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Programmatic: the good, the bad and the ugly

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Programmatic advertising has been in the spotlight for a while now – and often for all the wrong reasons. Yet there are many, even within the industry, who are novices when it comes to this marketing practice. In fact, as many as 45% of those that use it don’t fully understand how programmatic works. Fortunately, we have two fully-fledged gurus on hand to demystify matters our very own, Tom Hunter and Barney Sayce.

So, first things first, what the devil is programmatic? Put simply, it’s the use of software (or programs) to purchase digital advertising space, buying specific audiences by using lots of data to identify the right ad, the right person, the right time. Yes, it really is that simple.

There are many benefits to programmatic marketing – the most obvious being that it offers a highly targeted, cost efficient method of communicating with both prospective and loyal customers. It allows marketers to bid on ad placements in front of the right audience, audiences that are determined by vast amounts of data, serving different messages to different audiences through a single platform and in real time.

You may be thinking this sounds too good to be true. As an agency, we regularly find ourselves convincing our clients of the benefits of programmatic advertising – and are often met with questions relating to control and transparency. With machines, or programs, now making decisions over the placement of ads, it’s been argued that the advertisers themselves have far less control.

Programmatic advertising uses data from a wealth of sources to place ads, however the amount of data used means that it’s difficult to fully regulate. So from the word go, it’s come under increasing scrutiny from advertisers in terms of transparency over who’s seeing the ads, where they’re appearing and whether budget is being wasted due to fraudulent advertising space and non-human traffic. This recently came to a head when it was discovered that brand content had been appearing next to videos promoting extremist views or hate speech.

Many of the concerns that have arisen with programmatic come as a result of the industry jumping head first into the practice without a second thought. But brand safety is now having to play catch up.

So, how do you ensure your brand’s content is being displayed in appropriate places? There’s more than one way of doing it. One example is negative keyword targeting, which allows you to exclude websites based on their content. Then there’s the manual process of reviewing ad placements and looking at trends. Ultimately, however, a large amount of trust has to be placed with the ad-tech vendors to blacklist sites that could be harmful to a brand.

For advertisers to keep investing in programmatic with confidence, brands will need reassurance. Ad-tech vendors will always say they sell clean inventory – arguing that an ad being displayed alongside inappropriate content is very unlikely – and on the flipside, there will always be reports that suggest a very different story. The reality probably lies somewhere in-between – and it’s up to advertisers to do everything in their power to take every available precaution and ensure brands are protected.

Want to talk about the role of programmatic in your marketing strategy? Get in touch.