A Beginner’s Guide to Programmatic Advertising

Programmatic Advertising

By Veronica Ripson

The first website banner ad ran on October 27, 1994, when Wired magazine launched its first website. It asked users an important question: “Have you ever clicked your mouse right HERE?” Online advertising quickly exploded, as banner ads revolutionized advertising by allowing brands to actually track how many times an ad was seen and show true user engagement.

Even with these exciting innovations, there certainly were challenges in the early days of buying online media, including:

  • Publishers had to negotiate rates with each individual website and developing contracts every time a new budget was added.
  • Marketers had to use average site audience as a proxy for whether a brand reached its target audience. This may sound fine in theory, but creates a lot of wasted media dollars in practice.
  • Agencies and clients entrusted publishers to optimize their campaigns with very little visibility into actions taken on brands’ websites.

But no more! Programmatic buying — the automated bidding on advertising inventory in real time using data and algorithms — allows media buyers to efficiently identify and target users who are more likely to love their brand, be interested in its message, and purchase its stuff. Using signals like geographic location, demographic information, browsing behavior, purchases made, and shows watched on streaming services, it’s easier than ever to serve the right message to the right user in real time.

Popular Methods of Programmatic Targeting

Programmatic buying allows marketers to use data to segment and target users based on their behavior. There are five major targeting types, which can be used separately, or combined to create a more complete audience picture.

Remarketing: Generally the best-known type of online targeting, remarketing allows brands to reach users who have previously visited their site. You may recognize some brands “following” you around the internet with the same ad — that’s remarketing. While poorly managed remarketing can become annoying, good remarketing works. According to the conversion rate optimization consultancy Invesp, website visitors who are retargeted are 70% more likely to convert than those that are not.

Audience: Audience targeting, also called demographic targeting, is reaching users based on their demographic information. This includes identifiers like income, education level, relationship status, and hundreds of other specific attributes.

Behavioral: This is generally used to reach users based on actions they’ve taken online, but can sometimes include offline behavior as well. Behavioral targeting allows advertisers to segment based on things like specific websites or types of websites visited, searches made, and purchase history. In a campaign for the Amanda Foundation, a nonprofit emergency animal rescue, this was used to reach users with an adoptable cat or dog that fit their lifestyle. For example, a user identified as athletic or outdoorsy would be served an ad for Mandy, an energetic and active pup with the phrase, “I love a good run, just like you.” Contrast that with the message for someone identified as a single reader: “I love curling up with a good book, just like you.”

Geotargeting: Using geotargeting, marketers can target users in specific locations or types of locations. Don’t worry, they can’t target anyone based on a specific address! But they can target types of places, like stadiums or gyms, or general areas by zip code or latitude/longitudinal address. This is often layered with other types of targeting to deliver specific messages in the right place at the right time.

Contextual: Similar to how marketers traditionally bought online media, contextual targeting reaches a user based on the website they are on. However, using programmatic, buyers are able to target not only specific sites, but also site categories and keywords, leading to increased efficiency and improved relevance.

We can start to see why programmatic targeting really changes the game and reaches the right user with the right message.

Programmatic Advertising at General Assembly

Programmatic advertising has changed the way marketers run digital advertising, from display to video, and even audio and out of home. Programmatic is constantly changing as new platforms and technologies continue to roll out. At General Assembly, all of our instructors are also practitioners of our craft, so we see and feel this change in our day-to-day lives.

We teach programmatic advertising in our part-time Digital Marketing course, across our campuses and online. For businesses, the skill is taught in our corporate training programs in formats ranging from one-day seminars to multi-day workshops. While programmatic education is certainly relevant to digital marketers, it can also help anyone in a company that practices digital media truly understand the landscape as dollars continue to shift. In our programs, we focus on making the theoretical real using hands-on exercises, real-world examples, and a collaborative approach to help each participant understand how programmatic approaches can help their team succeed.

Meet Our Expert

Veronica Ripson is an experienced digital marketer with a passion for developing full-funnel, data-driven solutions across programmatic and paid social channels. Currently an Associate Director of Optimization and Innovation at the Kepler Group, Veronica has worked with leading brands including Google, Barclays, Church and Dwight, Albertsons, and Harvard Business School Executive Education.

At General Assembly, Veronica is a member of the Enterprise Education team, developing customized in-person and online training for large-scale enterprise companies. She also teaches our 10-week Digital Marketing course in New York and contributes lessons to our online training programs for companies.

“Anyone in media will benefit from learning about programmatic, especially as more channels shift to programmatic buying. GA instructors hold day jobs in our fields, so we’re able to share real-world challenges and solutions.”

Veronica Ripson, Digital Marketing Instructor, GA New York