Dedicated Followers: Programmatic in Plain English.


Ever feel like marketing changes so fast it’s hard to keep up? Same. One of the things that freaks me out is "Programmatic". What is it? How does it work? Will data-led tech kill creativity and cast us all adrift in a wilderness full of robots?

That last question is the plot of an episode of of Black Mirror. But the programmatic questions still stand. So I dragged myself out of bed and showed up for a Sunrise Session at the Marketing Association. “Programmatic in Plain English” they told us. “Perfect”, I thought. And that’s exactly what they delivered.


Rogan Polkinghorn of KPEX kicked us off with a simple summary: “Programmatic uses software to connect buyers and sellers in a more efficient way”. So far so good. Essentially you have a “Demand Side Platform” (the buying robot) and a “Supply Side Platform” (the selling robot.) Then you throw them into the ring for a robot auction that gets the right ads onto the right websites at the best price.

MG Robots-1.jpg

I may have oversimplified the already simplified version of a complex thing. But that’s as much as I understood. I also noted that KPEX is the programmatic version of a Westfield Mall for premium brands. Stuff, NZME, TVNZ and MediaWorks all sell ads through KPEX. There’s a bunch of smaller retailers too, but nothing shabby, dodgy or dark - like Westfield.


The most obvious benefit of buying ads programmatically is that it’s easy. Like anything where robots can make connections, there’s an efficiency in using a machine. But there’s more to it than that. Programmatic can also serve different ads to different people based on their online behaviour. It’s a simple premise: If I’ve been checking out new cars, it’s likely I’m interested in getting a new car. So the robots will chat and serve up an ad for a new car. Or something.

The other benefit of automation is optimisation - both popular buzzwords right now. All that means is I can check the daily results, see what’s working and tweak it.


When ‘viewability’ came up I had to google what it meant. Apparently, it’s about whether your ads will ever be seen. I got momentarily irate about the idea that anything under 100% was acceptable. Then I remembered all the ads I ignored as I flicked through Saturday’s Herald while skimming the headlines over brunch and stealing bits of pancake from the kids.

I also asked a question about data integrity and privacy. When it comes to using my data to sell me more stuff, I side with the US Congress and the authors of the GDPR. But it turns out I needn’t worry too much. In spite of the richness of their data, platforms like KPEX can’t actually recognise me as a person, they just watch what I do on the internets and serve ads that seem relevant based on my behaviour.


Programmatic is pretty much the Uber of online ad buying. It’s an effective and efficient way to dynamically connect the ‘right people’ with the ‘right message’ in the time it takes a website to load. Rather than stuff around wondering where your audience hangs out, you simply punch in your objectives, preferred audience and budget, then leave it to the robots to connect the dots.

It’s a bit like switching out a broom for a vacuum cleaner. The marketing hasn’t changed. The tools have. It’s still about reach and frequency or spots and dots. And it’s still about attracting audiences with stuff they like and selling those eyeballs to advertisers. And, just like always, the better your creative, the better your results.

To be honest, I don’t really see programmatic as data-led marketing. It’s more like data-informed optimisation. While it’s easy, fast and efficient, you can’t get pin point accuracy or 100% 'viewability'. But the robots can really help you broadcast better.

That’s what I reckon, what do you think?



Michael Goldthorpe