Programmatic Media Buying 101: The Basics

Programmatic media buying is a digital marketing strategy that I hold dear. Although much of my near-decade online advertising experience has been focused on paid search, I did take a hiatus from SEM in 2010 to be one of the first two-dozen employees at Omnicom Media Group’s trading desk, now known as Accuen. And, while my current position involves primarily managing PPC, I have helped to bring in programmatic to the agency I’m with now.

Point is, I have a strong connection with the the real-time biddable space. I also believe that it’s wildly undersold.

Most of the issue, in my opinion, is a general lack of understanding– both by agencies and advertisers. Despite the wealth of information out there, many agencies simply do not have talent that has experience in programmatic media buying. Partially, this can be explained by the relative youth of the practice; but, I think more can be said for the lack of even trying than anything else.

Sure, it’s new. But, our industry is full of young, eager professionals– and there’s no better time to learn than the present. Below is a general 101 for programmatic media buying.

Programmatic vs. Traditional Display

In the typical display media buys many of us are used to, programmatic is not about buying premium inventory on top websites. Programmatic media buying is more focused on buying an audience or contextually-relevant content. It’s not as much about where, but whom. Programmatic relies heavily on bidding on users based on internet browsing habits, which means working with data partners such as BlueKai and DataLogix. Even when doing a contextual campaign, the content chosen is selected by looking at what interests your audience shares.

Also, unlike traditional display media, programmatic is purchased on a flexible CPM model; similar to paid search, impressions are bid upon based on their perceived value to the advertiser. Auction- based media buying is very familiar to those of us with PPC backgrounds, but admittedly, can throw people off who are used to paying flat-rate pricing.

Available Inventory

Thousands of major publishers source unsold inventory to advertising exchanges, which collectively, offer billions of impressions daily through programmatic buying. Sometimes, these publishers do so through “anonymous” means– which, unfortunately means that marketers don’t always have the opportunity to provide complete site lists back to their advertisers during a campaign’s run. However, just like on ad networks, you do have the ability to create white or black lists, and most Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) have brand-safety controls as well.

Programmatic media doesn’t limit itself to desktop display, either. Video, mobile, and Rich Media inventory can all be sourced from exchange networks, which works to add to the appeal that programmatic media buying offers.

Technology Partners

In order to access exchange inventory, you’ll want to partner with a DSP. Some of the big names in the space include Turn, The Trade Desk, MediaMath, and Google’s Invite (aka Doubleclick Bid Manager). Unlike Google AdWords, though, most DSPs do not allow just anyone to sign up, enter a credit card, and start advertising– but, if you work for an agency or have a modest monthly media spend ($15k+), you shouldn’t have any issue with getting one of them to work with you.

Cost of Media

Media cost, of course, will vary based on the tactics and types of ads you are working with– Run of Network can cost pennies, contextual too; but, behavioral requires data costs, and remarketing involves targeting a select audience, so those will cost you a little more. Still, I’ve found I can get CPMs in the sub-$1 through $3 range for both tactics. Video and Rich Media are often more, at $5 & $8 respectively, but even that can often be much lower than what you’ll find elsewhere.

Tactical Approach

I have personally worked on numerous branding initiatives through programmatic media buying; however, the most effective campaigns I have managed through programmatic have had a direct-response goal. The combination of premium inventory at low-cost & the audience-specific targeting options makes hitting advertiser goals both reasonable and efficient, and, can often be one of the best performing overall digital strategies that can be managed. Don’t forget about remarketing, either– while Google AdWords is a great tool for retargeting site visitors, there is typically more inventory available on the exchanges, and, I’ve found, it can be cheaper, too.

I hope this programmatic media buying 101 will serve some purpose. If you have any questions or comments about this information, feel free to leave them below in the comments.

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