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The technology behind influencer marketing has come a long way in recent years, allowing brands to scale up their campaigns and take the labor-intensive research and planning out of influencer marketing. As a result, influencer marketing has grown in ways that we could never have imagined and is now a standard part of any brand’s marketing mix.

The rapid success of influencer marketing has been amazing. But when this kind of success story occurs, it’s always good to look at advertising trends of the past to avoid past mistakes. One of the key examples of an ad trend that has blown up in the past 15 years is programmatic advertising.

Programmatic advertising paved the way for a new digital marketing landscape and enabled brands to automate the buying of ad space. While there were huge benefits of programmatic advertising, there were also pain points too.

In this article we’re exploring the pros and cons of programmatic advertising, and deciphering what lessons we can learn from this era.

What is programmatic advertising?

Programmatic advertising is the automated buying and selling of digital advertising. This method of advertising allows brands to buy ad space using AI and machine learning, and place their creative on sites that aim to reach their target audience. The most recognizable forms of programmatic advertising are things like the banners and buttons that exist on websites.

The automated process of buying ads is done using a demand-side platform (DSP), which optimizes ads based on the audience and actions that they want to promote. DSPs use algorithms to buy ad impressions and ad space from multiple publishers. In this sense, brands are able to buy ad space across a variety of forms and platforms in milliseconds.

Using specific data points such as location, demographics, user behaviour and online activity, DSPs can target the user with content that meets their needs. It’s a win-win for both the publishing website and the brand. The publishing websites are able to host ads that their users actually want to see, whilst also making money from advertising without any manual labor.

On the other hand, brands also benefit from very low labor costs and are able to utilize data and technology to reach the right people, at the right moment. Programmatic ads are always targeted to a specific audience using various data points, making it a low effort, data-driven method that is easy for brands to employ.

Programmatic vs influencer marketing

Programmatic advertising has many similarities to influencer marketing, and many similar benefits too.

These include:

Less labor intensive for brands

Brands love both programmatic advertising and influencer marketing because they are less labor intensive for the client.

Programmatic advertising optimizes digital campaigns, without the need for manual planning and research. It doesn’t require much specific knowledge to run successful campaigns and can save brands time and money.

Similarly, influencer marketing utilizes creator intelligence to craft campaigns. By tapping into their audience insights and creative capacity, influencer marketing can be a very hands-off approach. Like programmatic advertising, influencer marketing can be powered by technology that helps to optimize campaigns and reach a highly targeted audience.

Allows brands to work at scale

One of the many benefits of the programmatic approach is that brands are able to pay for high performing content, based on data-driven algorithms. By taking a less specific approach to the publishing websites they work with, brands can scale their campaigns in a flash.

This is similar when working with creators, as brands can utilize hundreds of content creators and work at scale to bring their product or service to their target audience. Working at scale is valuable for brands looking to push a product or service quickly, such as during a launch or growth phase.

Enables brands to reach a broad audience demographic

Using algorithmic purchasing of ad space, brands can gain access to a broad audience demographic. Buying ad space programmatically means that brands can decide upon the creative and then send that out to a variety of potential publishing websites.

The same is true with influencer marketing. If a brand wants to run multiple campaigns targeting a variety of audiences, they can. Collaborating with a variety of content creators means that a brand can reach a broad audience demographic with ease. This is especially beneficial for brands who are looking to explore different demographics.

What can we learn from the programmatic boom?

While programmatic advertising massively boomed, there were also challenges that those in the influencer marketing industry can learn from.

Some of the key lessons we can learn from are:

Impressions are important, but integrity is more important

The downside of relatively cheap and fast results is often a compromise on quality. With programmatic this often comes when brands see their ads featured on websites that don’t align with their values.

One example of this exact risk coming to fruition was when JP Morgan Chase mistakenly ran ads on a site titled ‘Hillary 4 Prison’. The DSP agency had opted for low quality impressions as part of their programmatic campaign, in the hope that they would get millions of eyes on their ad. While gaining lots of impressions can be great, it’s only worthwhile if the site is relevant. In this case it definitely wasn’t.

