Programmatic has gone from 43% of UK digital ad spend to 87% in the last 4 years. 

Whilst predictions suggest slower growth in years to come, there is no doubting that we are very much in a programmatic world. 

So what even is programmatic?

Put simply, programmatic means that we can use data to make decisions on who, where, when and why we serve an ad. 

Programmatic has also become synonymous with the software that automates manual transactions, therefore reducing the manual back and forth with publishers that were previously necessary.

So programmatic has the potential to reduce wastage in campaigns and reduce the overheads previously associated with running this kind of activity. 

Furthermore, programmatic also gives us the opportunity to receive data back, in real-time, about how a campaign and its constituent parts are performing, which enables us to amend and optimise mid-flight to ensure the best possible return from a media investment.

Not only that, we’re not just talking about display and video ads now; buying TV and radio programmatically is very much a reality, with out-of-home also on the way.

So how can this not be a good thing?

“Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance,” said Confucius, the Chinese philosopher.

Programmatic buying is an excellent tool. But like every tool, it needs to be wielded effectively. Just using the tech does not guarantee success. 

I’ve been told countless times “programmatic doesn’t work for us”. There are, of course, many reasons for this, but there are a few themes that are more prevalent than others in those campaigns that have not seen the returns that programmatic can offer.

Are you reaching the right audience?

Too often campaigns are running against arbitrary, socio-demographic profiles that are just too broad, and the work hasn’t been done to truly understand who to reach and the best way to identify them across the data options available.

Do you know when and how often to reach that audience?

Reach them too often and you’re wasting media spend, reach them not often enough and you’re equally wasting media spend. Have you done the testing to work this out?

Do you have an effective measurement in place that aligns with the campaign’s objective and allows actionable optimisation to take place off the back of it? Too often, the answer is ‘no’.

Depending on where you see the stat, media can take credit for up to 40% of success that comes as a result of that impression or impact. The other 60%+ is the impact of the creative. 

There are some amazing examples out there of brands taking a big campaign idea and translating it into assets which are made for that channel, making the most of the opportunity which that environment offers. 

The Bacardi Cubre Libre YouTube six-second Bumper Ad is a great example of this. Its first scene grabs your visual and audial attention. It then steps through a sequence of delicious ‘food porn’ scenes that leave you licking your lips and wondering where the nearest place to get a cool drink is before it hits you with a clear call to action and shot of the product. It’s all shot in a way that works as effectively on mobile as it does on TV, and because of the simplicity of the scenes and the fact that the narrative doesn’t rely on voiceover (or lots of on-screen copy); and it does all this is six seconds! Brilliant.

Unfortunately, there are far more examples where this doesn’t happen.

Programmatic technology on its own is not a shortcut to success that gives us a free pass to bypass the basics of campaign planning, activation and optimisation.

Marketers still need to understand their customer, business and market well enough to reach the audience that is going to move the dial for that business. Marketers still need to utilise effective measurement to understand the true impact of the media and optimise it effectively.

Creative agencies need to deliver campaign assets that are relevant and effective within the environment that they will be served. Buyers need to buy effectively, transparently and safely. These fundamentals do not change. 

Programmatic is an incredible opportunity. If these fundamentals are in place, programmatic does indeed offer the promise of buying a range of channels more selectively, more effectively and more easily than has ever been possible before. Therefore, without question, programmatic has the potential to change digital media for the better.