Probably the main overarching decision is whether to run a campaign via real-time bidding across a network of publisher sites or go direct and pick and choose your publisher sites, or run a combination of both.

The display landscape has shifted over the past decade from the days of direct purchase without any form of programmatic, to a programmatic real-time approach. Does this mean direct is no longer effective? Can you still run direct-buy campaigns and if so what’s the best way? Let’s explore…

Programmatic RTB vs Programmatic Direct

Firstly, lets understand the options out there to an advertiser. Commonly we are seeing three approaches offered by publishers depending on their capacity and size. I’ve been involved in all three types of display ad purchasing and all come with their advantages:

RTB Programmatic

Advertisers can bid for space on publisher sites in the form of a real-time auction.

An ad exchange platform transmits information to the advertiser about the page content and the user, accessed from a supply-side platform (SSP), and the impression goes to the highest bidder. Demand-side platforms automate the bidding process and make it easier to target relevant ads to viewers.

This is the most common form of ad-buying on the web right now, with the majority of major sites adopting its set-up. The benefits are it removes the need for individual selling and targeting, providing far greater efficiency. On the downside there’s no guarantee your ad will be served and there is no collaboration between advertiser and publisher, everything is done via the exchange.

Direct Programmatic

With this method advertisers are guaranteed the impressions they want. There is no bidding process, instead a negotiation stage directly with the publisher.

The advertiser provides the publisher with data upon the relevant cohorts they wish to target, and the publisher then displays those impressions only to visitors who fall into those categories. It’s about finding the right publishers with relevant audiences, exploring a match and paying fixed prices for their ad-space.

Advantages are that you deal directly with a publisher, there’s transparency and collaboration. The downside is that it doesn’t offer the reach an RTB approach does across a network of sites, and might not be as suitable for some firms depending on their resources – those who might not have the time to speak with individual publisher sites.

Fixed Placement

This is the traditional placement approach we associate with the likes of the ‘the-million-dollar-homepage’. Ads are literally purchased for a set time on a page and a fixed price paid.

Sometimes this can be adapted to a CPA or CPC deal but the concept is as simple as that, you pay for the spot and it’s there. Long-tail publishers tend to work in this way as it maximises revenues on their behalf, while the advertiser is really taking a chance on the number of impressions served.

I am a huge fan of direct-buy’s, acknowledging the cons but also appreciating the collaborative approach it offers. I caveat that though by saying I recommend this format depending on the marketing campaign you wish to run, the budgets available and the scale of the campaign. A direct-buy approach is always best used as a compliment to your on-going RTB.

Think of direct-buys in some ways as more exclusive or personalised versions with a handful of publishers.

A three-step process to direct programmatic campaigns

The next three-step process describes from the perspective of an advertiser, the best approach to setting up direct-buy programmatic campaigns…

Step 1: Locate and understand your publisher

There are a whole host of publishers out there to work with in a direct programmatic fashion. Hopefully as a brand your affiliate and partnerships channel is running with a high number of contactable publisher sites. If you have a direct relationship with some of these then great, but if not then networks and agencies can supply relevant contacts from long-tail to premium sites.

Sometimes you are approached by sites that are looking for advertisers to purchase their ad-space, they never want it to go to waste. Two examples are RightMove and Lovemoney, two of which work in direct-programmatic fashion and both reach out to advertisers regularly, but also accept requests via their ‘contact’ landing pages. As we described, many sites prefer to work in this way as it protects what ads are shown to their users, helps control their ad-space and means they can charge premium prices.

The most important thing from an advertisers’ perspective is to understand your publishers and their audience. Is their site relevant for your campaign? Will the ad placements be contextual? And are the audience relevant? These considerations are key because direct-buys are focused to one site where the ad will be shown to their audience only. Although it can be segmented, RightMove for example only have an audience interested in homes to buy or rent, it’s not wise therefore to advertise something unrelated to their interests or intent.


Rightmove property search with large banner ad

Step 2: Negotiate everything from positions to rates

Once the right publisher has been established one should openly communicate on the ad-positions and impressions.

A publisher operating under direct-buy programmatic placements will tend to offer a CPM price, number of impressions served, which are often tiered if you purchase more impressions. For example, £10k for 1million impressions, working out to be £10 CPM. But the beauty of direct-buys is that you have direct contact with the publisher, therefore one can always negotiate to lower the price or increase impressions.

Debate the positions too, another advantage of direct-buys, that you can dictate which ad-spot you’d rather take. If there’s a choice between a MPU on the right-hand side or a billboard slot above, then one will always aim for the most visible and highest above the fold as possible.

Negotiate how long it will be displayed, the type of ad in terms of a static or animated, whether it includes any add-ons such as newsletter placements, whether it could be co-branded and exclusive to that publisher. Direct-buys open a whole host of additional options for advertisers, but be prepared to spend more than you would with RTB programmatic, it gives you more control but at premium rates.

Step 3: Book your term, share your creatives and track

The final stage is to sign an IO, provide your creatives and hand over the tracking. The option for an IO or contract with a publisher is something else you wouldn’t get with non-direct. Written, agreed documentation with the publisher gives you more control on the entire campaign and what can and can’t be displayed.

Regarding the hosting of creatives and tracking I always prefer to use Doubleclick to create the relevant script. This is a superior option than sending just the banner and affiliate link separately. Hosting on a server such as Doubleclick or OpenX gives you as the advertiser the easy option to tweak your ad or landing page from your end, rather than having to send new materials each time you want to change something.

Once your ad is up and running on the publishers site another benefit of direct buy is the open communications about your campaign there forth, with the option to optimise as you go along. Discussing with your publisher counterpart means you can inquire for additional positions, negotiate ways to bolster your campaign and generally feel more in control of where your ads are being displayed.

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