Programmatic is Not a Strategy

Yes, programmatic has proliferated more media channels than ever before with more and more advertisers starting to reap the benefits. However, while programmatic can be a wonderful solution to many of those tactics proposed in the completely, 100% percent, made up scenario above, there’s been a disturbing trend popping up around it lately – The belief that programmatic is the media strategy. I cringe every time I see or hear the line, “Our strategy is to target the audience programmatically.” While on the surface that might seem harmless, let’s take a moment to dissect and see what it really (or doesn’t) mean.

First let’s think about what it means to be programmatic. You can find thirty different articles online and come up with sixtey different definitions (which only adds to the confusion) for what it means. Very early in my career I had a colleague explain it through two simple parameters. That the media placement is purchased and bid on automatically and that the buying of it is data driven. Now can there be additional inputs on those two pieces, yes, but that is the threshold in the simplest form. Basically, this is my long-winded way of saying that programmatic is a buying tactic. I’ll say it again, programmatic is a buying tactic. Repeat after me, programmatic is a buying tactic.

Switching gears to what a media strategy is then. My simple definition is that it informs media planners and buyers on how to create plans that align to business objectives. It ties together business goals, media consumption habits, creative ideas, audience profiles and communication tasks to empower the media plan. Typically, my favorite strategies consist of get/to/by statements.  For example, let’s say my company is Sam’s Tacos. After all the upfront work is done, I would hope to see a strategy statement along the lines of “Get the late night eater to consider Sam’s Taco’s by reaching them while they are on their late night food mission”.

To bring it all home, let’s compare the two bolded statements. One considers who the audience is, what needs to be done, and gives enough “how” for the planners to find the channels to do it. While the programmatic strategy is limited to a buying tactic. I think programmatic is a wonderful tactic and way to buy certain channels, but it should be in service to bringing the media strategy and creative idea to life and not the strategy. So to take this full circle, repeat after me once more, programmatic is a buying tactic.