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Why traders are the rock stars of programmatic campaigns

Why traders are the rock stars of programmatic campaigns

Illustration by Sarah Kim / Getty / The Current

Often, the unsung heroes of successful digital campaigns are the traders who use data and acumen to make a client’s campaign really sing. Last week, The Trade Desk celebrated these “programmatic rock stars” by hosting the fifth annual Bid Factor Awards in London. The awards show highlighted trading excellence across seven categories, including Best Use of CTV, Most Innovative Campaign, and Best Use of Data.

As digital ad spend continues to surge, brands are ever more conscious of how their budgets are spent but are also under pressure to show a return on investment. All eyes then are on the traders, who are typically highly attuned to in-flight campaigns for each of their clients. This year, the competition received 78 submissions, showing success stories from every industry vertical — from multinational CPGs to global banks and automakers.

Data-driven strategy underpins all these success stories, and yet the judges — drawn from across the advertising industry in Europe — were impressed by “the layering of techniques and the mix of tools” used by each entry, finding nuance in the varied strategies. “The best results came from when the programmatic trader got under the skin of the client’s campaign needs and built a programmatic plan that truly delivered against the objectives,” Alex Wright, the programmatic and platform leader at Channel 4 (U.K.), tells The Current. “A bespoke approach to each campaign is vital.”

From first-party data to the drinks party
A case in point is the winner of the Best Use of Data award for a campaign that aimed to sell a summer spirits brand to a legal-drinking-age audience. “A key challenge for the advertiser was to promote its new summer alcohol brand in a climate where we wanted to future-proof digital targeting with user-privacy-focused solutions that were not reliant on cookie-based targeting,” explains Brecht Debels, the winning trader with the Omnicom Media Group.

To do this, Debels leveraged such tactics as contextual targeting, first-party data matching, data clean room testing, and cross-channel retargeting across the funnel. The combined display and video campaign ran successfully across many premium publishers with segments built from first-party data. The campaign outperformed on all key media metrics, delivering 11.4 million impressions — 11 percent above the plan — with a unique reach of 4.7 million, a cookieless solution that delivered at scale to reach the relevant audience.

Debels emphasizes the need to stay agile during a campaign, deploying data and creative strategy where necessary. “As a trader, the success of a campaign will always lie in a combination of the above. It’s very often a matter of changing levers between both in order to achieve greater campaign success,” he says. “With the rise in upcoming technologies, formats, and the ever-changing media landscape, it’s always important to stay up to date and test new strategies and partners.”

Real-time weather data
Likewise, the winner of the Best Use of CTV category got strategic when it came to a campaign for a global outdoor-and-urban-fashion brand, which aimed to reach consumers living in big cities with an active lifestyle. The campaign went live in September 2021, across six different countries in Europe (using a mix of cookie-based data, device ID data, and contextual data) geotargeted to cities where the brand had a retail presence. It even incorporated real-time weather targeting conditions to show different creative based on the forecast — whether rainy, windy, or cold.

Thanks to ongoing optimizations, the agency’s programmatic team managed to decrease the cost per mille (CPM) by 12 percent compared to their initial estimations, indicating that they reached a more qualified audience with the same budget. In total, the campaign delivered more than 4 million impressions and reached 1.3 million households.

“What stood out most from this particular campaign was the complexity of audience targeting and the use of data — the team effectively used the big screen to add layers of contextual personalization and differentiation to life,” Alexis Faulkner, chief digital officer at Mindshare, tells The Current. “This campaign was the most well-rounded strategy, which tested a hypothesis, targeted a smaller audience within a mass audience, and used The Trade Desk’s platform to bring it to life. That’s what made it so compelling.”