The Rise Of Programmatic Branding In RTB

Does RTB really stand for Real Time Branding?

Since the advent of Real Time Bidding, programmatic display advertising has largely been thought of as a technique for direct-response, performance based advertisers.

This is largely because RTB has worked very well for performance advertisers. The ability to buy impressions one at a time (and more recently, the ability to buy audiences with similar granularity) has enabled performance advertisers to lower their cost per action (CPA), whether those actions are leads or purchases or something else.

Despite its benefits, many “brand advertisers” initially stayed away from Real Time Bidding, largely due to concerns about the quality of the inventory on which their campaigns would run.

Times, however, are a changin’, as brand advertisers are discovering to the benefits of RTB. In a recent interview with, Bob Arnold, the Director of Digital Strategy at Kellogg stated that “ROIs have increased as much as 6 times” using programmatic buying.

On AdExchanger, Jeff Holecko, North American Media Manager for Kimberly Clark, said of display: “We had very specific qualitative and quantitative goals. It’s blown through all of them”.

large brand Logos -Coke McDonalds Apple Google Facebook

Here at we also see this trend. As I mentioned a few months back, 9 of the 10 largest campaigns on our platform in 2012 were for national brands. While many of those were driving campaigns to hard direct response metrics, we see more and more brands coming on board looking to optimize campaigns to branding metrics.

What’s Behind The Shift?

There are several developments behind the increasing flow of brand advertising dollars to programmatic purchasing. These include:

  • Higher quality inventory. As real time bidding has ramped up over the last couple of years, so has the availability of inventory perceived as “high quality”.  Several of the Supply Side Platforms (SSPs) have been working hard to bring on inventory from nationally recognized publishers, and addition of Facebook inventory through the Facebook Exchange (FBX) just added to this trend.
  • Better inventory screening tools. Tools that report on and/or ensure that campaigns are run on “brand safe” inventory have evolved and are available at multiple levels through out the programmatic stack. Brand-safe controls can now be set at the SSP level, at the DSP level, by whitelisting and blacklisting, and also by using third party ad verification vendors.
  • Drive toward ROI. Brand advertisers are no longer content to target users to broad demographics, or semi-transparent site lists, and hope for a positive outcome.  Increasingly brand advertisers, like Kellogg and Kimberly Clark mentioned above, are closely monitoring ROI and driving for continuous improvement on this metric. The ability to optimize campaigns to specific goals is one of the strengths of real time bidding, so it is an excellent fit for brand advertisers looking to improve ROI metrics.

Driving Improved ROI

With an abundance of high quality inventory now available, and strong tools to ensure ads will be shown on appropriate sites, the hurdles that have kept brand marketers away from real time bidding are largely gone.

Brand marketers are increasingly able to take advantage of the aspects of Real Time Bidding that help them improve the performance of their campaigns. These include:

  • Audience Optimization. In the past, many brand advertisers have been content to identify a fixed target audience for their brand, and then set the goal of a campaign to deliver as many ads to that target audience at the best price possible. With algorithmic optimization, audiences can be optimized on the fly to meet the goals of a campaign. Optimizing the audience to a campaign goal both increases the ROI of the campaign, and also provides insights back to the advertiser on the type of audience that is most responsive.
  • Inventory Optimization. Traditionally, many brand advertisers have defined fairly narrow fixed site lists on which to run their campaigns. While this provides the brand with the safety of knowing precisely where the campaign will run, it often restricts performance of the campaign. With real time bidding, campaigns can be set up to test on a wide variety of brand-safe sites, and then optimized to deliver on the best performing sites in the test group.
  • Algorithmic optimization of other parameters. Data elements (e.g. search terms for search retargeting), data recency, day parting, geo targeting, ad position, and other parameters all can have significant impact on the performance of branding campaign. Using algorithmic optimization, bid prices are increased and budget shifted to impressions where the combination of impression parameters indicate a high probability of the desired outcome.
  • Complete transparency. Many brand marketers, like their counterparts on the performance side, are data junkies. Knowing the CPM, CTR, CPC, CPA, and other metrics for each keyword, site, exchange, or other targeted parameter is important not only to optimize current campaigns, but also to develop insights that will influence future marketing efforts. In the world of real time bidding, marketers are more likely to find vendors who provide this type of transparency.

These capabilities enable advertisers to improve the returns on their advertising budgets. As Bob Arnold of Kellogg told back in November, “Bottom line, programmatic buying is more efficient, more effective and more transparent than the traditional digital media buying model.”

Digital advertisers have long lamented the slow movement of brand advertising dollars online from TV and other traditional media. Real Time Bidding is now giving brand advertisers another reason to make the jump.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Display | Search & Display


About The Author: is a seasoned online advertising executive, specializing in targeting, optimization, and technology. Frost is CEO and co-founder of You can follow him on Twitter @phrossed.

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  • JackMcLaren

    I’m very happy someone has finally written a post on this! We have recently started running some branding campaigns with an RTB focus and have found great success in integrating this medium with a more traditional media buy approach to cover all bases. Online brand marketers have been needing this for a long time coming.

  • Prachi Mishra

    Great overview of RTB, Frost! RTB is truly in the spotlight because advertisers are seeing the return on investment, specifically on higher quality inventories like the Facebook Exchange. As Sheryl Sandberg mentioned in the Q4 FB Earnings call, our data, at Triggit, proves that there are 36% higher conversions on the Facebook Exchange than traditional exchanges right now; that’s a good reason for advertisers to be talking about RTB now. For more data check out the link: bit (dot) ly/fBxPb

    As you mention in your article, for advertisers need two main elements for a successful RTB campaign: the ability to optimize their campaigns and full transparency. Without reporting with details on a campaign’s performance metrics (CPM, CTR, etc), advertisers don’t have the information necessary to optimize their campaigns in the efficient manner. Surprisingly, not all vendors provide the features or the transparency necessary to advertisers to optimize ads and spend in the ways you listed. Marketers should be jumping in on the amazing opportunity RTB provides, but they need to be picky when choosing their vendor.


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