will be driven by “private setups, such as private marketplaces (PMPs) and programmatic direct transactions, as buyers continue to be wary of the open markets’ transparency and quality issues”. [Disclosure: DCN is involved in one such marketplace, TrustX.]

It’s both an exciting and terrifying time to be part of the advertising business. Brand, publishers, and agencies alike are scrambling to navigate the constantly shifting terrain that’s characterized by tens of thousands of vendors competing for share and voice. Programmatic is one of the driving forces of disruption and upheaval in our industry today, and will play a big role in shaping the industry for years to come.

About the author

Raquel Rosenthal is the Chief Executive Officer of Digilant US, a programmatic marketing company headquartered in Boston. A digital industry veteran, she’s held various senior positions at Digilant, DataXu, AudienceScience, and DoubleClick. Raquel splits time between Dallas and New York City, and holds a B.S. from Ithaca College.

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