Reimagining the Potential of Programmatic Advertising

Travis Clinger
4 min readJul 19, 2018

Cookies alone can’t power the future of programmatic advertising. It’s time for a more modern solution.

Programmatic was never supposed to transform advertising.

It started like many automated systems do — as a way to make existing processes more efficient. Specifically, it was used to sell leftover inventory fast.

Then, quite suddenly, programmatic advertising swallowed the entire industry.

Today, most brands, agencies, and publishers are invested in its success. According to eMarketer, 86.2% of all digital display ads in the U.S. will be bought via automated channels by 2020.

Despite all this, programmatic advertising has yet to deliver on its full potential. Programmatic has limitations in its ability to reach audiences and relies on a hack developed in the mid-2000s to support its entire infrastructure. That hack is how we sync cookies today between platforms, and it’s a major problem.

The rise and sort-of-fall of cookies

Cookies are the go-to mechanism for digital advertising. They are valuable signposts that show you exactly who was browsing what and where. As a result, you can target audiences with a fair degree of accuracy. This works especially well for retargeting

based on online activity, but today’s marketer is more sophisticated and wants to do more.

Today, cookies have four big limitations:

  1. They represent devices, not people. Marketers are targeting people, which is why marketers are spending so much money on people-based platforms.
  2. They don’t fully function on mobile and they’re not cross-device.
  3. They have significant syncing problems, which wreak havoc with a marketer’s ability to reach an audience. Each platform has its own cookie space and each time we jump between platforms, there’s significant data leakage. Marketers lose portions of a segment from a DMP to a DSP and DSPs don’t have matches for all the bid requests from an SSP.
  4. They aren’t useful on cookieless channels like advanced TV. The cookie was invented for a display-based world, but that’s not the world we live in.

These are worrying issues and represent a huge problem for programmatic advertisers.

But there’s also an opportunity here — a chance to rethink the way we’re powering these campaigns.

The dawn of people-based programmatic advertising

You’ve probably heard of people-based marketing. When it first got started in 2014, it transformed the way digital marketers target prospects and measure the effectiveness of their campaigns.

Now, this practice is being applied to programmatic advertising.

This is a big deal because you can rely on more than just cookies to target, measure, and personalize your ads. Even better, it improves the way you do all these things.

The thinking behind people-based marketing is simple. Instead of relying solely on cookies and tracking pixels, you have a consistent, people-based ID available throughout the programmatic ecosystem. You can onboard first- and third-party data to your DSP on this ID and your DSP can buy inventory using this same ID. That way, you can make important decisions based on a more accurate and complete customer understanding, and for the first time, you’ll be able to buy people-based inventory on the open internet.

If you’re a programmatic advertiser, this means you can finally use all your customer data to plan, execute, measure, and refine campaigns.

For example:

  • You can target your advanced TV audience based on what you know about their purchase history
  • You can see if the people who clicked on your digital ad purchased your product in-store
  • You can view ad effectiveness at the person level, not the device level; you can also buy ad inventory using the same ID across all of your platforms

This is just the start.

You can suppress audiences so that only new prospects see your ads, or tweak the frequency with which ads are served so individuals aren’t bombarded by your messages. Importantly, you can transparently and independently measure the effectiveness of your ads. By having a unified people-based ID, you can connect offline and online data points and use them in a privacy-conscious manner.

People-based advertising creates a better experience for consumers. They only see relevant ads and their web pages load faster as their browser needs fewer cookies.

A people-based approach to programmatic can also be applied to emerging cookie-less channels like advanced TV and IoT devices. It’s a great solution today that’s only going to get more powerful over time.

A new paradigm

Cookies have served the digital advertising industry for decades and remain a valuable tool for programmatic advertisers.

But mobile devices and apps have become the predominant way to access the internet. If you’re relying on cookies, you can only see part of a customer’s journey. That’s a big problem if you’re making multimillion-dollar investments based on customer behavior.

People-based marketing offers a better way. Using a people-based ID across all of your marketing platforms provides you the ability build a segment, buy inventory, and measure campaign effectiveness all across the same, consistent, people-based ID.

That means you can get more value from every dollar you’re investing in programmatic.

Marketers are under pressure to do more with less and capitalize on that all-important resource — data.

That’s why we support the Advertising ID Consortium, a group of companies committed to creating a more open and transparent advertising market. The Consortium’s open identity framework creates a better experience for customers, provides financial support to publishers, and lets buyers work more efficiently.

Visit their website to learn more about the group, its members, and their objectives.

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Travis Clinger

Vice President, Strategic Partnerships at LiveRamp