Everyone is talking about programmatic display in advertising right now and with good reason, with it delivering impressive results and great value. However, many people are still unsure of the detail and unclear on why this is increasingly the first choice for UK digital advertising.

What is programmatic display?

Programmatic display refers to the use of technology to buy online banners in real time; bidding against other advertisers to display an advert to a specific consumer in a given context. It uses a set of technologies that allows advertisers to place online display advertisements in front of potential customers while they are browsing sites online.

It is like traditional online display, but the interesting element about programmatic is that potential customers can be targeted on specific demographics such as their gender, age, salary, interests, or their internet browsing habits. Adverts can be delivered at specific times of the day or week, and even on specific sites.

The granularity of this approach ensures that programmatic not only delivers improved performance but also decreases wastage by preventing ads being served to non-relevant audiences.

The fundamentals

Firstly, technology is required that provides access to the publisher inventory, allows bids to be set for the target demographics, and enables the various audience targeting options to be applied.

This is called a Demand Side Platform (DSP) and there are several types available. These range from technologies that are very automated through to very manual interfaces that require a high degree of expertise to operate.

However, all the major players in this market provide a comprehensive technology solution which will suit most advertisers.

Launching your programmatic activity

The potential for campaign optimisation is huge. Therefore, it is essential that the person or team optimising the campaign understands the marketplace.

The set-up involves understanding the advertiser vertical to create lists of potential target audiences. Analysing existing customer demographics can be a useful tool and tracking code can be implemented on a client’s site prior to the campaign launch to build up an audience profile of the current site visitors. This allows a better understanding of the targeting requirements for delivering a successful campaign.

The wonderful thing about programmatic is that it allows you to experiment with different targeting options such as creative formats and audiences, to determine if there are any other untapped profiles that are not currently being utilised.


There are many levers at the disposal of programmatic specialists which allow them to implement a test-and-learn approach to find the optimal mix.

These include:

  • Split testing ads to evaluate the best performing
  • Targeting specific audiences to find the optimal mix
  • Segmenting audiences into more granular demographic sets
  • Testing different site placements against each other (i.e. does one site work more effectively than another for specific audiences?)
  • Testing ad frequency
  • Testing time of day or the day of the week targeting
  • Showing different ads to people at distinct parts of the consideration funnel



At the start of the campaign, ads are shown to a diverse range of people, with little knowledge of who is going to convert, on which sites, at what time, etc.

As optimisation improves, a profile can begin to be built up of who the most engaged audiences are, allowing optimisation of bids for different target groups and creative formats. As more data is collected, the right conditions can be determined that are ideal to maximise performance.

With a well-run programmatic campaign, we should start to see not only tangible improvements in performance, but also deep insights into what is driving those incremental gains, i.e. what audiences, locations or sites deliver the strongest performance. Those learnings can then be applied to future campaigns, not only within programmatic but also within other channels.

The technology is complex, but the theory behind how it works isn’t. With the right team in place programmatic can deliver fantastic results for your business.

Experienced teams at Space and Time Media

“We have spent time recruiting the right experience to build a team of programmatic specialists, with a background working across a range of verticals including property, retail, travel, gaming and finance.
Our mission is to deliver insights and significant improvements for online campaigns, coupled with commitment to a transparent commercial structure. This specialist team offers a unique and market-leading proposition within this growing channel.”

If you’d like to find out more about the world of programmatic or how Space & Time can help your business, please connect today.

Dan Hughes
Head of Programmatic