There’s been a lot of hype over the past few years about the automation of the ad buying process through ‘programmatic’ channels. The problem is that there hasn’t been a commensurate shift in marketer behaviors towards it. The efficiency of programmatic will take over when it can, but only if incentives are aligned for all parties involved.

So why has this more efficient process of programmatic ad buying, with all it’s hope and anticipation, not taken off like many of the major trade publications said it would?

When it comes down to it, it could be because advertising is about a brand, or rather a humanized brand, making a real, human connection (to the extent that it is possible) with a person.

Fact of the matter is, creative matters, messaging matters — connections matter. Without this, all the efficiency gained by being able to more granularly target a user (especially when used in tandem with the ad nauseam phrase of ‘right time, right place, right person’), all becomes moot.

The only real way to make this connection is through spectacular creative, and powerful messaging, that resonates deep within the heart of the user.

Only then can ads be woven into the fabric of society without being seen as a nuisance. Many of the ads served through programmatic platforms are standard IAB ad units, formats of which experience rapid creative fatigue and banner blindness by the consumer.

There has been one promising lining in the advertising narrative though — and that is, ‘Branded Content,’ or ‘Sponsored Posts’.

Buzzfeed has been a pioneer in this, with 100% of their revenue coming through direct sold Branded Content or Sponsored Posts, in which the publisher melds with an advertiser on a piece of content, to weave the marketer brand vision, message, and creative in a way that resonates deeply with their users (only something a publisher knows best).

Many others such as Quartz (see examples below), Thought Catalog, AdAge, VICE, and Complex have followed suit, now integrating advertiser messages into much of their content. Videos are now ‘Brought to you by,’ and sponsored articles are now written through the collaboration of the publisher editorial team and the client.


Essence Digital even won a Webby Award for their custom integration of Google Maps within mobile app Quiz Up, to test a users knowledge of geography (and to promote Google Maps).

Even smaller publishers like Foodbeast, with less than 5M in monthly unique visitors, have reported more than 60% of their revenue coming from Branded Content, double the amount they make through regular display ads.


Additionally, more publishers are starting to monetize their audiences across distributed platforms. What that means is, the audiences of all publishers live across all platforms now: their YouTube Channel, Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest – not just on their website anymore.

Wherever there are users that engage with your publication, there are opportunities to monetize them. This can be seen in many Vine & YouTube Stars, Instagram Influencers, and those with large Twitter followings, accepting ‘Sponsored Posts’ by brands. This is where they will receive a flat rate for posting and endorsing a brands’ product or service.

As more of these audiences become distributed across multiple platforms, including a publishers’ website and email newsletter list, more and more sponsored ads will appear, on any digital channel where an audience engages with the publisher.

Most of these web publishers now list their entire following, on all social and email platforms, on their ‘Advertise with us’ page, as it signals to an advertiser the true reach of the publisher.

What’s the bottom line on all this?

Advertising is about reaching a lot of relevant people that are potential buyers of your product and/or service. But, if we could focus on reaching audiences through a platform-agnostic lens, and make our interactions with them much more human — through better messaging, and creative executions — ads may eventually rise in ascendancy to be more than just annoying images and videos on a device, and truly become integrated into part of a person’s life.

About the Author: Garrett Gan is the Co-Founder and CEO of Thalamus, the largest crowdsourced database of ad vendor data in the world. Thalamus is also an in-kind sponsor of the Mobile X Festival.

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