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Introducing the Top 5 Programmatic Trends and 'Un-Trends' for 2016

What to expect—and not
  • December 13, 2015, 11:45 AM EST
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Illustration courtesy of Rubicon Project

It's almost 2016, and that can only mean one thing: It's time to start making predictions about the year ahead in programmatic advertising. But, if you're tired of the same old vanilla analysis, have no fear. This time around we've created a list of both trends and "un-trends"—that is, things that aren't likely to gain steam anytime soon. 

Happy almost 2016: Get our full list of next year's programmatic trends

1. Trend: Premium Retargeting
While some premium publishers were slow to adapt to the programmatic era, the holdouts are dwindling in number. This is mainly because of the rise of partnerships among top-tier publishers. Partnerships such as the much-discussed Pangea Alliance (a collaboration between The Guardian, CNN International, the Financial Times, Reuters and The Economist) allow premium publishers to offer their premium inventory at scale. Expect to see more of such alliances in 2016, as publishers and brands come to appreciate that scale and high-quality inventory are no longer mutually exclusive.

Un-Trend: Premium Me-targeting
Me-targeting (AKA "automated self"), which allows marketers to show themselves a barrage of display ads based on their own interests, is certainly an exciting idea. After all, marketers are consumers too, and if there's one demographic digital marketers have a lot of data on, it's each other. Still, many marketers have thus far resisted the idea of entering their own data into DMPs and bidding to show themselves impressions. This suggests that Me-targeting may never fulfill its huge promise.

2. Trend: Programmatic Native
Programmatic native is a controversial term. In the minds of some, truly native ads have to be customized for each publisher and thus cannot be automated. But when we define programmatic native simply as a way of automating display ads that are better integrated into site content than traditional display ads, the problem goes away. And it's clear that programmatic native, according to this definition, not only works, but is also among the most important trends in digital advertising. With more and more players entering the field and more native units becoming standardized, it's a safe bet that 2016 will be another huge year for programmatic native.

Un-Trend: Programmatic Invisible
Programmatic Invisible (aka, "programmatic IDK?") is seen by many as the evolution of programmatic native. With Programmatic Invisible, ads are so seamlessly integrated into a publisher's site that they cease to exist at all. And while such deep integration has an obvious appeal, when it comes down to it, most brands are simply unwilling to spend tens of millions of dollars on invisible ads.

3. Trend: TV Targeting
Programmatic TV has become a hot topic of conversation in recent years, and why not? TV advertising is a $70 billion market and, as of now, it's still not very efficient. When TV buyers and sellers can turn to automated platforms, it makes it possible to target ads much more precisely. It also saves everyone in the industry an enormous amount of time. The good news is that programmatic TV is expected to make important strides in the year ahead. But don't expect it to go mainstream just yet. The technology is still in its early stages, and the TV industry is notoriously resistant to change.

Un-Trend: Old-School Targeting
Everyone knows that nostalgia is in. But while the old-school trend has taken hold in the music and fashion worlds, don't expect it to be the next big thing in programmatic. True, there is something quaint about a marketer shooting messages at you with a bow and arrow. And it's true that old-school targeting can make marketing a lot more exciting. But when all is said and done, severely wounding your prospective consumers isn't an effective strategy.

4. Trend: Automated Guaranteed
Automated guaranteed, which brings the convenience and efficiency of programmatic buying to the world of direct sales, has grown increasingly popular in recent years. With automated guaranteed, buyers and sellers of premium inventory are finally free from the burden of RFPs and IOs—and all the maddening paperwork they entail. Direct sales, in other words, will no longer be left behind by the programmatic revolution. 

Un-Trend: Buzzword Guaranteed
No one can deny that buzzwords are a big part of the digital advertising world. But buzzword guaranteed, which is more a list of buzzwords than an actual advertising technique, isn't likely to take off in 2016. True, "Geo-targeted native programmatic hyper-local mobile direct premium" might have a promising ring—especially when it can be delivered at scale and leverage big data that is harnessed from the Internet of Things. And yet, for all the promise of those terms, the lack of an actual product is likely to remain an obstacle for buzzword guaranteed in 2016.

5. Trend: Mobile Programmatic
The rapid rise of mobile programmatic has been perhaps the most important trend ever in digital advertising. And don't expect it to lose steam in 2016. Based on eMarketer projections, mobile programmatic will soon overtake desktop programmatic and account for the majority of U.S. display ad dollars by 2017. As the success of Facebook's mobile efforts have shown, programmatic mobile is uniquely effective when ads appear in native formats. Expect the programmatic mobile and programmatic native trends to continue to merge into one super trend in the year ahead.

Un-Trend: Miniature Programmatic
Not to be confused with mobile programmatic, which targets ads to consumers' portable devices in optimal size, miniature programmatic uses tiny, illegible ads. While many ad tech vendors are innovating on new and creative mobile ad units, miniature programmatic is taking an all-too-literal approach to mobile ads by simply reducing their size. In fact, the standard ad sizes are two full decimal places smaller. For example, the IAB standard size for an adhesion banner is 320x50. In miniature programmatic terms, that ad is now 3.20x.50. While it is an interesting approach, marketers and consumers alike ultimately feel that your phone should be a positive experience—not a vision test.

Check out the complete list of programmatic trends for 2016