What Local Advertisers Need to Know about Programmatic Marketing


Can programmatic marketing play nice with local media companies? According to a recent article on Ad Exchanger, yes, but the story misses so much that’s important about local marketing.

What is programmatic marketing? Well, in a sense, it is what results when traditional marketing meets computer science.

Using a series of algorithms, advertisers and marketers can serve up digital ads to consumers who meet specific criteria. This happens in real time as marketers bid and compete with each other on ad exchanges to determine whose inventory is shown to whom.

Looking to target sites that have a lot of visitors who are sports fanatics between 18 and 24? Programmatic marketing can help you do that. Looking to remarket to consumers who have previously visited your site? Programmatic marketing can do that, too.

The article points out that programmatic marketing can provide greater reach, customization, better performance and a variety of price points for local media companies. These are valid enough points, but they certainly don’t tell the whole story.

Here are my contentions:

Algorithms Don’t Capture the Subtlety of Local

No, we’re not at war with machines. But algorithms just don’t understand the nuances of local marketing like people do.  To craft a truly personal local message, you have to understand what’s happening in that market. People in Detroit buy differently than people in San Diego. Hell, they are different than people in San Diego!  You just can’t automate genuine connection with a community, it takes dedication and a deep sense of what makes them tick.

We’re Not a Faceless Mass, Either

Great local marketers understand that everyone in a certain demographic isn’t the same. Local consumers reward a brand for speaking to them personally rather than simply spitting an an offer because they meet some automated criteria. Our fearless leader Rich Lobel and I might look the same on paper — we both live in New York and both work at the Altitude Group — but an algorithm wouldn’t know to speak to Rich’s passion for Harley-Davidson or my obsession with watching live sports.

There are some fantastic uses for programmatic marketing. For instance, trying to sell off those “abandoned shopping carts” by targeting individual users across their favorite blogs and social media. But what starts the conversation and builds the brand recognition that got them there in the first place? For that, there’s no replacement for human-to-human marketing.

The Numbers Don’t Always Add Up

The article notes that ad exchanges exist for a variety of price points. But for small local media companies without huge readerships, chances are that price point for their inventory is somewhere between “slim” and “nothing.” Click fraud is a real problem. And there’s some scary numbers associated with the display banners that dominate programmatic marketing, namely, that 8 percent of users account for 85 percent of all clicks.

Marketing From All Angles

Programmatic ad buying is about placing media efficiently in an exchange.  Marketing is about engaging with your audience and captivating them through information story telling.  Since when has technology taken precedence over ideas?

Programmatic marketing isn’t always bad. Selling inventory on ad exchanges is a great solution when local media companies have an excess. But programmatic marketing is a supplement, not a solution for local media. This isn’t a zero sum game. Great marketing uses the best of all strategies and great marketers understand that.