The possibility of communicating directly with potential customers online is certainly enticing; where once a poster on the street might catch the eye of the odd person in a few thousand, the internet opens up the possibility of millions, perhaps even billions, of prospective patrons engaging with your message.
But while a printed ad is placed in a particular location, whether that’s a poster on a street corner or a page in a magazine, programmatic online advertising is a much more freewheeling affair. Digital banner ads, governed as they are by ‘cookies’ and randomisation programs, can turn up almost anywhere, in front of almost anyone, which is at best not very targeted and at worst potentially damaging to a brand’s image.
Towards the end of last year, for example, a number of global brands, including Mars, Adidas and Lidl, pulled ads from YouTube over concerns they were being served against “inappropriate” and “exploitative” content featuring children. This is the sort of nightmarish scenario that can quickly spiral into a full-scale social media campaign against a hapless brand. Google has just announced plans to pre-emptively review large amounts of YouTube content to reassure advertisers.
And brands are definitely concerned. In a survey of brands both big and small, digital marketing agency QueryClick found a huge proportion (80%) are worried about where their brand is showing up online. Even more (90%) are concerned by the lack of transparency in this field.
Programmatic advertising technology is now widely used, but perhaps not so widely understood.
“The tech is out there now and it is not expensive, but this is a new market so it is quite bewildering,” says QueryClick managing director Chris Liversidge. “Obviously, brands are starting to call for a stamp-down on the worst excesses, but what is really needed is oversight and authority.
“Brands using programmatic advertising should seek out independent, authoritative voices who can guide them through this. I believe it is a problem that will be sorted out by market demand because brands will become motivated to challenge their agencies and even threaten to take away their business, so transparency will come through that.”
With so much mistrust in the digital market, is there than an opportunity for print to recover some of its former glory?
Emma Clackton, business director at out-of-home (OOH) specialist Jack, believes that the personal, curatorial touch print provides will start to look more appealing for brands on reflection. She says: “What we offer is something of a cultural notice board. As a producer of printed advertising, we have cultivated a reputation that we can get your ad to exactly the sorts of people you want to see it. Print fits in the landscape because it can be very artistic and it establishes a connection when used to communicate with customers.
“I think, as with most new formats, the pendulum swings one way and then it goes back to normal. Print and digital advertising are increasingly learning to complement each other and I can see that balance continuing to be established.”
An ongoing concern for brands is ensuring their advertising is seen by the right people. For some of-the-moment, cutting-edge brands, there are concerns that print is an irrelevant format for youthful tastemakers – the digital natives – and a belief that online is the only way to reach them. However, Paperplanes, the direct mailing subdivision of Go Inspire Group, has not found this to be the case.
“Digital marketers want to utilise multi-channel marketing without print, which is nuts,” says founder Daniel Dunn. “They don’t think younger people will connect with print, but we send direct mail to millennials and they love it.
“The time and attention that has been put in to seeking them out and putting something tangible in their hands is powerful.”
But how does Paperplanes know where to send its mailers? Funnily enough, it uses programmatic technology, something direct mailing companies are grasping with both hands and giving a print spin. Based on an individual’s online activity Paperplanes can automatically create and send out relevant physical one-to-one direct mail pieces.
And there are definite benefits to using print. David Amor, managing director at First Move Direct Marketing, says: “What sets printed direct ads apart from digital is 100% deliverability. With methods of delivery thoroughly surveyed and tested by the Royal Mail, you know that your advertising is getting exactly where the brand wants it to go.
“There is no reason not to do programmatic direct mail, and it can all come back to uniting digital and print. If someone is shopping online, the digital front-end of a website knows when a customer abandons their shopping cart. An email or a banner ad could be sent out using programmatic means to prompt them to return, but you would probably still lose 70% of people.
“By taking the time to send out a personalised piece of paper advertising, with automated variations on text and colour, direct mail can pick up the slack. It is also far easier to analyse the effectiveness of direct mail than digital ads. Somehow there is a perception that print doesn’t work, but the only reason companies like us do it is because it is proven to make money.”
What is programmatic advertising?
Programmatic advertising is a highly automated process. It sounds convoluted but it all takes place almost instantaneously. When someone clicks on a programmatic web page, the website publisher puts the ad impression up for auction. The ad marketplace then runs an auction among advertisers interested in displaying an ad to that user. There may be many advertisers competing in the auction, and whichever one has placed the highest, capped bid wins and their ad is displayed when the page loads. Because the process is automated and the maximum price each advertiser is willing to bid has already been programmed in, the auction can be completed within milliseconds. However, the advertiser would not necessarily be aware of what website or against what content the ad appeared.