Programmatic Buying: Strategies for Sorting the Good From the Bad

Programmatic Buying: Strategies for Sorting the Good From the Bad

Rob “Spider” Graham & Kevin M. Ryan

During the past year the explosion of programmatic buying and selling platforms and methods has also created an onslaught of challenges for both digital media buyers and sellers. At the core of these challenges are the often disconnects between the needs of advertisers and the needs of publishers.

It shouldn’t be a secret that advertisers are in the business to get their messages in front of the right people. At the same time the publishers are trying to get the best price for every impression they serve. While programmatic buying and selling can help both sides do a better job reaching their goals, it’s not some kind of automatic fail-safe. In truth, the decisions that the automated systems often make can result in ad serving and placement that is hugely non-transparent for advertisers and can leave publishers with plenty of unsold inventory.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons for both sides:

For advertisers, programmatic buying offers a much easier way to buy targeted inventory at prices they want. The RTB systems offer them greater targeting granularity  and a deeper look into target markets. The price per impression is more transparent than with other buying approaches and that allows for greater ROI.

On the down side, advertisers are constantly concerned about the quality and transparency of ad placement (pages and sites the ads appear on, location of the ads on pages, etc.) and this can lead to concerns about ‘brand safe’ ad placement.

On the publisher side the main pros are that they can sell more inventory and set better pricing floors and have greater control over which impressions get sold directly to advertisers and which get offered to the marketplace.

On the down side, however, many publishers still feel that direct sales can earn more that sales through automated bidding systems. Many publishers are also concerned that automatic selling systems put them in danger of losing their direct selling relationships with media buyers.

Publishers using Sell Side Platforms (SSPs) or who work pass inventory through exchanges, find that it’s much harder to control the pricing based on prior targeting approaches that offered premium inventory based on specific advertisers or product segments. Finally, programmatic selling systems make it difficult for publishers to control the ad quality of what appears on their pages – their side of the ‘brand safe’ equation.

In the next generation of sophisticated marketing, advertisers will be able to identify the correct buying formula and attribute (attribute has become a term of the past) each aspect of their advertising channels to complement the customer journey. “Customer journey” is quickly replacing the attribution buzzword in the advertiser lexicon since the term will never accurately describe the influence each channel has on a consumer.

In the short term, advertisers should focus on what immediately works for them.  Being smart about your calls to action will be key to your success.  Set an expectation level for you creative and own it.  Be certain what you are asking for from your programmatic buy and invest heavily in partnering with analytics companies and third parties with an interest in your success. An “interest in your success” by the way, isn’t just you buying more ads, it’s helping you understand what your expectation level should be for your buys and helping you measure your success appropriately.

Ask yourself what success really means. Are you reaching more people? The right people? Are you just trying to move more product or are you trying to move your brand up in the consideration process? What about sales channels? Are you making the most of digital’s promise of reducing friction between your customer and their point of purchase or desired action?

Desired action is a term that is all too often lost in the world of digital media buying. Ask any advertiser what they want from advertising and the answer will be(98% of the time) increased sales. Advertisers rarely contemplate and truly capitalize on media and creative’s role in that journey.

Above all, blaming the media buyer or agency for a failed campaign should be the last thing on your mind.  To support this assertion, we can only quote more than one great brand manager’s assessment of the media buying or agency partnership; from the small company all the way up to the monolithic brands, they great ones all say the same thing; if they fail, you’ve failed.

About the authors:

Rob “Spider” Graham is a twenty-year veteran of digital media buying, selling and production.

He is currently the founder and CEO of Trainingcraft, LLC, a company providing digital advertising, marketing, and sales consulting—as well as training solutions—to publishers and advertisers.  Rob works with a number of training partners including the Interactive Advertising Bureau ( and eConsultancy (, in addition to providing direct training solutions through companies like Agiliti and American Cities Business Journals.

He tweets via @spidergraham

Kevin M. Ryan is one of the most sought after digital marketing strategists in the business. His current and former client list includes Rolex Watch, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Sony, Samsung, Toyota, Lexus, Panasonic, Aramark and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. He is the founder of the digital advertising firm Motivity Marketing, Inc.

He tweets via @KevinMRyan

Graham and Ryan are co-authors the Palgrave Macmillan digital marketing strategy guide, “Taking Down Goliath.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *