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Is 2014 the breakthrough year for programmatic branding?

26th May 2014
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It's no secret that the programmatic buying of display ads on multiple devices has changed the face of the digital media market recently. According to IDC, spending on real-time bidding for display advertising will accelerate at a growth rate of 59% through to 2016, making it the fastest growing segment of digital advertising over the next few years. Additionally, an IAB study found that, within two years, 91% of advertisers and 83% of publishers expect to be using programmatic.

The success of programmatic buying is widely known and the industry is now looking to what is next. Facebook, Twitter, mobile, video and TV are all avenues being explored for programmatic advertising campaigns, however my belief is that we are about to see a widespread adoption of ‘programmatic branding’ in this space.

Until recently programmatic buying and real-time bidding has largely been thought of as a technique for direct-response, performance based advertisers. Real-time bidding (RTB) works particularly well for performance advertisers as the opportunity to buy individual impressions and target a consumer with a particular product of interest has allowed advertisers to lower their cost per acquisition (CPA) and increase their ROI.

Concerns over the quality of inventory available for purchase has generally kept brand advertisers away from real-time bidding. However, brand marketers aren’t content to use broad demographics and fixed audience targets but are looking to reach specific campaign goals by targeting an optimised audience at an influential point of their path to purchase. Marketers are beginning to realise that the ability to optimise in real time will help them to drive improved ROI for their branding campaigns.  

So what’s behind the shift? There are several developments that are encouraging brand marketers to get behind RTB and the benefits are now becoming clear. Firstly, high quality inventory is now largely available as ad tech companies work more closely with publishers and exchanges like the Facebook Exchange (FBX) are launched.

Secondly, strong brand safety requirements also ensure that ads are only shown on appropriate sites. Companies like Rocket Fuel are certified with a number of industry bodies, such as the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), European Digital Advertising Alliance (EDAA) and National Advertising Initiative (NAI), and will always ensure that inappropriate sites are blacklisted and will never be used for ad placement. Leading companies will also have technologies that use keyword filtering to block sites in real time that are that are unsafe or potentially offensive before a bid is placed.

Thirdly, brand marketers are increasingly able to take advantage of the aspects of RTB that help them improve the performance of their campaigns, including audience and inventory optimisation.  Previously, brand advertisers would define their target audience and then set the objective of delivering as many ads to that target audience at the best price possible. With the use of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, companies like Rocket Fuel are able to optimise the audience in real-time to meet the goals of a campaign - increasing ROI, and providing important insights to the advertiser on the type of audience that is most responsive to the campaign.

Previously, brand advertisers would have a set list of sites where the campaign would run, providing them with the peace of mind that their campaign will run precisely where they’ve planned, but often restricting results. With RTB, campaigns can be set up to run on a variety of brand-safe sites, and then optimised once it becomes clear which the better performing sites in the group are.

Some brands have already started implementing programmatic branding campaigns, however, I think 2014 will be the year we see marketers really start to understand the power of programmatic to drive branding objectives. Used intelligently, real-time branding will enable marketers to scale their activities and engage with a wider audience.

In order to do this, marketers will need to think differently about the creative and how this can be scaled on a programmatic level. To truly harness the power of 1:1 marketing that programmatic advertising offers, advertisers need to be able to adapt creative so that it complements the contextual environment it appears in. One difficulty is that the majority of rich inventory units very rarely appear within real-time exchanges. However, in the months ahead, I expect to see publishers and the exchanges working harder to promote these brand-friendly ad units and push them to greater scale.

Initially, the programmatic branding trend will be driven by the purchase of pre-roll inventory as we’ve already begun seeing the popularity of this medium. According to eConsultancy, branded video content reaches nearly half (46%) of all internet users in the UK and more than half of these people (54%) go on to click though to the brand’s website. The success of video in general shows why programmatic branding through pre-roll is likely to be the ideal place for marketers to test programmatic branding campaigns.

2014 is set to be a breakthrough year, with marketers thinking more about the opportunities available to their brands and beginning to develop innovative campaigns that will work in a programmatic context. It’s going to be a year of exploration and learning but ultimately marketers should see that programmatic buying is not only for performance based marketing but can truly be utilised to deliver outstanding ROI across branding campaigns. 

Dominic Trigg is managing director Europe, at Rocket Fuel.


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