Programmatic Advertising and Content: What It Means

This post originally appeared in the ad:tech Connect Blog.

There are two tsunami-strength forces that are beginning to reshape digital marketing as we know it: Content Marketing and Native Advertising. Both of these areas involve moving away from traditional advertising messages and formats while striving to connect with consumers in a way that’s authentic, non-interruptive and truly useful.

For the readers of this blog, this evolution gets very interesting when you realize that ad tech in general and programmatic advertising in particular, at one point or another, will play a pivotal role in making the promise of content marketing and native advertising work at global scale and with the benefit of first class data intelligence.

Full disclosure: The company I co-founded, OneSpot, is focused on applying the power, data intelligence and scale of programmatic advertising to content marketing.

But what we can’t do is simply foist content into the existing advertising infrastructure. Content is actually quite different from typical brand messages and brand creative – and has its own special needs and characteristics that ad technology providers, as well as the advertisers and agencies they serve, are well advised to consider.

1. Content is more abundant

While brands and their agencies may produce a few dozen creatives for a given digital ad campaign, they’re now producing content nonstop. With virtually every brand now transforming themselves into publishers, they’re now posting everything from blog posts to videos, from webinars to whitepapers, and from recipes to ebooks.

“Just the sheer volume of content creates enormous challenges and opportunities for targeting and placing content in front of the right person at the right time in their customer journey.”

Just the sheer volume of content – which is increasingly leveraging paid distribution – creates enormous challenges and opportunities for targeting and placing content in front of the right person at the right time in their customer journey.

For instance if you knew something about the different stages a customer might go through, would you rather have a handful of marketing messages to advertise to them, or would you prefer to have thousands of pieces of content from which to programmatically select the best one for the user’s specific context?

So the challenge here is that there are simply many more content artifacts (by orders of magnitude) to handle than we’re accustomed to with more manageable sets of ad creative – and few ways to benefit from that diversity. The inherent opportunity is being able to target and retarget the very best piece of content at the right moment to an online user.

2. Content has more metadata

One of the key challenges with traditional digital advertising is that, when making programmatic placements, you don’t know a whole lot about the creative or the landing page. For starters there are typically less words in ad creative, and those words don’t necessarily represent what the ad is really about. For instance an auto brand’s ad that reads “Roll into the summer with incredible savings” doesn’t contain words that communicate much about cars. The same is generally true of landing pages that ads point to. Contrast that with richer content such as a blog post, a how-to or a whitepaper. With those types of content you’ve got much more raw material to work with relative to extracting keywords and core concepts.

The challenge with the lack of metadata associated with typical digital ad creative is that you don’t get the benefit of what might otherwise be a very valuable placement factor: creative context. The opportunity inherent in content is being able to leverage a much richer set of keywords from the creative, as well as social information and other meta-characteristics as a powerful basis for matching content to users via programmatic placements.

3. Content is longer lived

Ads and the landing pages they link to tend to lean a bit more ephemeral in terms of consumer interest. The latest promotion, newest product introduction or upcoming events are often fleeting in their relevance to the intended audience.

“The opportunity is leveraging the programmatic advertising marketplace as a platform for always-on, content delivery according to longer-lived consumer interests.”

Content on the other hand is usually different. Consider a recipe for breakfast tacos (yes, I live in Austin). The chances of my interest in that topic suddenly expiring would obviously be very low. My interest may last months, years or, in my actual case, a lifetime.

For an ad tech industry just starting to integrate with content marketing, the challenge in this longevity of relevance is that the concept of campaigns with customary flight start and end dates may not make sense for content. The opportunity is leveraging the programmatic advertising marketplace as a platform for always-on, content delivery according to those longer-lived consumer interests.

While there’s no easy answer to addressing all of these important characteristics of content, one thing’s for sure: If the ad tech industry is to play a role in “programmatizing” the rapidly emerging areas of Content Marketing and Native Advertising, we’ll definitely need to understand, appreciate and embrace what makes content so different and special – after all, the online audiences we’re trying to reach already have.


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