Rocket Fuel Vertical Blog Series: How Programmatic is Revolutionizing Audience Extension

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Since the dawn of online advertising, digital publishers—or sites that market ad inventory—have explored ways to boost ad revenues by reaching specific audiences beyond their website. Early audience-extension solutions were expensive, cumbersome, and usually not worth the time and money necessary to see results.

Today, many publishers are still spending wasteful amounts of resources struggling with archaic audience extension methods. But while they cobble together various solutions or build expensive in-house networks, others are cheaply leveraging first-party data to successfully scale their audiences. What’s their secret? By revisiting a once dubious relationship with programmatic buying, they are reaping unique benefits.

Publishers stuck in the past still see programmatic buying as something that turns their coveted premium, content-adjacent, high-demand inventory into a commodity. A few years ago, programmatic’s only use was to sell unsold inventory for pennies on the dollar as a last resort. In what became a vicious cycle, buyers started looking to the marked-down prices of exchanges first. This meant less demand for premium inventory, and therefore, less revenue.

But disruptive advances in audience extension through Big Data and machine-learning optimization have allowed publishers to use programmatic to increase their advertising revenue. Most are now riding the wave of Big Data that is sweeping over the digital advertising ecosystem in some way. Even old institutions such as The New York Times and USA Today (who made their initial reluctance to embrace programmatic well known) have begun putting inventory on exchanges.

With all-encompassing solutions such as Audience Accelerator, Rocket Fuel’s audience extension group, publishers can get the best of both worlds by combining the engaged, high-quality audiences of their premium site buys with the optimized reach and performance of programmatic buying. According to a study conducted by Rocket Fuel in collaboration with Digiday, four out of five publishers (84%) have made adjustments to their business to compete with or take advantage of programmatic-buying resources.

According to Paul Wenz, vice president and general manager of Rocket Fuel’s Audience Accelerator Team, "Based on our experience the result is usually a wider reach and an incremental boost in revenue, but the added benefits of programmatic audience extension can vary with the unique goals of the publisher." For instance, based on their large size and reach, large publishers—which also participate in premium private exchanges—use it as a unique value proposition to advertisers. Mid-sized publishers find value in the boost in margin it makes possible, and small publishers, given their marginal resources, covet the boost in reach it provides.

In essence, programmatic audience extension gives publishers something new to sell and a nearly unlimited product that can scale far beyond what they could ever provide without it. It also provides increasingly efficient audience focus across a wide range of inventory sources. Rather than a threat, it poses an opportunity to win new business and earn more money on proposals. It helps publishers keep business that would have otherwise been lost, and meet financial goals that were otherwise unattainable.

The benefits of programmatic buying are obvious, but the most significant advantage is the increase of the most precious resources of all: time and energy. Leveraging programmatic solutions allows publishers to focus their internal teams on their core products like sponsorships and custom ad units. With an audience-extension solution covering their digital-advertising efforts, publishers are left to do what they do best: Think strategically and operate at maximum efficiency.