Q&A: Chris O’Hara on the current state of ‘programmatic branding’

Econsultancy has this week published a new report in partnership with Quantcast which shows that companies are increasingly setting aside marketing budget for branding campaigns using programmatic advertising.

Here, the report author Chris O’Hara gives his thoughts on this topic and a flavor of what is covered in the study.

You recently completed your report on programmatic branding. Can you tell us what that is?

In ad technology, we have spent 20 years building up the ‘pipes’ to create real-time ad delivery and measurement, but it has mostly been used to drive ecommerce. Yet, big consumer brands such as Kraft and Kellogg’s have started to figure out that you can use the technology to drive upper-funnel consumer engagement. The paper is an attempt to understand how real this trend is, and where it will go in the short term.

Where will it go? Are all brands going to start doing equity advertising online?

Well, they should if they have the tools to do it. First of all, consumers have been shifting their attention away from ‘reach’ channels like print, radio, and TV for a long time. Marketers need to follow them to their mobile phones, desktops, and tablets, but doing so at scale has been costly and complex. Early adopters are companies that have created measurement frameworks to understand the impact of their equity advertising across all channels – a difficult but necessary competency for undertaking programmatic branding.

Can brands get enough reach programmatically?

Of course they can, but I think you have to distinguish between ‘reach’ and ‘quality reach’. People see enough banner ads every day, so inventory and eyeballs are not the problem. Television doesn’t just work because it can scale massively (e.g. Superbowl ads). It also works because video is an amazing medium for storytelling, which is what equity advertising is all about. Just because you can reach 75% of the population or more with digital, doesn’t mean you can succeed at programmatic branding. Stitching the right messages together in their various formats is a big challenge – especially with the dearth of quality video ad inventory.

How do you know it works?

Again, this is a problem that requires an entirely new framework to address. If you want to measure the sales lift from a branding exercise, we know it is possible to match online audiences exposed to advertising and offline purchase behavior. This is why Datalogix sold to Oracle at a reportedly healthy valuation. The harder challenge is mapping an individual user across her devices, or ‘cross device identity management’ (CDIM). That capability makes measurement more granular, enables sequential messaging, and ultimately unlocks user identity. Without that capability, available through data management, attribution remains a guessing game.

What do you see as the benefits of running programmatic brand advertising campaigns?

What innings is it for programmatic branding?

The consensus of our panel was that it’s early innings – maybe first or second. Early adopters are starting to see the advantage of shifting expensive television budgets to digital. After all, television viewership is more fragmented than ever, and it’s challenging to put together an affordable reach package in traditional media. Online advertising, secured through ad exchanges, is undervalued and provides great reach.  It will be hard for big ad spenders to avoid the kind of ‘reach hacking’ you can apply in biddable online media. The game is going to be played at a very fast pace, and early adopters will continue to receive competitive advantage from developing programmatic competencies first.

Any final thoughts?

If branding is largely creating good feelings and associations with a product or company, then I think digital is in a great place. People want individualized experiences online. They like it when they are recognized as an existing customer, they like discounts based on membership with a brand, and they like messaging that’s relevant. They dislike being re-targeted with ads for something they have already bought, and they don’t like too see ads for completely irrelevant products. Putting the right targeting and measurement (hallmarks of direct response) together with great stories and creative (the hallmarks of branding) is the proverbial peanut butter and chocolate. The companies that can use programmatic ad technology to create impactful equity campaigns will win big in 2015 and beyond.

Published 27 May, 2015 by Linus Gregoriadis @ Econsultancy

Linus Gregoriadis is Research Director at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn or Google+.

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