Are Display and Programmatic Effective Brand-Building Tools?

Display, programmatic and video pre-roll are currently being used as brand awareness marketing tools. And much like the traditional marketing channels, little is expected of banner advertising, despite being a 2 billion dollar industry. So why are so many brands investing in tactics like programmatic buying? We explore the issue and highlight a better way…

Real Time Bidding
Programatic Buying
Ad Network

Banner Blindness

Why Brands Invest in Display

When polled, brand managers say building brand awareness is the number one priority for a display campaign. But solely generating awareness is no longer enough.

Don’t get us wrong … display is an effective way to boost brand recognition, and coupled with effective remarketing can make for a worthwhile investment.

But display can fall short when expensive DSP (demand side platform) buys are made.  That is because reporting data is typically delivered incomplete. It lacks precise click, impression costs and placement URL data.

What many DSPs don’t mention pre-engagement is that third-party publishers have reserved the right to disclose or not to disclose impression, click, or URL placement data with ad buyers.

Banner Blindness

According to 2015 DoubleClick data, the average Clickthrough-rate for a display ad is 0.06%, and that includes mobile users, who accidentally click ads 50% of the time. Additionally, the average age of users who click banners is 55 and older. Unless this demographic falls into your target audience you could be making an inefficient investment.

Programmatic to the Rescue....Somewhat.

First off … What is Programmatic?

Programmatic is often referred to as the future of ad buying. It’s essentially using software to make online ad purchases, as opposed to the human management process. While programmatic can be efficient it does have its drawbacks …

Attractive Management Features 

The advantage to real-time-bidding and improved targeting across devices and platforms is apparent. Programmatic claims the ability to gather insights more efficiently while performance is optimized in real-time. This is certainly attractive since GRPs (Gross Rating Points) are difficult to capture/measure via traditional media efforts.

Greener Marketers with Bigger Budgets

Generally speaking programmatic is appealing to inexperienced, green digital marketers, or newly appointed digital marketing managers, formerly in the traditional ad space. Over 50% of these users have less than 24 months of programmatic experience, and of these, over 50% have significantly increased digital advertising budgets to work with. Programmatic ad spend in the US was over $10 billion in 2014, and is estimated to eclipse $20 billion in 2016.

Pros and Cons of Programmatic 

There are additional considerations advertisers should review before choosing programmatic. Let’s start with the cons:

  • The DSP is bidding for online ad space on your behalf. This compromises brand security, as many buyers may not get insights that their ads were actually being displayed in undesirable locations, including mature/pornographic sites. This type of placement can signal instant death for a brand and the person responsible for making the buy.
  • Click and Impression fraud – while you could argue this can be a problem in traditional display as well, there’s little identification of the source or a way to fix the issue.
  • Upfront costs for initial engagement and monthly minimum management fees are typically baked in. They are often a percentage of monthly spend, and can be quite costly for large and startup organizations alike.

There are positives for programmatic, but the negatives outweigh benefits, especially when it comes to maximizing investments:

  • Lowers costs in CPM (Cost Per Thousand Impressions)
  • Improved behavioral or contextual targeting across multiple devices and platforms
  • Real-time-bidding capabilities

Paid Impressions Can Buy Engagement

Engagement, But at What Cost?

Programmatic RTB (real-time bidding) lacks assurance that ad impressions are being delivered and viewed by the right audience, not to mention, place companies at risk for damaged brand reputation.

With so many unattractive characteristics, why is programmatic being pursued so heavily? One common argument is that exposing users to repeated display ad impressions is effective at increasing brand awareness and establishing product footing in consumer’s minds. But value generated from impressions alone is difficult to ascertain and measure results from. The other reason for display advertising’s prevalence lies in a fundamental misconception about its closest alternative – paid search advertising.

Intimidating Paradox

Paid Search Advertising

Advertisers are viewing paid search advertising as an intimidating paradox: relevant and highly searched keywords are obviously great queries to bid on, but typically carry an unattractive or flat-out unaffordable price tag. Similarly, uncommonly searched keywords are cheaper but do not generate many queries and traffic to the advertiser’s website. The market’s great prospects are locked up, and there’s no point in paying for junk.

The issue with the logic above is the assumption that all “high-value” keywords are already known to all potential advertisers and correspondingly have high CPC (Cost-Per-Click) rates. This is flat-out wrong. Consider the billions of searches done on Google every day. There are highly searched, non-competitive keywords out there – it’s simply a matter of turning over enough stones to find them.

Redefining Paid Search

Same PPC, New Approach

Display and programmatic buying are ultimately progressions developed from a single origin: paid search advertising, most specifically pay-per-click (PPC).  Sometimes overlooked in lieu of newer, shinier options, pay-per-click remains relevant and highly effective as a marketing foundation for many organizations.


Some benefits of using paid search include:

  • You only pay when a person clicks. It sounds obvious, but you really know when, where and to whom your ad dollars are going. Demographic, Location, Behavior, Interest, Time of Day and Device data and more are available via Google AdWords and Analytics.
  • Data is completely transparent, removing guesswork and incomplete reporting.
  • You have immediate control over budget, bidding costs and targeting. DSP or programmatic solutions may not be as responsive, especially if you need to make a change in Chicago at 9 a.m. and the DSP you use is in Seattle, and has not arrived at work yet.
  • PPC has a positive impact on organic click-through-rates (CTR)  in many cases, and can have a direct, positive impact on your SEO efforts. For example, PPC results can share top-performing keywords. Those can be utilized to develop more effective on-site content and landing page copy, which increases SEO value and conversion rates.

Strategy for Growth

Case Study: Merck Manuals

Evolve Digital Labs continues to assist Merck Manuals in developing a paid search structure that focuses on supporting and providing medical information and knowledge to both consumers and medical professionals.

Evolve’s strategic process analyzed 300,000 keywords and built a detailed market segmentation plan. Historically, Merck Manuals’ paid search campaigns under Evolve’s management, lead to an average 300K+ site visits each month at an average cost-per-click of $0.11. The industry standard is $3.17. Merck Manuals’ campaigns maintain a click-through-rate of more than 7%. The industry standard is 1.79%. Volume aside, quality is paramount. An invalid click rate below 2.0% means we are not only attracting more people but more of the right people.

Read more about the Evolve Digital Labs approach for Merck Manuals.