Home Data-Driven Thinking Programmatic: Great For Direct Response, Bad For Branding

Programmatic: Great For Direct Response, Bad For Branding


lawrence-herman“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 Lawrence Herman, CEO at BlueLink Marketing.

It seems over the past year we’ve heard a number of creative agencies tout programmatic ad buying as the perfect answer to a company’s branding needs, enabling them to save money, create transparency and reach consumers with their message.

But frankly, I have never quite understood this line of reasoning.

Programmatic advertising is still a relatively young market and there are currently no statistics on how much of it is dedicated to direct-response advertising vs. branding.

But whether or not programmatic for branding is more dream than reality, I think advertisers are better off investing their time and effort into programmatic for direct-response advertising and not for branding. Here’s why.

A Moment In Time

Programmatic buying, in which automated trading systems are used to purchase a target audience rather than a specific ad placement at a specific time, is about exploiting a brief time window to get someone’s attention.

A company seeking to reach males 18 to 35 years old in major metropolitan areas, for example, can show these target audience members an ad when they are perceived to be online, based on what publishers know of their habits associated with their IP number. In many instances, an automated bidding process goes on at the very last second to determine which advertiser’s ad will be shown.

That is a moment in which a consumer might be convinced to take a specific action that could lead to conversion. Let’s say a 30-year-old male is researching options for new car insurance and sees a Geico ad. He may click on the ad if he perceives it as relevant and, if the call to action is effective, he may leave an email address for further information.


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This is specifically the kind of advertising that programmatic is best suited for. The advertiser has greater chances of success if the ad is related to a search action, the advertiser can specifically track whether the consumer clicked and, if so, whether they responded to the call to action. If he didn’t sign up, that could help make the advertiser smarter in the future as to what could improve response rates. Significantly, programmatic can provide these types of ads much more cheaply to advertisers than Google AdWords, which is one reason why it is being embraced by the market.

There are all sorts of interesting ways that additional data can be used to make these ads hyperrelevant to the online user. Retailers use weather-related information to inform their targeted advertising, such as selling snow shovels when a winter storm is brewing or air conditioning units when a heat wave is arriving. Or a cold syrup advertiser that studied CDC data on flu outbreaks across the country can target its ads down to the ZIP code where outbreaks took place. This leads to an extraordinarily high conversion rate.

By its very nature, I believe that programmatic is about engendering an action and thus well suited to drive conversion in direct-response advertising. And that’s a tangible way to measure success.

Branding Is About Immersion

But the results of using programmatic for branding are trickier to quantify, as there is not always a call to action on the part of the user. Branding is about invoking a feeling in people that they associate with a company’s name. An enormous part of that is its association with specific high-quality content that is immersive and involving. The timing of the message shouldn’t be left up to chance or an automated bidding system. The ads’ timing is just as important as its creative message.

So it really is worth it for Coca-Cola and Oreo to buy those expensive Super Bowl ads, when they are sure that millions of viewers will be watching, both during the show and after the game online. Social media platforms also allow companies to continue the brand experience and get audience participation and feedback, for a pretty reasonable investment.

Programmatic is an exciting new technology option, but I think marketers should take a long careful look at whether they pour a good portion of their programmatic ad budget toward branding, where good old-fashioned creative chops and timing are still key.

Follow BlueLink Marketing (@BlueLinkMktg) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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