Contact Us
Contact Us


Programmatic Display Advertising 101

How to Outsmart Without Outspending

If you work in marketing, you’ve surely heard about programmatic display advertising. For many mid-sized and even large companies, however, it often seems like a tactic reserved for enterprises with millions to drop on advertising.

In reality, programmatic display is an excellent way to optimize your ad spend while reaching your audience more effectively—even without a massive budget. 

Although it’s only been around for 10 years or so, programmatic display is poised to gobble up 88% of all U.S. digital display spending by 2021. This trajectory has elevated digital advertising to an advantageous place, but it’s also making the landscape more competitive. And when it comes to outsmarting rather than outspending the competition, it’s something that can no longer be ignored.

From scaling your digital efforts to increasing efficiency and optimizing targeting, it’s time to get your back off the wall and join in on the fun.   

This article is intended to inform you on the ruling best practices and latest trends in programmatic display advertising, as well as educate you on all the core advantages it has to offer when done right. 

Let’s start with the basics.

Part 1
What is Programmatic Advertising?
Part 2
Setting Your KPIs
Part 3
Selecting Your Vendors
Part 4
Programmatic Advertising Trends

Subscribe to our newsletter! →

What is Programmatic Advertising?

Simply put, programmatic advertising is the use of software to purchase and sell ad space in real time. During this process, the software is used to automate the buying, placing, and optimizing of digital media inventory through a bidding system without relying on the human touch.

There are many formats you can deliver via programmatic, including video and native, but today, we are going to focus on display. 

Display advertising is defined by banner ads (graphic or text) that appear in specifically designated areas of a website or social platform. Display ads typically appear across desktop, mobile, and tablet. 

When done right, using relevant display advertising as part of a media mix offers a great way to drive brand awareness and engagement. And with programmatic technology, we can now couple that with remarkable efficiency and enhanced targeting. 

How, you might ask? Here’s a checklist and some tips to help you get started. 


Your creative assets play a huge role in your campaigns’ performance, so it’s imperative you factor in things like:

  • Image and copy that speaks to the specific audience being targeted and relates to the landing page you are driving users to;
  • Tracking URLs or third-party trackers on optimized destination pages;
  • A/B testing so you can hone in on what’s resonating the most;
  • A range of creative ad sizes (as detailed below), with an emphasis on mobile.

Optimizing your creative ahead of time helps zero in on the right audience and make clear exactly what you’re offering, which will in turn help optimize your conversion rates.

Sizes & Formats 

There will always be nuances depending on the platform you’re using, but this is the most commonly used suite of display ad sizes and formats running today. 


  • Desktop: 
    • 300x250 medium rectangle
    • 728x90 leaderboard
    • 160x600 wide skyscraper
    • 300x600 half page
  • Mobile: 
    • 320x50 or 300x50 mobile leaderboard
    • 300x250 or 336x280 large rectangle


  • Static ads
  • GIF ads
  • Animated HTML5 ads

Setting Your KPIs

Since key performance indicators serve as a barometer for success (especially in your boss’s eyes), you want to establish a limited number of KPIs that are aligned to a singular objective. 

This will vary from company to company, but we recommend at least two KPIs to start. 

The next step, then, is to ensure your tactics actually achieve these pre-set goals. You can do this by tracking the campaign with pixels to prove performance. 

Possible KPIs include:

  • Clicks
  • Engagements
  • Efficiency (via CPC or CPM)
  • Impression delivery
  • Conversions

Remember, you’re not married to what you choose at the start. Over time, your KPIs may change as your business goals, audiences, and offerings evolve.


Selecting Programmatic Vendors

Since you probably don’t have direct access to a trade desk, you’ll need to carefully select a vendor or DSP (demand-side platform) that does. 

Before you pick a vendor to trust with your advertising campaigns, here are a few things you should consider:

  • Contract — Understand the media fees and any recurring hard costs the vendor plans on charging you. Then, once you’re comfortable with this structure, have them draw up a contract both parties can sign so there are no surprises.
  • Inventory — Select a vendor that has direct access to major ad exchanges (think AppNexus, BrightRoll, or DoubleClick).
  • Targeting Capabilities — Do they use AI, behavioral segments, etc.? We’ll touch on this later.
  • Reporting — Determine ahead of time what kind of metrics are available to you and how you can access them (e.g. via a self-service dashboard).
  • Case studies — As with any vendor, it’s good to have them prove they know what they’re doing.

Now that we’ve covered the essentials, let’s move on to some more exciting stuff. If you really want to move the needle, it’s not just a matter of running any ol’ programmatic display campaign—it’s HOW you do it that makes the difference.


Programmatic Advertising Trends

Let’s explore some of the newer trends that are fueling better performance in the programmatic display advertising space. 

Artificial Intelligence

The concept of machine learning is a perfect fit for the task of making sense of millions of data points and thousands of impressions that are auctioned off in a split second.  

AI has quickly become the orchestrator of today’s programmatic methodology and buying process. It is being applied to the programmatic world in three core forms:

  • Extrapolating Data: Forecasting and then discovering the most effective and efficient data.
  • Controlling Improvements: Increasing efficiency and boosting targeting via optimized bidding on identified inventory
  • Delivering Relevance: Injecting AI into your ads to make them more relevant in time, location, content, and messaging as part of refining the user experience.

It all boils down to utilizing massive amounts of data to ensure that the right message reaches the right person at the right time and at the right (read: lowest) price possible. 

Pretty cool, huh?

In-App Mobile Domination

User adoption and the plethora of vertical apps available are driving as much as 97% of mobile programmatic ad spend towards in-app advertising

This preference has forced programmatic to follow suit and offer a better environment to target relevant customers on mobile using location data, device identifiers, and improved user engagement through improved in-app ad formats. 


In-housing is not a new practice, but it is one that’s certainly growing in popularity. In 2019, brand owners have an increased desire to own and operate their own data, largely motivated by the opportunity to gain more value, transparency, and brand safety.

According to ANA, 1 in every 4 brands are now using an in-house agency to handle their programmatic advertising operations. This is all to say that programmatic display advertising is not as complicated as you might think, and it’s becoming more accessible as time goes on. With the right partner, the programmatic world can be your oyster.


The Bottom Line

Programmatic is here to stay, and it’s only getting smarter.

With a little education and the right partners (whether it’s a solid programmatic vendor or an agency that can help navigate the waters), you can get in on this new wave of advertising and help your organization’s digital buys gain relevance and efficiency. 

In the ever-changing dance party that is digital media, programmatic display advertising is the disco ball spinning in the middle, making sense of, organizing, and giving rhythm to the billions of dots of light that rule today’s media landscape. 

So, grab your partner and let’s dance.

Want more nuggets of marketing wisdom? Sign up for our newsletter! →

B2B Marketing Zone