So many buzzwords, so little time. Programmatic Content Marketing seems like a shiny object, or the next big thing. But, it’s none of those things. Programmatic Content Marketing is both past and prologue.
The thing to remember is this: Ad creative is just content, with a very specific message. As far as your browser is concerned, it’s just another picture; an object.
In digital, “programmatic” logic makes the decision regarding where the object ends up. It’s a computer making a decision about which consumer identity will get a particular picture in its browser.
So can computers make decisions about what audience should get what content? Of course they can, and often do.
So-called content discovery systems such as Outbrain have been doing this for years. They learn about your cookie, learn about attributes of content, match it up, and offer you the chance to see an article you might like, based on who you are. Too bad it thinks we all like hot movie stars.
Content discovery is not the only example. Many big commerce websites, Amazon most notably, serve up content about things we might like based on past behaviors.
In another scheme, advertisers drop a headline into an ad unit, put it in front of the right consumer, and point the click tag to a content page. BuzzFeed thrives on this MO … but anyone can do it to drive traffic to content.
What’s a little harder is taking actual long form content, articles and photos laid out nicely, and serve it to someone wherever they may be. Programmatic infrastructure does this nicely if the content container is an IAB standard ad unit, and gets away with it because ad inventory is ubiquitous and standard. In effect, what we are lacking is content “inventory”, and standard ways to populate that inventory with content. However, it gets complicated.
Why wouldn’t publishers decide on common formats for editorial content?
Publisher’s brands are all about unique experience. Allowing strangers to publish on their site without editorial controls would be foolish. Foolish or not, content “units” are inevitable. Today, AOL and others offer ad units built for content … so called “native”. These are ways of putting your own content right on to the site in a direct deal. But only the publisher can serve these to a programmatically determined audience… only to their own audience and only on their own site. Native ad units are not offered as standard ad units to exchanges and networks. So if you want to buy the appearance of editorial, it has to be a premium direct deal with a publisher. The hard part is creative control. Does your content enhance the site experience? Is it advertorial? Is it porn? That’s hard to tell when a thousand bidders are bidding for the right to show a message to a cookie. In fact, this will be the challenge for Programmatic TV. A creative faux pas is much worse on a big screen.
One common arrangement in which a 3rd party content provider gets direct control of editorial real estate is syndication. (The sponsor of this article is one such trusted creator). Syndication is the act of putting your content in lots of places to get a larger audience. Syndication is an effective use of content. You create it once, and use it many times. A syndicator can easily read a cookie, and respond with the right content if they have the data. They also need real estate on the target site, a “container”, and Decisioning systems to do this. But it is quite possible.
There are a couple of drawbacks to programmatic content. One is: it breaks Search. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that Google accesses pages to see what’s on them, and sends you there if you click on the search listing. What if the thing Google thought was there is not there … because the publisher is serving some special content just for you? Happens.
The biggest risk with programmatic content is that Marketers will start to treat it as advertising … targeting content as though it were advertising. Then you might get offered the same content, oh, I don’t know, every time you go online. Groundhog day! Or maybe worse, you click on a link and what you thought was there … isn’t there … because the destination page is dynamic. Of course, with news sites, this happens all day, so, not some huge surprise.
So, there are pitfalls for consumers, and for publishers, but certainly it makes sense to customize any user experience to the extent it serves their needs. What will happen? I don’t know. Whatever will happen, it’s bound to fill in the missing square … in the ongoing game of buzzword bingo.