I have been asked and am happy to give my opinion on real-time bidding (RTB) and branding. The underlying question for me is more about the definition of 'display media for branding'.

We are testing and running branding campaigns depending on clients’ wishes, but there is still lots to learn about what is possible and what makes sense for our clients.

For a DR (direct response) campaign we have clear KPIs, such as CPA targets, driving revenue or just simply CTR. However, you could argue that branding is more about an advertiser being seen on a certain publisher or in an environment of a specific audience.

Traditionally, branding used to be measured through surveys valuing the impact of online display, TV or outdoor.

Whilst through RTB you could target certain publishers, you have a disadvantage of available volume on any one of them. You cannot guarantee a certain amount of impressions on any publishers, nor an even delivery on them.

We have tested this for some clients, trying to get as much awareness on certain premium inventory, and the results are mixed. However, for most of our branding clients KPIs like user engagement measured through various metrics seems to be the most successful model, particularly if paired with data to buy their desired audience.

Is it possible to reach my audience on premium inventory through RTB at all?

Microsoft explained it a few weeks ago in an interview: “we offer our inventory (tier one) as self service via RTB in the Microsoft exchange, but also as a more convenient buy through our network”.

I believe that a great amount of premium publishers will soon follow suit in order to sell more of their premium inventory potentially at a higher floor price via RTB. So your audience can be reached on premium sites more and more so.

Branding seems to really be about seeing a nice ad for a nice product on a reputable publisher. A quick look at the Financial Times website showed a Rolex ad, a perfect example.

Also, Rolex sponsors golf events, so if they are after golfers, maybe they should consider the golf blogs and social media sites about golfing? The likelihood is they won’t, but not because they don’t find their audience on these sites but because they want their brand associated with a different environment/context.

URL-centred and audience-centred branding

I guess we have to differentiate branding that is URL-centred and branding that is audience-centred. For the latter the exercise is about driving awareness with the consumer and target audience, and RTB buying would work very well for that.

This can be achieved either through available targeting options, like demographic or contextual targeting, or even through third party data integration and building audience profiles that are targeted across the RTB platforms.

This can be done whilst the consumer is browsing their favourite social media site, reading their newspaper online or watching a video. And, you could exclude UGC (user generated content) if you wish and only focus on the top tier publishers.

To complete the picture, there are new technologies that become available which measure whether users have been exposed to an ad and for how long. Whilst still in testing mode, those technologies might also be able to leverage RTB inventory for branding campaigns.

Speaking to various “brand measuring companies” the general consensus is that the learning is not as robust as they would like, however it is something that we will be monitoring very closely. We continue testing new providers, and will update once we have findings that are presentable. However, the golden egg still hasn’t been found.

Video and RTB

Before I conclude, I believe there is a key to getting brands onto RTB,  the available inventory in video RTB.

Brands will be very keen to access pre roll and video inventory through RTB in order to reach the same audience they would on TV but much cheaper and in REAL TIME.

Will IPTV be next? Forrester suggest that static ads will be having a minority share for all display campaigns in favour of video and rich media ads by 2016 at the very latest.

When video RTB goes mainstream, and this is not too far off, we will see a real measurable branding value. Then at the very least brand marketers consider RTB as a standard audience buy with high impact branding effectiveness.

Did you notice me saying “audience buy”?

Summing up: RTB could make a lot of sense for “window shopping” and URL centred branding buys but I believe it adds more value for brands focusing on targeting its audience.

RTB delivers cost-effective brand awareness to consumers through various targeting options and channels such as display and video.

Volker Ballueder

Published 6 December, 2011 by Volker Ballueder

Volker Ballueder is Country Manager UK for mexad and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (2)


Chris Turner

I'm not sure about any broad brush approach along the lines of 'does this media work for brands or not'. It depends on the brand. Branding is not about 'seeing a nice ad for a nice product on a reputable publisher'. It is about getting your target audience to choose you above your competitors. If your core brand proposition is about price, pricing has to feature front and centre in your communication, the 'niceness' of your ad is irrelevant.

By definition, inventory available for real time bidding has not been sold in a more planned context so is unlikely to meet the criteria of a brand with a highly specific target audience. However, if you use time-limited offers either as a core proposition or as a marketing tactic, RTB could work very well for you. The question 'does RTB work for brands' requires a nuanced answer.

over 6 years ago

Volker Ballueder

Volker Ballueder, UK Country Manager at DataXu Ltd.

Hi Chris,

Thanks for your comment. I'd agree that a "broad brush approach" doesn't work. Guess it never does because each brand has a different character and therefore each branding campaign has a different goal.

I am glad we agree about "getting in front of your target audience" is important; however, I am not quite getting the point about the planned context: not only can you look at targeting audiences and contextual targeting but you can look at URL targeting within RTB. A very planned approach. Is that what you mean?

As with any offer in an ad, we look more into a DR campaign really.

Chris, thanks again for your comments. Curious to hear a more nuanced approach. This post was really to get the ball rolling on the discussion about RTB and branding. There is more to come, e.g. from a technology point of view and attribution modelling we are testing new solutions. Maybe I can share more about that soon.


over 6 years ago

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