Blog Post

Programmatic Display 101

January 27, 2018
Table of Contents

Programmatic paid advertising solutions offer an automated way to serve up tailored content to targeted individuals within a defined budget.  For marketers, it promises a way to get more from your online digital marketing budget.  Let’s look at how.

The personalized advertising messages that greeted Tom Cruise’s character as he navigated the city in Minority Report seemed like futuristic fantasy when the film was first released in 2002.  

Today, thanks to programmatic display advertising, we are now used to personalized digital advertising being served to us online.

Now, advances in the Internet of Things (IoT) combined with programmatic digital advertising display means that personalized messages in the physical world may not be that far into the future either.

Following Our Lives Online

As our lives have moved increasingly online, advertisers have rushed to catch up and ensure their messages are where we are.  The decline in print advertising is well documented – GroupM estimates it now equates to only 16% of in-app advertising revenues in the US; with digital now accounting for more than 33%.  

In 2011, Internet advertising revenues in the United States surpassed those of cable television for the first time and nearly exceeded those of broadcast television.

At that time, the Google display ad network reigned supreme: it had 87% of display impression market share in 2012.  In the last five years, this market-leading position has been cannibalized by Facebook, other social programs and progressive mobile networks.

While Google continues to dominate search advertising, in digital display advertising, Facebook now dominates.  

eMarketeer estimates Facebook has a 39% share of digital display ad revenues – worth $12.4bn of the overall $34.9bn market in 2016.  This digital display market includes banner ads, static display ads such as Facebook’s News Feed ads and Twitter’s promoted tweets, rich media, sponsorship, and video.

So where does programmatic advertising fit into this picture?

In 2016, programmatic advertising accounted for approximately 63% of digital display ad spend.  Adweek has stated that by 2020, programmatic advertising could account for 85% of targeted banners and 67% of streaming video ads.

Related: Benefits of Programmatic Advertising

What Is Programmatic Advertising?

Programmatic advertising is also known as programmatic marketing is a way of automating digital media buying using real-time data and technology.

Before programmatic advertising, digital ads had to be bought and sold by human ad buyers and salespeople.  Instead, programmatic advertising and programmatic ad buying uses automated processes and carefully constructed machine learning algorithms to optimize ad purchasing and spending, making the ad buying process cheaper, time efficient, and eliminates human error.

By drawing on demographic and behavioral data to make advertising more targeted, programmatic advertising makes it easier and cheaper for an advertiser to reach their target audience.

Advertisers can choose to purchase ad impressions in advance from specific publisher sites, or they can purchase digital advertising through Real-Time Bidding (RTB) platforms.  RTB allows advertisers to bid against each other for advertising space on different websites and social networks based on price, the right audience profiles, and ad network reach.  This all happens in fractions of a second, so that the digital advertising can be served up to the consumer seamlessly with the rest of the page content.

Step 1: Someone clicks on the webpage

Step 2: The publisher of the page puts up the ad impression for auction

Step 3: The ad marketplace holds an auction among the advertisers competing for the impression

Step 4: The advertiser that bids the most for the impression wins the right to display their ad

Step 5: The ad is delivered to the prospective customer

Step 6: The customer clicks on the ad and the advertiser converts them into a sale and profits

In terms of the consumer experience, the only noticeable difference programmatic advertising will deliver is that of more relevant ads being served up.

Related: 4 Ways to Monitor Your PPC Competitors

paid media services

How Does Programmatic Advertising Work?

Digital advertising is sold directly through the platforms and social networks or through an ad exchange.  

An ad exchange is a technology platform that effectively operates as a broker, facilitating the buying and selling of media advertising inventory from multiple ad networks (such as Yahoo, Google, AOL, etc).

From the advertiser’s point of view, the automated purchasing of digital advertising from these ad exchanges is managed through a complex piece of software called a demand-side platform (DSP) or supply-side platform (SSP).

A DSP and an SSP essentially do the same job; enabling buyers of digital advertising inventory to manage multiple ad exchanges and data exchange accounts through one interface.  When selecting a DSP it is important to consider the amount of online inventory they have access to, and the insights and optimization capabilities they can deliver, as well as cost.

