06 February 2020

Using Programmatic for Branding

Why it didn't work then but it does work now

Part one: Measurement and brand safety

Since the advent of programmatic buying in 2007 and real-time bidding in 2009, advertisers and buyers have looked for ways to marry programmatic solutions with branding campaigns. And it’s never really worked. 

Until now. 

In this three part series, we’re going to look at how the programmatic landscape has changed to make brand building through programmatic not just possible, but something all smart marketers should be doing. 

In part one we’ll cover measurement and brand safety, and how recent changes to programmatic mean brands can be sure their campaigns are being seen by real people and making a real impact.

In part two we’ll look at how programmatic paves the way for better creative. And in part three we’ll see how programmatic can amplify and improves your TV brand campaigns. 

Let’s dive in.

Solving the measurement challenge

For direct response advertisers seeking to achieve some end goal (such as a CPA target), programmatic can be seen as a “test-and-learn” strategy. But in branding the focus has typically been on execution against a defined audience and environmental strategy. New metrics and measures of success make it possible to bring the ‘test and learn’ mentality to branding too, so brand advertisers can measure and optimize against the impact of branding campaigns in the programmatic space, and make sure that branding campaigns can learn and apply findings in the same way as their DR cousins. 

Offline sales

Thanks to third-party measurement firms such as Pathformance, brand advertisers can directly measure how their digital campaigns drove offline sales. Using offline purchase data to measure sales lift among exposed consumers, brands can identify the impact of their programmatic efforts and, with proper tagging, identify how specific strategies, sites, or landing pages drove sales more efficiently. While these studies can be expensive, time-consuming, and tend to provide only aggregated results, by combining them with brand equity studies or location data, brand advertisers can develop excellent proxy metrics and models for driving sales year-round, while only relying on a small number of sales studies for model refinement.

Brand equity

While the use of surveys to measure lift in key brand metrics such as awareness, consideration, and purchase intent aren’t new, running studies in programmatic spaces using a control/exposed methodology has traditionally been difficult to tag and measure, especially when measuring across mobile platforms.

The good news for branding campaigns is that measurement in this space has gotten better, and thanks to cross-device measurement solutions, it is now significantly easier to track control/exposed consumers online and across devices, and identify campaign impact on brand equity. 

Foot traffic and location visits

With the advent of mobile, sophisticated consumer tracking technologies have become commonplace, giving advertisers the ability to track where consumers are before, during, and after they see ads. While this is a godsend for retailers, it’s also a powerful tool for branding advertisers, who can now see how their campaigns drive customers to a store and reduce their likelihood of visiting a competitor. They can consider bold new conquesting strategies designed to move customers right out of competing stores and into their own, or use location as a measurement tool to see how they drove foot traffic at stores carrying their products.

Solving the brand safety challenge

The industry’s concerns around media quality have not gone unheard. There have been large-scale changes around how programmatic media is bought, and how DSPs and traders make sure that brands are placed in safe environments where ads will be seen by actual humans.

Brand safety and fraud have also been persistent challenges for branding campaigns in the programmatic space. Open exchanges made it easier than ever for bad actors to create fraudulent inventory sources, and the sheer volume of publishers and sources made it difficult to evaluate those sources on an ongoing basis. The end result was advertisers having to worry not just about appearing next to questionable content, but whether their served ads were even seen by a human.

Brand safety 

Brand safety can be a particularly nefarious problem for brands. They don’t just have to worry about a campaign failing to deliver on its established metrics. They have to worry about another pair of threats. One, the risk of creating a negative consumer association based on where the brand appears and, two, media/PR backlash from brands aligning themselves with controversial stories or content.

There are a number of different strategies for solving these problems that work in tandem to produce safe environments for brands across the programmatic landscape. Contextual analysis can identify content that doesn’t align directly with a brand's values through the identification of key words that a brand might not want to be associated with. Brands can establish lists in advance and the leverage contextual crawlers that can identify content that contains these words. The result is the impression can be blocked and risk minimized. 

White and blacklisting have also been used. Certain sites or pages can be identified as not aligning with a  brand’s safety standards and added to a blacklist. Advertisers can avoid ever serving and impression on these sites. 

Content scoring is another method that verification companies employ to protect programmatic advertisers. Factors such as key words, publisher category, risky URLs etc constantly feed an optimization engine with information around which content might be risky and which might be safe. Content scoring is continuous and updated as new inputs are collected. Brands can establish the levels and categories of risk they are comfortable with (alcohol, violence, political etc.) and only run on pages scored within levels they pre-identify as being ok. 


Fraud is an ongoing issue for the advertising industry when it comes to digital ads, though over the past few years the worst areas of fraud have shifted from display to video, where the largest spend increases are projected over the next five years (fraudsters are likely to follow higher CPMs). As a result, pressure has mounted on the major inventory platforms to step up their fraud detection and prevention policies, scrubbing fraudulent traffic and removing bad actors from their ecosystems. 

The good news is that brands can battle fraud programmatically on their end as well through pre-bid solutions that actually prevent a bid from being generated on an impression identified as fraudulent. Coupled with blocking technology, where the impression is still paid for but make-goods can be requested, brand marketers have a powerful toolset to significantly reduce fraud and mitigate the waste they incur from fraudulent impressions.

In addition to advertiser tools, programmatic buying companies such as MiQ have also stepped up to prevent fraud. The process starts with blacklisting sites that have high incidences of fraudulent activity or inventory, but goes well beyond, identifying fraudulent actors at the IP level based on their activity. By doing this, we can avoid bidding on inventory that will likely be wasted, and prevent wasting time and money.


Regardless of whether an advertiser is focused on branding or direct response, an unseen ad is a waste, end of story. While preventing unseen ads completely is impossible, advertisers are now better-equipped to track which ads are seen and for how long, creating the ability to develop better standards around viewability and demand accountability from their partners. While individual advertisers may disagree on what the standards for a viewable impression may be in terms of time spent and percent of the ad on-screen, the ability to measure and set these thresholds mean that brands can go beyond just thinking about viewability measurement and start thinking about how to design messaging that caters to different viewing patterns, or how to drive longer exposure time. Brands can also use viewability as a currency, working out deals to only pay for completed videos or ads that were in-view for a specific period of time. 

Advertisers should also consider how long exposure really needs to be to drive impact for their specific campaign, which may vary by product, brand, format, device, or publisher. This is something advertisers should consider testing as part of a broader strategy to identify what types of messaging will work at longer and shorter exposure times, since average exposure time will likely also be a function of the target audience and demographics. Finally, the rise of programmatic on inherently high-viewability platforms such as OTT will further improve the viewability quality of video inventory, driving higher rates and leading to a safer ecosystem.

Now you can measure, you can succeed

The days of programmatic as a tool exclusively used by direct response advertisers are over. Improvements in measurement and brand safety have opened up a host of new strategies that branding advertisers can use to build successful campaigns. As branding advertisers re-acquaint themselves with the programmatic space, they’ll need to find partners that can help them navigate potential land mines, connect data sets, and build and measure new KPIs. Ultimately, they’ll need to partner with companies who can help them convert their existing data into the Marketing Intelligence necessary to drive business success.

Download the full whitepaper here.