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Expert commentator | Smart Insights | Tue, 27 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000

How to avoid the common mistakes of programmatic advertising

Access to digital display ad inventory is becoming commoditized. It used to be that marketers and brands worked with publishers independently, leading to “handshake deals†that often left smaller players out in the cold.

Thanks to online trade desks and programmatic ads, this is changing. Most trade desks and platforms cooperate, and with the democratization of ad inventory, marketers and competitors operate on a relatively equal playing field.

It’s great that the playing field is equal, but that doesn’t mean marketers can mix a martini and call it a day just yet. The failure or success of your campaigns is ultimately up to you, and there are plenty of obstacles to pay attention to. And as with most things in life, you as a marketer need to play an active role in your media buying to guarantee you’re getting the best results.

The Hangover

Traditional trading desks and display advertising platforms come with their own list of headaches before you can even add ice to your drink. Here are just a few:

  • Margin extraction: Platforms, or players within those platforms, are taking cuts of the ad spend, which ultimately reduces the effective buying power of the advertiser. Every platform, system, and middleman — and there are a lot — that stands between the advertiser and the audience lowers campaign effectiveness.
  • Lack of verification: As much as some people like to compare trading internet advertising with stocks and bonds, there’s a big difference. If I buy a share of The New York Times from a broker, I know that I own a share of The New York Times.
  • Ad fraud: At this point, display advertising is not that transparent. Even on the most reputable platforms in the industry, there’s a chance that if I buy an ad on, that ad could show up on a completely different website. There are many new verification systems springing up — like Google and AppNexus — but nothing is perfect yet.

If this sounds like you should just leave your trading desk or throw in the digital marketing towel, don’t. But don’t assume it’s a big competitive advantage, either. The real secret to winning in this world is control.

Taking Back Control

Remember, there are a lot of good things about the programmatic system of media buying. The democratization of inventory means small entities can bid on premium space, and the automated systems allow marketers to make changes on the fly.

To avoid throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, make sure you’re employing a few strategies to maintain control of your campaigns:

1. Ad Verification

Believe it or not, even on the best platforms, there is a risk of your brand running on bad websites or places where ads are never seen by the consumer. Many exchanges are rapidly improving, but they’ve mostly been slow to provide tools for marketers to monitor this.

As a result, it’s very important to use an independent, third-party platform to ensure ads appear on intended sites, reach targeted audience, and stays true to campaigns. Several companies now offer this service, including AdXpose, Google Attribution 360 (formerly Adometry), Adsafe, and Double Verify.

2. Attribution Modeling

When you’re spending significant amounts of money across several different advertising channels, it becomes challenging to measure and attribute customers to the ad spend. Platforms like to make it sound cut and dry, but if a consumer sees four of your ads on four different websites and becomes a customer a few days later, who gets credit?

Because all of those platforms will want the credit, you need an independent attribution modeling tool to fairly assess your return on ad spend and ad effectiveness. These tools establish rules that determine how credit for sales and conversions are assigned, making it easier for you to know when your money is effective.

3. Dynamic Creative Optimization

Because ad inventory is so easy to come by, the smartest marketers are now thinking beyond where they place their ads and how they pay for them. Strategies like dynamic creative optimization (DCO) use data from your media buying systems to optimize ads for a given user based on your return on advertisement spending.

DCO is best used for large campaigns that require direct response. This makes testing so many options make more sense because the potential impressions served are so great.

Increasingly, marketers, brands, and even advertisers are beginning to use third-party tools to take control of media buying. This is a great thing because, despite how it proclaims to be open, transparent, and programmatic, this industry is still new and working out some of the kinks.

By using independent tools and technologies, marketers are able to get valid second opinions on how their dollars are being spent, which helps to maximize campaign effectiveness and reach those all-important key performance indicators. And with that, marketers can sit down for the evening with their drinks in hand.