Programmatic Ad Buying, Native Advertisements, and the Future of Paid Digital Advertising

Paid search and paid digital advertising may not necessarily seem to be compatible with a traditional inbound marketing strategy, but many companies are using them to drive more site traffic and generate more conversions. Taking advantage of all the tools at one’s disposal, even those that are paid, can mean the difference between a great digital marketing campaign and a remarkable one. In fact, paid digital advertising is on the rise, but it seems to be in a state of flux and its future is relatively unclear. How so? Two examples that I will discuss in this post are programmatic ad buying and native advertising.

Programmatic Ad Buying

Programmatic seems a little like a mystery wrapped in an enigma. It is a term that has come to mean many different things and it is also currently in a stage of continuous evolution. So what is it? That is a great question and I’ll do my best to answer it. I would describe programmatic as the computerized automated buying and selling of individual ad space based on sophisticated customer behavior and forecasting databases. It uses computers to optimize the effectiveness of ad space buying as well as to determine the best and most effective places to position company advertisements on the web. I like to think of it as data driven buying. One benefit of programmatic is that it allows users to see in real time how their campaigns are doing. This type of automation seems to be increasing in popularity in the digital advertising world. So, programmatic obviously has some pretty clear benefits and it seems to be on the rise, but why is its future unclear?

Being a relatively new frontier in the digital marketing world, programmatic has yet to reach it’s full potential and discoveries about how to optimize and improve processes have yet to be made. It also remains to be seen how programmatic will affect the digital advertising world. Complete automation can be a sort of scary idea. It would appear to take the human element out of advertising, when reaching humans is what advertising is all about. Its compatibility with truly creative and engaging advertising remains to be seen.

Native Advertisements

Seemingly on the opposite end of the spectrum is native advertising. Native advertising refers to sponsored advertising content that is disguised to look like legitimate editorial or journalism content. It was born out of a corporate attempt to penetrate through the perceptive ad filters of the population. It is much easier for readers to become engaged with content that doesn’t feel like a traditional advertisement. There are no sales pitches, only engaging and relevant content. One example of quality native advertising would be Netflix’s production of some very novel and interesting native advertising for their show Orange is the New Black in the New York Times. The response to this particular piece seems to be quite positive.

Sounds great right? Not everyone agrees. Many consumers do not like that legitimate content is being mixed in with sponsored content. In native, the line between advertising and authentic authorship is blurred. This raises some ethical questions. Most often the sponsorship of certain content is made clear, but this doesn’t keep consumers from feeling like they are being deceived. So, although native advertising is wonderful at engaging consumers, it has yet to be fully accepted by the population. It is also much more difficult to determine the effectiveness of native advertising than it is with paid search or other automated, analytics compatible digital content. If truly effective processes for measuring native effectiveness can be developed, then the future of native advertising may be bright.

The Future

Programmatic is highly automated and effective and Native advertising is highly creative and engaging. I am by no means an expert in the realm of paid digital advertising, but it seems to me like there will need to be balance between creativity and standardization in the future. Yes, standardization is efficient, as we see with programmatic, but I don’t see how digital advertising can be completely “standardized” or automated. Taylor Davidson, a venture capitalist with KBS+ Ventures, would seem to disagree with me:

“The idea that native can’t be programmatic is based on a fundamentally short-sighted view of what native is. Native is whatever ad unit we have to create to fit the massive sites that we’ve made tremendously popular.”

Apparently my idea of native advertising is short-sighted. Whatever the case, I think that our views of native advertising are very much different. To me, native is more than an ad that is “tremendously popular”. It’s truly engaging long-form content and I fail to see how something like this can be automated. Standardizing advertising seems to be an oxymoron to me because standardization screams cookie-cutter, lackluster, watered-down content. And who wants to engage with content like that? One of the fundamental characteristics of quality advertising is the ability to capture a viewer’s attention and engage them. I personally do not see how complete standardization allows for this to effectively take place. It seems to me that if a good balance can be found, many innovations can be made in the realm of digital advertising. It is possible that we will see more standardized platforms for creative digital advertising in the future. I’m not quite sure what the future will hold, but whatever it is, I’m sure that it will be great. As companies increasingly allocate more advertising dollars to premium automated digital advertising, I would suggest that they not lose the originality and creativity that makes for great content.


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