Programmatic Advertising for Dummies (Who Want to Win At It)

Lainey Mebust
September 4, 2019

Programmatic Advertising: So, what the heck is it anyway?


Hey, we know you’re no dummy – but frankly, programmatic advertising can make a lot of people’s heads spin, so we figured it was time for an explanation that everyone can understand. And use, ideally.

To put it simply, programmatic display is a means to automatically buy and optimize your digital campaigns, as opposed to buying directly from publishers. Boiled down to a simplistic form, programmatic advertising is the ads and banners you see on the tops, sides, and bottoms of web pages. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the logistics of how this works, then you may not even realize that one programmatic display ad is not going to populate every single person’s web page. That’s right. These ads are targeted to you (specifically), based on your demographic, psychographic, and geographic metrics. To enable targeting to be even more specific, programmatic advertisements can even go so far as to include unique highly-relevant keyword searches, social media accounts, consumer browsing patterns, competitor email targets, purchase history, and more. 

We understand it can be a little frightening. But listen, it’s actually for the consumer’s benefit. Think about it this way, if you are allergic to cats (for instance), do you want to be shown display ads for various organic cat foods or the latest and greatest plush cat bed? Chances are you’re shaking your head. Absolutely not, right? Right.

So, that’s where programmatic ad tools really come in handy. Their innate ability to make up for the failings and limitations of humans are rather amazing, and certainly should not be ignored. The more refined the tool kit, the programmatic advertising tool kit that is, the better the targeting. It means you’re going to be shown ads for things you might actually want, or hey, even need. What a concept. 

programmatic advertising for dummies thumbs up gif

Okay, so how do I buy and sell programmatic ads?

Programmatic ad buying can be a little confusing; I won’t lie to you. Essentially what happens is that companies engaged in ad campaigns place a bid for a some programmatic real estate, if you will. Bear with me here. So, they place their bid. Let’s pretend there’s two companies bidding. One company bids $3.99, the other bids $4. 

Now, because of the programmatic technology, the holder of the ad space is going to take into account all of the demographics I mentioned earlier. 

Based on the two companies targeting parameters, the AI is going to look at that particular consumer logging on. It’s going to analyze those demographics, all of that various data, and should the company that put the bid in of $4 not align with those parameters, the ad space will go to the company bidding $3.99. It’s a little tough to make sense of, but that’s the gist of it. 

Think of it almost like a stock exchange, instead it’s an ad exchange which’s main goal is to ensure the consumer is going to be viewing display ads they’re actually going to have some engagement with or interest in.


ad exchange newspaper visual


Yes, okay. I’m doing Programmatic Display. Now how do I optimize?

I cannot stress this enough: the level of optimization you achieve for your programmatic ad campaign is 100% a direct correlation of your targeting parameters.

In order for it to be as successful as it can be, you need to make sure your parameters are specific but not too specific. Be sure you know your target audiences, and yes, if you have more than one demographic, that’s ideal. There has to be some breathing room; but you don’t want to just start throwing things around and praying for something to stick. Similar to demand generation and content syndication campaigns, you want to get your message out to someone who actually has the potential of wanting to listen. 

All that being said, you’ll want to ensure your targeting is happening in a myriad of ways.  So, you’ll want to include the following:

  • Contextual Targeting – this is targeting that operates by showing display ads based on the context of the website itself. 
  • Keyword Targeting – this is a subset of contextual targeting. Not surprisingly, this focuses on serving the customer ads based on specific keywords.
  • Audience Targeting – this is going to be using the customer’s data or cookies.
  • Geo-Targeting (Location-based or Geo-Fencing) – Brands use this to target customers that are relevant to their location. 
  • Retargeting (my personal favorite) – These are going to be potential customers that have already engaged with or visited your site. They’re already familiar with what you have to offer, so keeping track of this is smart. Maybe they couldn’t buy then, got distracted with a phone call, had something added to their plate unexpectedly. Honestly, the list goes on and on. But, with the proper tactics and attention, that can change. 


With all that being said, you already know we’re a proponent of having fun here at LeadCrunch. So it’s important to think of these things as experiments. Demand Generation, content syndication, and yes, you guessed it – programmatic advertising, the marketing world we’re living in is constantly evolving, ever changing, growing. The sooner we all can accept that, the more we have a chance of actually not wanting to tear our eyeballs out when it comes to implementing all these things. So, try to think of it like that, and approach things with a combination of logic, optimism, and creativity.


Channel your inner George. Yep, be like George.


weiner dog in a laboratory


And once you’ve done that, find your inner Andy.

programmatic display ad andy gif


If you enjoyed this blog article on programmatic for dummies, you may also want to check out our fun and insightful programmatic advertising strategies video series, featuring our fearless VP of Marketing Dave Green and our B2B Marketing Monster, aka Head of Digital, Jonathan Greene. They drill down to expose the pain points, and best of all, talk solutions.

Additionally, if you want to play around a bit yourself, then check out our new programmatic audience targeting product, AdCrunch.


Further Reading

Lainey Mebust
November 4, 2019
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October 2, 2019
Lainey Mebust
September 16, 2019