From Knowledge to Results: Programmatic Education

Louise Gordon-Jones in Advertising

in Advertising

In a recent tweet ADTEKR asked our followers what challenges they face in adtech. Ad pre-validation experts Adavow, tweeted us the following:

This got us thinking. Despite the rhetoric around the lack of education on programmatic being the key to some of its pitfalls, there is still a lack of understanding from those working in advertising. Perhaps when people truly understand more about programmatic, explaining exactly what your adtech company does won’t actually necessitate jargon. Instead it will involve using commonplace, industry standard terms that are understood in a programmatic-driven advertising industry.

Most recently this issue was reported in the Reaching Full Potential report from AppNexus which examined the attitude towards programmatic across the global advertising ecosystem. The result of this showed that for those involved in advertising, 67% of the market now use programmatic. As its prominence continues to grow, both agencies and advertisers can’t afford to be unfamiliar with this method of trading and the technology and data behind it.

44% of marketers did not understand how programmatic works

According to the AppNexus report 71% of people in advertising believe that an understanding and knowledge of programmatic is one of the most important capabilities that agencies will need to possess in five years’ time. The report also found that 44% of those questioned did not actually understand how programmatic works, including advertisers, agencies and publishers. This shows it is clearly an issue reported at all levels of the advertising chain. Below, we take a look at three different parts of the chain and the role that education can and should play.

Creative Level

One of the issues historically with programmatic has been that it has scared those who work on the creative side away. Too many see programmatic as techy and complicated, placing value on hits and not quality. Historically this didn’t seem to matter too much because programmatic was just seen as a way to buy cheap online advertising space, not something creative agencies needed to concern themselves with as their content was still marketed the traditional way. This is simply not the case anymore. Unilever provides a great example of creative and programmatic coming together. Unilever re-launched its Axe brand in Brazil this summer with a video which could be programmatically served in many variations depending on the viewer’s interest.  There is little doubt that creative agencies will continue to find their work being influenced by the ability that programmatic has to target a specific user. They won’t just be producing one version of a creative but potentially multiple versions all with different variants, creating a layered approach. This is a long way from the banner adds that many associate with programmatic, and this will be further advanced when programmatic TV makes a final successful break for our screens.  Educating those at the creative level then becomes vital; having an understanding will result in better collaboration, richer work and more effective targeted advertising.

Agency Level

It is not just those at the creative level who need to be taught the intricacies of programmatic and how it can impact on the work they do, but also the agencies, at a planning and buying level. It is these people who are working directly with the advertisers; they are the ones signing off on large budgets and therefore they need to know exactly what it is they are selling. Advertisers will place more and more emphasis on their lead agency being able to serve them programmatically but also being able to truly understand the model they offer, the savings and the results. Agencies should no longer rely on wheeling out their trading desks to explain when things get a little too complicated, but should themselves be able to speak confidently to their clients on how they can deploy programmatic into large marketing plans. This will encourage clients to commit to spends with far greater confidence. Deeper knowledge on the type of technologies and solutions available to clients is therefore important for agencies now and going forward. Agencies have already found that there has been a rise in the focus on programmatic in the pitch process and it is likely that this is set to continue and grow. Whether this is at RFI response stage, forming core elements of chemistry meetings or even long schedules on programmatic contained in the agreements which govern these relationships, clients will seek answers on topics such as transparency and ad fraud, and agencies need to be ready to answer these questions consistently.  Education at this level plays a crucial role because agencies provide the link between the client and the trading desks, with the in-depth knowledge on the broad marketing objectives of their client.


Whilst those directly involved in providing programmatic solutions need to take the time to educate the agencies at both a creative and planning/buying level there is little doubt that advertisers need to be able to speak confidently on this subject. When they request “programmatic” from an agency neither party will get far if the one instructing doesn’t really know exactly what it is they are asking for. As we see more and more brands appoint leaders in programmatic in house, who dedicate their time to this area, brands will grow in confidence. However, there is some adtech protest that some of the “head of programmatic” roles are yet to be truly meaningful, seeing people appointed to these roles who don’t yet have the knowledge required and who can’t keep up with the industry.  It might be that we see the movement of personnel from the programmatic sphere directly into roles like this, leveraging people who know the industry, have seen it evolve and can stay apace. Equally as agencies become more astute and take the time to consult and educate their clients, brands will in turn become more au fait with programmatic.


There is no doubt that there are some challenges in educating on all things programmatic. The adtech industry develops and changes at a fast rate and is constantly evolving. Perhaps it is important to remember that the arrival of programmatic is the biggest change to advertising since the advent of the TV. There is a vast quantity to absorb and a lot to adapt to. The Drum suggested that education on programmatic can be viewed in stages: from the “in the dark phase” to the “frustrated phase”, via a period of “over informing and confusion”, arriving in 2015 at “in control” or “a considered time”.  Perhaps this last stage is the most interesting in light of the comments above. If programmatic is at a more “considered time”, in the sense that it is more evolved, then perhaps this is the ideal time for everyone to take stock and catch up. The time is now for education; thoughtful, considered education from experts who understand how technology can deliver against marketing objectives and which reflects not just on what has changed but on the lessons that have been learnt from programmatic in the last few years.

From Knowledge to Results: Programmatic Education was last modified: October 30th, 2015 by Louise Gordon-Jones