July 9, 2021 | Maz Tannir

The Rise of Programmatic Advertising for Agriculture Brands

In agriculture media, programmatic advertising has been emerging at a rapid rate. The digital journey of a farmer is not limited to only agriculture media. Farmers browse the web in the same way as the average consumer, visiting multiple websites a day and consuming content across a variety of categories. 

A farmer is leaving a trail of behaviour and preferences that programmatic companies can then store, enhancing its learning on that customer. Next, they place that customer into a pool where they can be targeted, not only on their interests, but also on the crops they are invested in.

What is Programmatic Advertising?

Programmatic advertising is basically a software. The software uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to deliver ads to the right person at the right time on the right platform. Ads are delivered using a platform known as a demand-side platform (DSP), which connects various ad networks, exchanges, and other technology platforms across the open internet. 

Available for all forms of digital media, you can use programmatic advertising for audio, connected TV, display and native ads, as well as out of home – a growing sector in the programmatic ecosystem. 

In Canada, the Total Media ad spending on digital in 2020 was over $6 billion. It is estimated that in 2021 this will reach $7 billion, and by 2024, over $9 billion. 

Chart displaying total media ad spending, by media type. Canada, 2020. Digital $6.37B, TV $1.91B, Newspaper $0.77B, Magazine $0.24B, Radio $0.97B, Out-of-home $0.49B. Source eMarketer, October 2020.

Programmatic ads are delivered to any website that is on the open Internet. Sites that are considered “walled gardens”, such as Facebook, Google, or Amazon, do not accept programmatic buys. Unfortunately for agrimarketers, many of the agriculture media in North America are also walled gardens. You can only purchase inventory through a direct relationship with the publisher itself. 

There are multiple ways to purchase programmatic ads using a bidding system, or directly from the publisher through the software. In order to optimize the DSP, it is always recommended that you work with a programmatic trader. This trader will have the knowledge to navigate the software and use it to its fullest extent. 

Ultimately, programmatic advertising is the purchase of consumer data in order to deliver ads to them wherever they may go online, rather than placing ads directly in a particular media channel. 

It’s important to note that you may also want to use a data management platform (DSP), to store information and repurpose it for future campaigns. If you use an outside DSP, you will have to work with them directly to capture their data most efficiently. 

In 2020, programmatic represented $2.7 billion in Canadian ad spend, and in 2021 will exceed $3 billion. In the United States, these numbers are even higher. 

Chart displaying Programmatic Digital Display Ad Spending, Canada, 2017-2021, billions. 2017 $1.98B, 2018 $2.34B, 2019 $2.70B, 2020 $2.72B, 2021 $3.17B. Source eMarketer, October 2020.

How We Target Farm Customers

We begin by defining the farmer’s persona including their interests, the crop they are invested in, their location, and so on. We look for resources beyond the programmatic research ecosystem, layering in data. This data can include information from the USDA as well as any first-party data we may have (such as past website visits, email subscriptions, article views or loyalty programs). 

Once we have all the information in place, we can begin to tell the software when, how, and how often to target this particular user, reaching them at strategic points in their digital journey. Ultimately, we choose these based on the desired marketing outcome. 

Strategies for Refining Programmatic Audiences

Using acquired data to refine the audience is only the beginning. Advertising should also be relevant in terms of messaging, timing, and the device the customer is viewing on. There are also other strategies you can employ to refine your programmatic campaigns: 

  1. First-party data: The success of targeted programmatic media buy is dependent on, in large part, the quality of the data that is available for the technology to use. CMOs often have access to the best data about their customers via CRM email lists. Programmatic platforms can ingest this data, deleting personally identifiable information about the customers, while using cooking matching to build a targeted audience. This allows personalized ads to be served to your current and past customers. 

    Additionally, programmatic platforms can use CRM lists to build prospecting audiences that have a similar digital fingerprint as your current customers. This practice is called look-alike modeling, and it is a powerful tactic to extend the reach of your programmatic campaigns. 
  1. Leverage latitude/longitude targeting when available: Often, crop health products vary from crop to crop and field to field. Many farmers use their cell phones while they are working their fields. This knowledge can be used to implement a smart geo-based strategy, targeting ads for soybean products only to soybean farms, and corn health products to corn farms. 

    It is difficult to get lat/long coordinates for each type of farm, and even each type of crop on any given farmland (and they may rotate from year to year. However, savvy marketers who have access to this information can and should leverage this type of data to maximize their ROI.
  1. Don’t ignore contextually-based advertising: While programmatic allows advertisers to target ads based on hundreds of different variables, there is still a lot of value in placing ads on contextually relevant websites. While audience or geo-based targeting reaches farmers across a wide variety of sites, gently raising awareness of the brand, contextual targeting often reaches them while they are in their research phase. 

    It is important for advertising programs to reach potential customers at multiple points in their buying journey and a combination of audience and contextual targeting via programmatic achieves just that. In fact, programmatic is a great avenue for contextual targeting programs, as each impression is evaluated individually, and the correct price is bid based on the quality of the impression.

    Most notably, programmatic systems are generally willing to pay more for ad space that is placed higher on the page and less for those placed lower, based on the likelihood a user will actually see the ad. Campaigns that are run on ad networks, or purchased from sites directly, don’t make this distinction. 
  1. Start with a strategy: Ensure that you have a strategy about what content your ads can and cannot appear beside. These are called blocked and permitted lists. These lists allow you to ensure that your brand’s values are protected. While setting up your campaign, you should also consider any particular sites that you do not want your ads to appear on, or sites that you feel will add value to your audience. 

    Anti-fraud software is also recommended, to ensure you don’t run into any fraudulent clicks.
  1. Use multiple channels: Programmatic is a great way to reach audiences when they are browsing without having your ad surrounded by your competitors. It’s also still important to maintain a relationship with publishers, especially those who are collecting data on their traffic and making it available to advertisers. The value of direct publishers remains very strong in the agriculture space and cannot be discounted.

An Ideal Approach For Campaigns of All Sizes

Programmatic strategies may on the surface appear to be for large-brand advertisers only. In reality, programmatic buying is the ideal approach for any marketing campaign with the objective of reaching a specific audience. 

If you’re considering adding programmatic advertising to your media mix, join WS’ Media Director Maz Tannir and Performance Director Anup Patel on July 22, 2021, for The Versatility of Programmatic: How the Agriculture Sector is Thriving with WS and StackAdapt, a webinar presented by Stackadapt. 

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in October 2016. It was revised in July 2021 with updated statistics and new information.

Maz Tannir

Maz uses 26+ years of experience to effectively develop, negotiate and tailor media strategies to align with marketing goals. He is actively involved in industry organizations including the IAB (Chair, Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce and Programmatic Trading Committee), and AdClub Toronto (Digital Day Committee). You can connect with Maz on LinkedIn.