Skills & Expertise

What Does ‘Programmatic’ Mean?

Bone up on this bit of jargon before your next marketing or advertising job interview

Programmatic is becoming increasingly important in jobs in advertising or marketing, but you’d be excused for not knowing exactly what it means.  

The next time you hear the term “programmatic,” say, at a job interview, you might think you can guess at the definition. It sounds kind of familiar—ads, data, computers… Does programmatic lie somewhere within that triangle?   

You don’t want to cobble together a makeshift response to this. Being secure on your knowledge of all things programmatic will show not only that you are up on industry trends, but will give you a chance to prove there’s a place for you in a rapidly digitizing industry.

OK, so what is programmatic?

At its most basic, in an advertising or marketing context, programmatic refers to buying, selling or placing ads through an automated process.

That seems really simple. Isn’t it more complicated than that?

Ask 10 different marketing professionals what programmatic means, and you’re likely to get 10 different answers.

Programmatic is an umbrella term, and sometimes the general term gets conflated with the particular. The one that you may see used interchangeably more than any other is real-time bidding.

Can you break that down?

Sure. Imagine User X does a Web search for sunglasses. Then User X goes to a new site and sees an ad for sunglasses. User X starts seeing ads for sunglasses on many of the sites he visits. How did that happen? Through the magic of the programmatic process known as real-time bidding, or RTB.

Here’s what likely went down behind the scenes:

User X’s browsing history marked him as a person searching for sunglasses. As User X typed in the address to a new site with available ad space, that space went up for auction.

Sunglass company Z, using software that identifies when ad space is available for its target market of sunglass seekers, outbid the other sites, and the ad for its sunglass company occupied the ad spot just as User X’s site loaded.

This entire process was automated, a digital transaction that transpired in milliseconds.

And programmatic is the future because?

For one, it can make marketing campaigns more efficient and effective. The ability to use data to identify not only a target market, but also to analyze the efficiency of a campaign as it happens and in particular situations will help media planners create more successful future campaigns.

Most marketers can appreciate how programmatic eliminates the need for tedious manual processes like sending change orders back and forth or spending hours on Excel.

There is just too much out there for humans on either end of buying or selling equation to handle, and programmatic can take the slack.

While it may seem that programmatic has the potential to take over jobs now handled by humans, it can create new opportunities for those who can successfully use programmatic marketing as a tool to make ad campaigns more effective than ever.

Looking to up your marketing game? Consider taking a class. Mediabistro’s Online Marketing Courses cover it all, from digital marketing fundamentals to creating effective email campaigns.

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