A More Effective Alternative to Programmatic Advertising

Apr 30, 2019

By Tam Al-Saad, Principal Consultant, Web Profits

I recently spoke to a prospect with a relatively limited budget who insisted we include programmatic advertising as part of their marketing strategy.

This surprised me, as I almost never recommend programmatic advertising.

I’ll explain why and give you an alternative that I believe will have a better impact.

Tam Al-Saad, Principal Consultant, Web Profits

The problem with programmatic advertising

Let me start by defining programmatic advertising. I’m talking about the use of marketing software to automate the buying, placement and optimisation of banner advertising.

For the context of this article, I’m talking specifically about the use of programmatic to attract awareness from new audiences.

In theory, it sounds like it should be great, but I have three big problems with programmatic advertising.

Problem 1: Transparency

The first is something that’s been talked about extensively in the industry. There’s a serious lack of transparency when it comes to the allocation of spend of programmatic advertising. It’s unclear how much of a client’s spend goes to the website hosting the ad, the platform that’s placing it, and the agency being paid to manage it.

Why trust in a channel where only a fraction of your spend is going towards performance, and you’re not even sure how much?

Problem 2: Success metrics

Secondly, the way success is measured is viewability. That is, how many people actually saw the ad – rather than impressions, which measure when an ad is loaded on the page.

The term “banner blindness” has been around for a few years now, and so I find it astonishing that marketers are content to simply say that a number of people have seen their ad. As consumers grow more tired of banner ads, the industry has come up with ways to make them stand out more – new placements, takeovers, native ads, animations, popups – they’re all still banner ads and, in my opinion, nobody should be happy with a view.

Problem 3: Consumer value

My last issue with banner ads is that they usually provide little to no value to the consumer at all. As digital marketing has become more prominent it’s become harder to fight for people’s attention.

I believe that the answer to that problem is to provide consumers with something of value. That could be information, education, humour, appreciation, anything.

But by providing value you establish a relationship with that person and are more likely to make a lasting connection that turns into a transaction. Certainly more likely than plastering your logo in front of someone’s face repeatedly, anyway.

The alternative

OK, now that I’ve got all that off my chest, I’ll get down from my soapbox and let you know what my top alternative for generating awareness is.

Ready for it?

Content marketing!

The best possible way to provide value to your potential customers is through content marketing, I cannot recommend it enough.

If you take the time to put together a detailed and well-structured content marketing strategy, follow through by producing excellent content that your audience wants to consume, and then promote it to the right people then you’ll have a good foundation to build a customer relationship from.

Promoting content

Promotion is arguably the most important step of content marketing, but it’s also the one that I see businesses struggle with the most – so I’ll now share 5 ways to promote content that should be more effective than programmatic advertising.

But before I do…

I know it’s possible to promote content through programmatic but, given consumer aversion to ads and the lack of transparency that I mentioned earlier, I think these methods are far more effective.

Social media ads

The biggest opportunity to promote content comes through social media. Facebook and LinkedIn both have detailed targeting methods to ensure you’re able to narrow down and target the audience you’re most interested in. This is a little like banner advertising but as the ads blend in with posts on the platform, the audience is less blind to them.

Organic Social

But ads aren’t the only way to promote content on Social Media. When it comes to non-advertised content on Facebook, you can build groups that contain your existing and potential customers.

This is even better than just promoting content as you provide a place for them to discuss the common interests that align with your business. By monitoring these discussions, you can better understand what’s important to them in order to improve your product, service or messaging.

And don’t forget, you can still get some organic reach with Instagram and LinkedIn.


If you’re producing video content, then YouTube is another effective way to distribute it. If you’re not producing video content, why not?

YouTube has more than a billion users, and 45% of people watch at least an hour of video on Facebook or YouTube a week. People often forget that YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the western world – it’s a great place to promote your content and be found by your prospective customers.

Organic search

Speaking of search engines, you can generate a ton of awareness through SEO if you write high quality, engaging content on high volume topics and keywords.

You’ll need to put in the effort with link building and onsite optimisation if you want it to rank, but once it does then you should be consistently driving free traffic into the top of your funnel.


My last recommendation for distributing content is to partner with brands, publications, or influencers who have a large following. This can take a variety of forms; guest posting, solus emails, and influencer marketing are the most common.

Other than guest posting, I’m not a big fan of these as they’re not evergreen so once the email or promotion is over, you’re unlikely to keep generating value. However, if you do need a boost in engagement around a particular time of year then it could be a great option.

Important caveats

I should point out at this stage that although you have a number of options when it comes to promoting content, you shouldn’t rely on just one to be the magic bullet. You’ll get significantly better results if you can combine a number of these tactics together to ensure that your content is consumed, not just seen, by the right people.

Along the same vein, it doesn’t need to be one or the other, content or programmatic. If you’ve got the resources to do both then, by all means, go for it.

But if your time or budget is limited, then I would recommend prioritising content marketing for generating awareness.

Tam will be sharing Bellamy Organics’ content marketing journey at the Naturally Good Business Summit on Friday 3 May. Find out more and book your tickets now.

About the author

Tam Al-Saad has more than 12 years’ experience in working with and launching startups, with an extensive strong digital marketing background and broad business experience. He heads up the internal growth team at Web Profits.

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