Google Is Targeting Travel Marketers to Buy Native Programmatic Ads

Brands like Hilton are testing it out

In July, Google started offering native programmatic buying through its DoubleClick network with a pilot program that lets publishers make their so-called native advertising inventory available to brands. Brands can run multiple native campaigns by uploading all of the bits of the ad—including creative, text and a headline—and then Google's ad platform adjusts them to fit the dimensions and context of individual publisher sites and apps.

After testing it with brands like Hilton and the San Francisco Travel Association, Google is now expanding the program to an open beta and is particularly interested in working with more travel brands to test different variations of native ad campaigns. Google claims that roughly 1,000 native ad campaigns are running through DoubleClick Bid Manager, as of October.

For San Francisco Travel and programmatic marketing platform Sojern, the brand wanted to promote content about the best places to stay in the city this summer. With the goal of persuading people to spend at least three days in the city by driving them to content on SFTravel.com, Sojern first used its own technology to find the groups of people they wanted to reach. The platform wanted to find folks who had previously shown an interest in visiting San Francisco and were also interested in topics like food and holiday travel. "For example, using Sojern's historical data on search and booking trends, we found that users who were searching for travel around the Labor Day or Columbus Day weekends had a strong propensity to book," Jackie Lamping, vp of marketing for Sojern, said in a blog post that Google published today.

Then, Sojern ran native ads through DoubleClick that targeted those groups of people, starting with eight pieces of creative that promoted four pieces of content and eventually dwindling it down to the best-performing four pieces of creative.

Over the the course of two months, Google claims that the method of testing different versions of creative programmatically increased hotel bookings 1662 percent—a rate 16 times more effective than the brand's previous campaign that also dropped the cost per acquisition by 92 percent.

Native advertising is on track to be a $16.8 billion industry this year and $20.9 billion in the U.S., according to BI Intelligence. But for the most part, the transaction and creative process is still relatively manual for marketers, explained Karen Lau, manager of digital marketing for San Francisco Travel.

"With normal display ads, we would have had to build templates and go through a more structured internal creative review process for each piece," she said. "With native ads we just provided copy, image and a link, so we were able to bypass that review process and be more nimble and flexible."