Why Programmatic Direct Is More Than the Latest Buzzword

by Caroline Watts on July 31, 2013

If the ad tech industry is known for anything, it’s for our tendency to over-complicate things. It seems like every week there’s a new acronym, a new trend, or a new buzzword. Half the time, the acronyms create more questions than they clear up, and more than half the time, there’s more style than substance behind the hottest new buzzword.

That’s exactly what we were trying to avoid when, in April, team isocket led the charge to brand our new market space “programmatic direct.”  We went with programmatic direct because it literally means exactly what it says: buying direct ads, programmatically.

But despite our best efforts, complexity is creeping in. We could care less about the sanctity of the phrase itself, we just the want to be sure that our technology is as explained as clearly as possible.

What Do We Mean When We Say Programmatic Direct?

We like the label “programmatic direct,” because it’s the probably the closest expression of what our company (and companies in our space) actually do.

isocket can serve as a good example here. Our technology automates many of the (once manual) steps of the traditional direct ad sale. Typically, a publisher sales team and a media-buyer email IOs back and forth, publishers add line items to their ad server, monitor pacing, and track performance, among other tasks. Often, the process for a single campaign can include more than 40 steps.

isocket automates many of those steps. Sales made through isocket are guaranteed, and made directly between the publisher and the advertiser, but are executed programmatically through the isocket platform. Hence, programmatic direct.

Programmatic Isn’t RTB

One of the major points of confusion when it comes to programmatic direct is the “programmatic” part. Typically, programmatic buying is equated with RTB, but this is a false, if common, equation.

Rare Crowds CEO Eric Picard has defined programmatic buying as “any method of buying or selling media that enables a buyer to complete a media buy and have it go live, all without human intervention from a seller.” Note that there is no mention of an auction.

RTB is a subset of programmatic media buying – all RTB is programmatic, but not all programmatic is RTB. The confusion stems from the historical reality. RTB used to be the only real form of programmatic media-buying out there, so by default, programmatic did equal RTB. What’s now a pervasive misconception was, not that long ago, the gospel truth. It’s no wonder there’s so much confusion.

Back to programmatic direct. Using Picard’s definition, programmatic direct refers to direct publisher-to-advertiser campaigns that don’t require human intervention to run. To be clear, we don’t advocate the dissolution of publisher sales teams or media buyers. We envision programmatic direct as a publisher team’s best friend – no more back and forth, no more adding line items to the ad server – instead, publisher teams have the opportunity to focus on high-level work like content partnerships and maintaining or launching advertiser relationships.

How Programmatic Direct Fits into the Ad Ecosystem

Programmatic Direct

Programmatic direct is an entirely new part of the ad ecosystem. We’re the first platform that’s both direct and programmatic. Unlike networks and exchanges, we operate in the direct publisher-to-buyer end of the spectrum, and unlike the traditional direct sales process, there is automation.

What’s in a Name?

We wouldn’t worry about calling our space anything if we could avoid it, and our industry, whether you use this name or not, is still bringing efficiency to direct ad sales for the first time. For the publishers on board today, programmatic direct is helping them become more effective, more profitable, and making their teams happier and more productive. As the market grows, programmatic direct (or whatever you want to call it) is likely to change the way all ad units are sold, upending the media landscape forever, and changing it for the better.

What we’re really looking forward to is the day when what we do is just called “direct.”

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