For brands that hold their reputation in high stead, a programmatic approach is not the safest option, as their ads may end up in places they wouldn’t necessarily choose. Without guaranteed quality placements, brands run the risk of gathering a negative reputation as a brand that lacks integrity. In cases where programmatic goes wrong, a PR nightmare can ensue.

Influencer marketing can learn from these mistakes and take into account any brand risks. These could be things like partnering with an unreliable creator whose ethos is not aligned with their own, retargeting an audience too much, or placing their ads in front of a misaligned audience.

If anything can be learnt from programmatic advertising mistakes, it’s that working at scale is important, but brand safety is more important. With both programmatic and influencer marketing, brands should consider that while they might be guaranteed to reach their audience, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the partnership is a good match. In fact, it could be the opposite.

Always undergo approval processes

One of the key challenges that affects programmatic ads are viewing ads across multiple formats and devices. Programmatic advertisers often end up seeing their ads rendering in all kinds of strange ways on devices that the creative wasn’t built for.

There aren’t necessarily tiers of approval when it comes to content publishing, as the process is automated. This can lead to errors with the creative.

What can influencer marketing learn from this blunder? Always have some level of approval process in place. Asking the right questions and ensuring that all limitations are discussed prior to approval is key, no matter what form of advertising you’re using. Having at least one approval tier minimizes room for error!

The Waves by Influencer platform offers clients several tiers of both creator and content approval, in order to ensure brand safety. Waves’ creator approval process provides clients with a board that allows key stakeholders to move creators to different stages of the approval process; allowing for collaborative feedback between all stakeholders to improve productivity. Similar to the creator approval process, clients will be able to review content that has already been rigorously checked and approved by Influencer’s expert in-house campaigns team. Content must then be signed off by the brand, or agency if relevant.

A reliance on third-party cookies

A key issue that programmatic advertising faces is data protection and privacy concerns. Programmatic ads rely upon third-party cookies, which are slowly becoming unfavorable with audiences. Behavioral targeting relies on this specific audience data to tailor campaigns, without it the audience targeting can be very random.

10 or so years ago third-party cookies weren’t an issue. Most users didn’t have a problem with them, and many didn’t even know what they were. It has only been in the last decade that users have started to reject third-party cookies, which has made programmatic advertising very hard. Without access to behavioral tracking and audience insights from third-party data, programmatic ads struggle to target audiences as specifically as they once did.

What can influencer marketing learn from this? Not to rely upon third-party data to market to their audience. Influencer marketing technologies like influencer.com ensure that brands reach their target audience through official partnerships with social media platforms. It also collects first party data directly from creators to ensure that a brand’s message can be as hyper targeted as possible.

A lack of transparency

When programmatic first boomed, there were very few controls in place. In many ways, this was similar to the early years of influencer marketing where there wasn’t much regulation on ads.

As a result of the lack of standards and regulations in programmatic, agencies could inflate costs and take client ad spend for themselves. In the initial programmatic boom, it was common for brands to pay huge fees to agencies that weren’t transparent. For every £1 the brand thought was going into ad spend, 25p would be going directly into the agency's pocket.

Brands looking to utilize influencer marketing should reflect on this lesson and seek out influencer marketing companies who are fully compliant with influencer marketing regulations, such as those who ensure that creators are transparent about ad labelling.  

To conclude

When programmatic advertising arrived on the scene, it absolutely boomed and is still seeing huge successes for many advertisers. While the industry initially encountered some issues, many of these have now been ironed out and can act as a blueprint of things to avoid for other, similar industries, such as influencer marketing.

The influencer marketing industry has seen huge growth over the past few years and is on course to continue this trajectory of success. To continue going in this direction, it’s important that the industry looks at the trends of the past few years and learns from some of the mistakes made by others.

To learn more about how Influencer optimises campaigns, read more on our technology and strategy.