In Depth

The art of media buying, the programmatic way

Ankit Rawal
27th Jun 2015
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As we embark on the journey of buying media, we must look at the 6Ms; Market, Mission, Message, Medium, Money & Measurement.

At a certain time, I was ready to put across my message to the market over various media channels. I thought this would be easy; I could just identify which TV channel or newspaper I wanted to put my ad on, negotiate the best price, and voilà –I’m done. Alternatively, I thought, I could just set up an account on any social network, and customers would be knocking on my door. Through a common friend, I reached out to a newspaper and to know how much an ad would cost me. They positively scared me with the price per inch. The ad was also going to be on the eighth page, left corner. (Who actually reaches the middle of a newspaper?) Also the slot was available only 10 days from then,and I had to book immediately. Lastly, I would not be able to work directly with the paper, but would have to come through a media agency.

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Image Credit "ShutterStock"

Thankfully, my brother worked witha media agency, so I got an audience with that one. Being a small client, I was made to wait for an hour despite a scheduled appointment. Apparently a big FMCG client was there, and a big media pitch was underway. When I finally did meet someone, they threw jargon like GRP, TRP, reach, and frequency share of voice at me, confusing me, a novice, greatly.

He also advised me to first work with a marketing research company,and have them do qualitative(focused groups and questionnaires) and quantitative research (regression and correlation analysis). After getting the results of the research, I would have to approach a creative agency. The creative agency would produce a TV commercial featuring a celebrity, if I had the money for that (who cares whether the consumer remembers the product or the celebrity?), a radio jingle, or work with a copywriter to get a print ad together. If I worked with a media agency, paying them a hefty fee, they’d help me with ‘above the line’ (traditional) media. However fornew media - social, digital and mobile – I’d need to work with a digital agency. The charges for that would be separate. All this would take weeks, if not months. And the worst part is that I would have limited / no means of measuring whether my ad reached my target audience.

Overwhelmed and exasperated, I began to wonder if, in this hi-tech age,media buying could be made more efficient and effective, and take much less time.

As discussed previously, advertising is a value where money flows from the advertiser to the publisher, with each player in the value chain capturing a piece of in the flow (research, creative, media, tech,etc.). The more the number of levels, the higher the chances of inefficiency creeping in. If the funnel could be collapsed through technology instead, advertisers could get more bang for their buck. Enter programmatic buying. Programmatic buying is basically buying media across various target audiences, inventory sources, ad formats, and prices, efficiently andin real-time - very much like a stock exchange. Publishers of content can aggregate all their available supply using technology to offer efficient, automatic & secure ways to maximize revenue - Supply-Side Platform (SSP). Similarly,advertisers want price discovery for every possibleaudience in real-time - Real Time Bidding - and wants to aggregate its own demand -Demand Side Platform(DSP).  To facilitate this auction, technology comes in, doing this buying / selling at scale. Also in this era of SMAC, large amounts of data (location, demographic, appographic , psychographic etc.) can be collected, integrated and managed to ensure that the most relevant ad is shown to the right user in the right context. This data can come from various disparate sources, and a DMP (Data Managed Platform) helps to aggregate it. All the pieces of the puzzle join together in an Ad Exchange, and the magic happens. And the best part? All this happens in a few milliseconds!


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Despite its merit of efficiency and speed ‘Programmatic Buying’ is a fairly new phenomena (desktop around for couple of years and on mobile just getting started). Being a largely unexplored area coupled with issues like lack of transparency and trading of remnants act as hindrances for growth of programmatic buying. Indian media buying calculus is still driven by gut feeling, lack of education & understanding and premium inventory are some of the other reasons. Also the moot question is if everything gets algorithm driven what will the people involved in the advertising value chain do? However, because of its efficiency and effectiveness and thrust from global brand like P&G & Amex who have been buying pro-grammatically this channel of buying is here to grow. Happy buying the programmatic way!

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