Bob Arnold’s Programmatic Playbook For Brands

bob-arnold-anaDuring his three years at Kellogg Company, Bob Arnold became a poster child for programmatic buying at the brand marketer level.

Arnold, who recently quit cereal to join Google, presented his rules for programmatic at the Association of National Advertisers’ Media Leadership Conference in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday.

His key message: Don’t let complexity deter you from the promise of exchange buying. “Everything that happens between advertiser and consumer is just a technology pipe,” he said.

“It’s no surprise we’re seeing more large advertisers engage in programmatic,” he said, because buying this way lifts the odds of hitting the target audience and creative personalization is so much greater than TV. Many of these advertisers are doing “private exchange” or “programmatic direct” deals to ensure inventory quality.

“They know the publisher but they can use all the algorithms, data and other advantages of programmatic,” he said.

Here are Arnold’s’ “five steps to win in programmatic.”

1) Break through. “Creative is extremely important. The greatest media strategies and tactics cannot overcome weak creative.” What makes strong digital creative? Ads should be clear, concise and compelling. How do you systematize this? The answer is simple and cheap: Do creative testing.

“If you’re spending tens or hundreds of millions on campaigns and not testing creative, you’re definitely leaving money on the table.” And testing legitimizes digital for skeptical brand marketers, proving that banner ads and so forth can change consumer perception.

2) Know what matters. During his years studying, Arnold had one lesson drilled into his head: “Without measurement there can be no improvement.”

“People talk about how digital is the most measurable medium of all time. I actually disagree with that. It’s very difficult to understand what are the right things to measure. When I started in digital, I made a cardinal sin and assumed click-through rate was a leading indicator for branding.”

On the contrary, studies have demonstrated little to no correlation between CTR and goals such as brand lift and sales.

What to measure then? Viewability? “My view is viewability is a necessity, but not sufficient.” Post-market campaign results, like surveys, are better.

3) Own what’s yours. Understand website and CRM data and have a strategy around it. “Your current customers can be a great predictor of future customers, but you can only do this if you can organize your data.” Arnold recommends the FAME method. Choose data that’s focused, actionable, manageable and enlightening.

4) Tear down silos. A major automaker wanted to drive online conversions to in-dealership visits but search, social and display – and their associated data – were in different worlds. It brought in a point person to integrate data and build an attribution model.

5) Build your A team. More large marketers are adding internal experts with knowledge of programmatic. That’s not necessarily the same thing as bringing programmatic buys “in-house.”

“My word of caution for people considering this, and I definitely encourage this, is to avoid hiring junior people who put hands to keyboards in order to change an organization,” Arnold said. Rather, he said, you need senior people who understand the organization and can drive change.

Alternatively, make sure your agency relationship is healthy and open.

“If you decide not to bring it in-house, work very closely with your agency,” Arnold said. “Today, agencies can get really squeezed by clients from a pure margin standpoint, which is the first and sometimes the only thing clients talk to them about. Instead, ask is my agency transparent? Do they have the skills to help me embrace programmatic?”

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  1. Agree on the need for senior people. It’s far easier and more productive to enlighten senior leadership on programmatic and to encourage them to make it strategically important, than to expect strategic thinking and organizational change from the junior team members.

  2. Mark McLaughlin

    It’s a good development that we are getting advice from an executive who learned CPG brand marketing skills and saw the value of real brands before joining Google. Bob Arnold is on a very short list of people who can bridge those worlds.

    Digital “Programmatic” evolved from initiatives that super-serve the needs of pure DR campaigns and now we need to make it work for Brand equity investments.

    We forget how many steps back we need to take before we move forward. Mr. Arnold’s first piece of advice here is the most important. If you want to succeed when the metrics for success are linked to stronger brand equity (awareness, trust, intent to purchase, likability etc), the first thing you want to do is MAKE GOOD ADS.

    From my view into the industry, I see people who are masters of the technologies that can be pieced together to create brilliant programmatic systems and I see creative people who understand how to use 30 seconds of film to dramatically impact brand equity metrics. But, I never see these people sitting together.

    When Bob says “Build Your A Team,” think about that.

  3. Bob makes several excellent points that are worthy of elaboration. He makes two points that go together; “creative is extremely important,” and “it’s very difficult to understand what are the right things to measure.” I always advocate to measure as close to business KPIs as possible. If you are trying to drive awareness, then measure lift in awareness. If you are trying to drive revenue, then measure revenue. That said, it is also important to know what is driving the thing you are measuring. Traditional brand lift measurement done with surveys and control groups measure the effectiveness of the creative in influencing recall among the audience that is treated. At ChoiceStream, we use a method of embedding polling in campaigns to measure the effectiveness of media buying optimization in finding and reaching the audience most likely or most desired to be influenced.

    Another great point Bob makes is to “own what’s yours.” Site visitor and customer data is great for starting a data-driven campaign. However, be aware that site visitors and customers will both skew toward the audiences that were targeted in previous campaigns. Be sure that the programmatic methodology you employ can discover new audiences beyond the bounds of your current base.