The landscape

New tech is ramping up efficiency for marketers in all areas, not least the advertising space.

Programmatic display advertising allows brands to target adverts on a more granular level to specific demographic profiles and people with a perceived relevance for a given product. With multi-billion pound budgets, programmatic buying and selling is the new normal for digital display ad spend in the UK.

The programmatic process is starting to challenge other media spheres, such as radio and television, too.

It is becoming clear that for TV to continue as leader of the advertising pack, automation, efficiency and data need to become a more prominent part of its story. Brands are beginning to demand television advertising on a more granular level through programmatic or addressable TV.

However, there are drawbacks to the programmatic approach. Things such as the over supply of inventory and ad fraud, pages full of clutter and adverts that don’t engage.

Prominent questions over the danger of over-automation and the need for something cleverer or more premium, start to surface.

Brands start to argue that what we call ‘premium’ today – high viewability rates, good quality inventory and carefully created creative – needs to become standard. 

As an industry, marketers are arguing for the need to focus just as much on the creative and the messaging as on the operational set up of programmatic. In this new era of digital disruption, there is still plenty of room for brands to achieve better results.

So, what do the brand marketers have to say?

Grace Smedley, global digital media manager, Just Eat

grace smedley

“Programmatic is at the heart of our digital engagement strategy whether it’s to acquire new customers or to drive re-orders across devices.

“Our programmatic approach has enabled us to join up our display, mobile and video channels to ensure we serve relevant content throughout individual customer journeys and make sure we are hitting consumers with the right frequency, at the right times and with the right message.

“An example of this is where we have linked our video to our online display, ensuring anyone who’s seen our video will also be retargeted across the display network.

“And, we are looking to evolve further by joining the dots across our digital media to incorporate our app and website.

“This is just the start for programmatic – soon it will fuel most channels including TV, whilst radio is a media ripe for the introduction of programmatic. Some 40% of radio consumed now is digital.

“This highlights the relevance of online radio, another programmatic channel to link into the overall media mix of how we talk to people.

“I believe automation allows us to buy media more efficiently, and with the growth of DMPs (data management platforms) and an increase in PMP (Private Market Place) buys, marketers have greater control whilst still being efficient through automated bidding.

“Also more and more brands have their own DMP, which means they are able to be smarter and more personalized, developing creative assets and deeper insights along the way.

“People have a much greater understanding of programmatic now and the market has really evolved.

“Now is the time to adopt DMPs and move to more people-based marketing, allowing us to become smarter in how and when we talk to people. We then need to leverage further innovations, such as automating creative so that every message is specific to that person.”

Sacha Bunatyan, global B2C marketing director, the FT

sacha bunatyan

“For years programmatic was stereotyped as simply a tool to sell remnant inventory; for many it was a race to the bottom. At the FT we have never seen it that way.

“The ethos behind our programmatic approach is no different to that offered when clients come to us direct. It is focused on quality, relevant access to our elite, hard to reach audience.

“While low quality automation may have been one way to categorise programmatic in its early days, it is intelligent data and insights fed into the model that truly drive impact for brands engaging with programmatic.

“As a trusted source of information for the hard to reach business elite, it is the job of our dedicated team of FT analysts and data scientists to deliver demographic, contextual and behavioral data on this audience. Their work enables our teams to create highly relevant programmatic campaigns for brands spanning multiple industry sectors.

“Right now we see real benefit in combining automation with human insight. Too often programmatic is siloed away from the creative process and I see that as a real danger.

“Creative should be a fundamental and early part of the programmatic process but too often is treated as an afterthought, meaning that creative agencies feel somewhat removed from media and communications strategies.

“The future for programmatic is strong and it continues to work very well for us as a channel to sell quality inventory.

“More broadly, successful programmatic executions in the future will be rooted in intelligent audience insights, which in turn allow for ever smarter targeting. Only then perhaps programmatic will finally shake its “race to the bottom” moniker.

Raluca Efford, head of digital & social engagement, Direct Line Group


“There has been so much change in programmatic over the last two to three years that we are hoping we can yield different results to those we have yielded previously.

“We are asking questions like ‘What viewability figures should we aim for?’ and ‘Can we do creative that is more tailored to display as a channel and programmatic as an execution?’

“The biggest opportunity and biggest challenge is coming from the TV space. The interesting dynamic I am observing is that the technology is more or less ready, but TV as an industry isn’t ready for programmatic. Its business and operational models, including internal skill sets, are not quite there yet.

“I would say that advertisers now are getting knowledgeable about the benefits of programmatic and I think – as an advertiser – that the power lies with us.

“We should put more pressure on the TV industry to not dismiss programmatic as an unnecessary headache.

“Maybe addressable TV would be the first step in getting the industry into the right mindset. It is not quite programmatic but it shares lots of the characteristics of programmatic: data-led, audience-driven, real time.

“We are already making inroads with Sky in that space, in trying to extend our ‘Addressable Universe’ and make our advertising even more powerful by increasing its relevance and serving it to audiences that we know are more likely to respond to us.

“A lot of the conversation around programmatic at the moment is so focused on the machinery around it and getting that right, and not on if it actually works: what kind of results are you yielding and how do you actually measure it?

“Over the next 12 months, operational set up is important but creative and the evaluation methodology will be just as important because otherwise it has very little use for us as a business.

“It might be cool, it might be a bit sexy and you might sound smart by doing it, but ultimately if it doesn’t drive for the business what you need it to be driving, then it is not very useful.

Back for a third year, Marketing Week and Econsultancy’s GET WITH THE PROGRAMMATIC conference and pre-event workshop will take place in London from 20-21 September.

Just Eat’s Grace Smedley, the FT’s Sacha Bunatyan and Direct Line’s Raluca Efford are just three of the brand experts sharing their insights into how to make the programmatic landscape work for you. Visit the website to book your place now.

This article was originally published in Marketing Week.