The Evolution Of Programmatic RTB In A Mobile-First World

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laurenmoores"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Lauren Moores, vice president of analytics at Dstillery.

When real-time bidding debuted at scale a few years ago, it was heavily associated with remnant inventory and direct-response campaigns. Fast forward to today, when RTB serves as a vehicle for upper-funnel marketing and a core strategy for accessing mobile consumers in an increasingly mobile world.

The growth in digital media is overwhelmingly driven by increased media consumption on mobile devices, and many of the impressions that once happened on desktop are now happening on those devices. Worldwide, there are now more RTB impressions on mobile phones than on desktop. In Europe, mobile RTB impressions grew by 43% in the third quarter of 2013, while tablet impressions increased by 102%, according to Adform’s 2013 RTB Trend Report.

With this growth, RTB has graduated from its position as a remnant channel to now starting to be perceived as a premium-branding channel. The expansion of programmatic from direct response to branding has been driven by both the rise in mobile adoption and the ability to intelligently serve ads to targeted audiences.

There are two factors that make real-time branding viable.

1. Mobile-First Branding

Mobile gives brands the opportunity to find and connect with audiences that are no longer engaged on other channels. Some consumers have simply abandoned conventional channels in favor of mobile devices. Americans used smartphones and tablets to connect to the Internet more often than PCs for the first time in January, according to comScore.

Mobile adoption has also had a material impact on the evolution of desktop advertising, increasing its ability to do branding campaigns. Mobile has changed the way we think about exchanges and inventory in RTB because it has less of the remnant legacy of desktop. The remnant approach to advertising, with its early pop-ups and free iPod messages that left a bad taste in your mouth, never took hold on phones. Mobile started out differently. With the introduction of smartphones, brands were already viewing digital as a way to imagine new possibilities, rather than looking for cheap impressions.

When mobile first launched, device-tracking solutions were in their infancy. So naturally it lent itself to branding campaigns versus direct-response campaigns, which require real-time metrics such as clicks. Mobile didn’t initially offer the ability to measure a return on investment or conversion attribution.

However, savvy marketers knew that the early adopters were premium audiences, and these marketers were willing to jump in and see what would happen. The branding efforts have continued despite the recent strides made in direct response in mobile. As a result, we have seen auto manufacturers offer video tours of new car interiors and movie studios run trailers in front of apps. Programmatic mobile has proven itself a channel for premium ads.

2. Technology and Measurement Advances 

The branding initiatives in mobile have been translated back to desktop RTB. Desktop has evolved alongside mobile to become more sophisticated, leading top brands to take a chance on running branding campaigns through programmatic channels. The transition to branding in desktop RTB has been aided by the integration of private exchanges, such as FBX, AOL and eBay, as well as new media types, including video and native.

As the desktop channel has shifted from remnant to core, new measurement metrics have also emerged. Viewability and brand-safety vendors have increased confidence in the channel. In addition, improvements in the ability to measure the overall media mix effectiveness beyond last-click attribution through third-party attribution partners, such as VisualIQ, Adometry and C3, have moved us beyond click-through rates. The ability to measure engagement and lift is a major factor when brand dollars are part of programmatic RTB.

Technology has made RTB safer and more sophisticated. Thanks in large part to the dramatic emergence of mobile as a major media channel, the idea of running a wide range of brand campaigns using RTB is no longer foreign to marketers.

I continue to see brand campaigns on the mobile side with creative that is focused on messaging vs. action. I'm also seeing branding-specific desktop campaigns embraced by action-oriented marketers who want to engage with new audiences using new technology. The shift to programmatic branding is small but will continue to grow as ad tech companies add more media channels to programmatic solutions, specifically TV, the traditional go-to branding vehicle for marketers.

Follow Lauren Moores (@lolomoo), Dstillery (@dstillery) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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