Investment in programmatic marketing is growing at such a rate that many brands and marketers are finding it difficult to keep up with the changes. According to research by eMarketer released earlier this month, spending on programmatic digital display advertising in the UK will grow by 66.2% this year to reach £1.8bn. This means that programmatic, which refers to the automated buying and placement of online media, will account for more than half (59%) of the UK display ad market for the first time.
The level of sophistication and innovation within programmatic advertising is rising quickly too. A recent study by Millennial Media, the ad tech company acquired by AOL this month, finds that 74% of mobile advertisers are using programmatic to place video adverts, up from 51% last year, while 64% now use rich media formats in their programmatic campaigns, up from 57% in 2014.
These investment trends demonstrate that the role of programmatic is expanding to include wider brand campaigns and content activations. While programmatic has a clear role to play in supporting a company’s performance marketing efforts, marketers are also finding new ways to deliver other types of brand messaging with a higher level of targeting and efficiency.
In June, for example, sports brand TaylorMade Golf was among the first advertisers to use a new content marketing platform launched by programmatic agency PulsePoint. The platform claims to offer a single solution for advertisers to efficiently target and distribute branded articles and videos to the right audience at scale.
Using PulsePoint’s existing programmatic technology stack, the platform processes real-time contextual, audience, editorial and page-level behavioural data to optimise content delivery across different devices and online channels, including social media or website display inventory.
Ryan Lauder, director of digital strategy at TaylorMade Golf, says the brand is impressed by the initial results generated from the move to programmatic across its content marketing strategy. “We [have seen] a 95% increase in video views since the start of our campaign, as well as a 68% higher scroll depth versus the current industry benchmark,” he says.
However, brands that choose to deliver rich media content via programmatic platforms must ensure that their content works effectively across all devices and channels. Although Adobe Flash has been widely used to support online video advertising, the technology appears increasingly obsolete after Google decided to end its automatic support for Flash ads on its Chrome browser this month. Instead, the ads are automatically paused, requiring action from any user who wants to play them.
The move follows sustained criticism of Flash-powered ads, including complaints that they significantly slow down the browsing experience. Last month, Amazon also implemented a ban on Flash advertising across its network of sites. The iPhone and iPad have never supported Flash – indeed, Apple’s late CEO, Steve Jobs, once penned a polemic against the Adobe plug-in. As more brands seek to deliver video content programmatically, there will almost certainly be a shift towards alternative formats such as HTML5, which is supported across all devices.
Marketers using programmatic technology can simultaneously improve other aspects of their marketing strategies by applying real-time insights to their investments in other media. David Still, head of brand strategy, insight and operations at Vodafone, confirms that programmatic media buying “is definitely of value” to the telecoms company, but adds: “The ultimate goal has always been the marketing decision centre that links all of our marketing investments – including TV, search and display – to online and offline sales, allowing us to proof and visualise the impact our omni-channel marketing is having.”
Working with programmatic agency DataXu, Vodafone claims to have developed “a revolutionary new methodology” that demonstrates how all of its marketing investments impact on sales. The technique involves running thousands of simultaneous experiments through DataXu’s programmatic marketing platform in combination with Vodafone’s proprietary customer data.
This produces real-time scalable insights for the brand to calculate investment levels for both online and offline media channels, as well as for different geographic regions. Vodafone reports that by creating this “marketing intelligence platform”, the company has improved the efficiency of its marketing investments by 10%.“This approach goes beyond traditional econometrics and digital attribution and gives us a more scientific and rigorous approach to marketing investment than we’ve previously had,” says Still.
Retailer John Lewis also used programmatic to merge its online and offline marketing activity last Christmas. In partnership with programmatic agency Infectious Media, the brand directed digital display advertising to appear at the same time as its TV ads, featuring the story of a boy and his toy penguin Monty.
To achieve this, Infectious Media used a commercial database of TV slots for more than 2,000 channels so that it knew exactly when the TV ad would run.
The agency then bid on digital display ads available across the web on desktops and tablets within milliseconds of a John Lewis TV ad appearing. This enabled the retailer to reach its audience across two screens and maximise the impact of its Christmas investment.
Alongside this strategy, John Lewis ran a ‘tailored takeover’ on the Radio Times website in the lead-up to Christmas. The brand chose the site because of the similarities between John Lewis customers and Radio Times readers. The activation worked like a regular homepage takeover but, rather than show the same ad to all visitors, it used programmatic data points to show tailored creative based on individuals’ browsing habits.
Infectious Media drew up a segmentation based on three of John Lewis’s most important product ranges: home, electrical and beauty. Customers who visited one of these sections on John Lewis’s website were then shown a related ad when visiting the Radio Times. Users who had not visited the retailer’s site were served a generic Christmas ad.
Kane Bartlett, online acquisition and paid search manager at John Lewis, says the campaign was an opportunity for the brand “to break new ground” in its digital marketing activity. This included bringing together its twin aims of raising brand awareness and driving sales within the same campaign. The retailer reports that the click-through rate for the tailored takeover was 42% higher than the industry average, while average viewability for the campaign was 30% above the IAB standard. “We will continue to push the boundaries in digital marketing as we believe it is key to maintaining our position as a market leader,” says Bartlett.
While innovation in programmatic is being driven by the development of new media formats and by brands’ attempts to bring together their online and offline marketing, it is also coming from more imaginative and complex uses of data (see case study, below). Jamie Turner, UK and Ireland head of marketing for the Midway division of Merlin Entertainments, reveals that his company is in the process of making its programmatic advertising more targeted and personalised. This involves “drilling down into custom audience segments based on live data and targeting those segments using dynamic adverts showing the most relevant information”, he says.
Midway, which covers a range of Merlin brands including Madame Tussauds, Sea Life and the Blackpool Tower, works with digital agency Epiphany to develop programmatic campaigns to drive visitors to its UK attractions. They use seasonal trends, time of day, weather forecasts, publisher content and geotargeting to serve ads to likely visitors.
By using this data set in an extensive programmatic investment this summer, Midway achieved a return on investment of 400% during the school holiday period, according to Turner. Brands seeking to drive results through programmatic should similarly look first and foremost at the multitude of data points available to them and how these can help to achieve tangible business goals.
“The data provided from our programmatic campaign lets us build insights which we used to refine our targeting and improve messaging across our wider marketing activity,” explains Turner. “Before programmatic, securing coverage on high-quality, authoritative publisher sites was very costly. Now we can advertise on them at a fraction of the cost, resulting in a much lower cost per acquisition.”
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