The DSP may work in conjunction with an Agency Trading Desk (ATD).  An ATD is a massive media buyer and re-seller which functions as an independent working unit within a large programmatic media buying concern.  


Achieving the Best Value From Programmatic Advertising

Simply purchasing media through real-time bidding platforms or using a demand-side platform is not enough. To get the best value from programmatic advertising, advertisers must make use of the optimization possibilities available.

To move beyond simple retargeting through the use of cookies and web stats, advertisers need to pull disparate information sources, such as internal CRM, web servers, and email databases, into a central system for processing, analysis, and actioning.

In order to fully optimize programmatic ad purchasing, advertisers need to use demographic and behavioral information about their customers and prospects.  This might include insights such as:

  • Location data points collected
  • Unique places of interest linked to a profile
  • Video viewing hours associated with individual profiles
  • Online and offline purchases
  • Other verified data from offline and online sources

This requires a system of managing customer and prospect data so that it can inform ad placement and targeting.  This is usually the role of a data management platform (DMP).  A DMP is a centralized computing system for collecting, integrating and managing large sets of structured and unstructured data from disparate sources.

A growing number of DMP software options are available including: Adobe Systems Audience Manager and Core Audience (Marketing Cloud) to Oracle-acquired BlueKai, Sitecore Experience Platform, and X+1.

The advanced customer profiling enabled by the DMP can then be used to inform email campaign, web analytics, social platforms, as well as targeted display ads.

Monitoring and Reviewing Programmatic Advertising Results

There are three main methods for monitoring and evaluating digital display advertising.

These are:

  • Last click
  • View and click
  • Test and control

Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Like many digital marketing programs, digital display advertising can be measured on “the last click before purchase”.  This has the advantage of offering an immediate view of the success (or not) of an ad placement.  However, it does mean that a DSP or vendor could infringe on other channels to gain more clicks, and it doesn’t allow for – or give an overview of – a longer customer journey or conversation.

As a result, some digital display ad marketers prefer to use the “view and click” metric; this offers a more holistic look at ad performance while delivering an equally immediate view of the success or otherwise of an ad.  However, it does have a serious disadvantage, because it can lead to the double counting of engagement across multiple digital channels.  Given this, it can be more difficult to explain to clients and executives, who are often fixated on “last click” statistics.

A more preferable option for analysis is “test and control”. Although this involves a lot more analysis of your marketing campaign, it does enable marketers to take into account the full consumer journey. It can even incorporate repeat conversions and repeat transactions per customer. Although it can be time-consuming to analyze and influence a marketing campaign using this method, it does give a more detailed overview of what is working and how customers are engaging with your brand and your display advertising.

With this type of effective statistical analysis, and the subsequent optimization it enables, the results of your digital display advertising should improve steadily week by week.

The Future of Programmatic Digital Advertising Display

By freeing digital ad buyers from the manual purchasing of ad space, programmatic advertising frees up time for marketers to concentrate on planning and developing creative campaigns based on the new statistical and behavioral data and analysis available to them – further driving returns on advertising spend.

In an article in Forbes magazine, Bob Arnold, Associate Director of Digital Strategy at Kellogg reported “tremendous results when using programmatic buying… depending on the brand, the digital media ROIs have increased as much as six times.”

With this type of improvement possible, it is little wonder that companies are already starting to explore the possibilities of selling traditional media using programmatic technology in order to reach potential customers. The possibilities for TV ads, digital billboards, in-store and retail really take us into Minority Report territory.

Programmatically allocating ad space on a digital billboard and outdoor advertising spaces based on local weather conditions or other local events is a real possibility.  And how long before updating in-store digital advertising for customers as they pass based on profile data from the mobile devices or store apps installed falls on the right side of the creepy line?  

Programmatic ad purchasing makes it a real possibility.

Get in touch with the experts today at our digital marketing agency if you would like to get started with a programmatic display campaign. Our programmatic display advertising solutions and digital marketing campaigns can help advance your strategy, reach potential customers, and save you money.


Empowering you to break the mold.

Kind of like a full-service agency, kind of like an in-house CMO. Elevate your brand's presence with custom strategy, channel expertise, and flawless execution.

Learn More