Sep 9 2022
Hope Lowdermilk

Programmatic Advertising 101: The Four "Don'ts" of Programmatic Advertising 


Each month, Basis Technologies’ Programmatic 101 series tackles a different facet of programmatic advertising—from best practices for buyers, to competitors in the space, to trends you should know.

Programmatic is dominating digital. According to eMarketer, it will account for over 90% of display ad spending this year—and the tide is rising for other digital channels as well, including both linear and connected TV. 

But as programmatic has brought automation, transparency, and accessibility to the advertising landscape, that same landscape has grown increasingly competitive. To cut through the noise, it's imperative that programmatic media buyers don’t “set and forget” their campaigns. 

To that end, let’s walk through four of the most common mistakes media planners and buyers make when it comes to programmatic advertising—and how to avoid them. 

1. Launching Without a "Test and Learn" Plan

One of the many advantages of a programmatic campaign is the amount of targeting, creative, and inventory that’s available. This variety allows advertisers to test hypotheses around their target audiences, creative formats, and messaging. Unfortunately, when effective controls aren’t set up in the building phase of a campaign, these tests can quickly become underfunded or inconclusive. 

Instead of winging it, advertisers can succeed by: 

  • Identifying their top 2-3 questions to test, 
  • Working through campaign budget and flighting to ensure there’s enough money and time to run those tests, and
  • Setting performance expectations with clients during the learning phase.  

2. Utilizing Too Many Providers and Segments  

When building a programmatic tactic, it can be tempting to layer on a variety of targeting options to ensure that each dollar is spent as efficiently as possible. What advertisers might not realize, however, is that low scale, the use of multiple data providers, and Boolean logic (a fancy way of referencing the selection of "and” or “or” between segments) are the top three ways to drive up CPM and negatively impact performance.  

Instead, advertisers should always look to use the same data providers, and default Boolean logic to "or” whenever possible. They should also keep an eye on formats that can be difficult to scale within smaller geotargets (zip code, city, small DMAs), such as audio

3. Assigning Multiple KPIs To the Same Tactic   

While programmatic advertising can address all aspects of the funnel, it’s important to understand where each tactic can work best. For example, contextual targeting is great way to drive consideration or purchase, while prospecting should be utilized to cast a wide net for awareness. On the other hand, the audio format isn’t well suited to a cost-per-acquisition KPI, and first-party audiences shouldn’t be held to an efficient CPM. 

Instead of assigning multiple KPIs to the same tactic, advertisers should differentiate accordingly. For example, create one line item that’s focused on awareness-driving tactics and formats, and a separate line item that’s focused on driving conversions and executing against first-party data.  

4. Optimizing Without a Schedule  

Advertisers spend a significant amount of time evaluating what KPIs and benchmarks should be used, but often don’t spend enough time outlining what types of optimizations will be made and when.  

Instead of skipping your optimization plan, we recommend adhering to minimal optimizations (pacing, bids, and line items) daily and focusing on creative and tactic optimizations on a weekly to bi-weekly cadence. This presents an opportunity to align the campaign’s “test and learn” plan with its optimization schedule to ensure there is enough time to apply learnings to drive performance.  

Programmatic Advertising Best Practices—Wrapping Up 

Programmatic has revolutionized the advertising space, but the sole incorporation of programmatic technology isn't a silver bullet for winning campaigns. By avoiding these four “no-no’s,” advertisers will be well on their way to programmatic success.


Want to learn more about programmatic best practices? Check out AdTech Academy, a learning hub designed to demystify all things adtech!

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