Back in the day, marketers would spend weeks, sometimes months, deciding where to place their ad messages. They had armies of media researchers on the case, giving them statistical data about audiences for specific TV shows or magazines.  When decisions were finally made and it came time to buy, the marketer simply called upon a human in their ad agency’s media department to place an order for a 30 second spot on the evening news or a two-page spread in a news weekly.

Well folks, those days are as gone as dodo birds and piston-engine airliners. Today, many online display and banner ad placements are bid on and purchased in nanoseconds by robots (or to be more quaint about it, by computers) talking to each other. It’s called Programmatic Advertising. And its new to aviation marketing.

The good news? The robots don’t do lunch and the advertisers don’t have to pay for it. The bad news? It’s the fastest growth engine in the marketing game and many advertisers and their marketing agencies know as much about how it works as they do about ADS-B.

How prevalent is programmatic ad buying? According to Ad Week, “In 2015, $14.88 billion worth of U.S. ads, fully 55 percent of digital display ads, were purchased programmatically. In total, 52 percent of all non-search digital ad transactions were programmatic.”

What exactly is programmatic advertising and why should you care?

In case you’ve not been paying attention for the past twenty years, the marketing game has gone from macro to micro-targeting. Today’s target audience comes down to one individual checking out your website, or your competitor’s home page. In the blink of an eye, a program can access that web visitor and break him or her down to age, gender, buying habits, and interest level in your product − even whether the viewer’s desire to purchase is imminent.

If you’re looking for the secret ingredient in this process, it’s called Artificial Intelligence. By nature, it’s the stuff robots are made of. Artificial Intelligence spreads its wide net across the internet, eventually narrowing down users who fit the demographic and psychographic of your target. It’s not looking for lots of people. It’s looking for the right ones.

The program then passes the information on to the marketer’s computers or robots and asks if the marketer wants to bid on placing their display ad in front of the prospect. The marketer’s robot considers what the buying service robot has to provide about the prospect, and decides in a split second to bid or pass on the opportunity. If it’s a bid (and there should be no surprise here), the higher the bid, the better the chance of securing the space. This is called “Real-time bidding” and the whole process happens in less than the time it takes to form a thought.

Forbes has estimated RTB (Real-time bidding) “will accelerate at a rate of 59% compound annual rate through 2016, making it the fastest growing segment in digital advertising.”

Wait a second! People don’t buy from ads at first sight!

It’s true!  Just because you’re interested in a product, that doesn’t mean you’re going to buy it immediately. Still, if you’re part of a certain market segment, your interest level may be heightened and your buying predisposition is certainly greater. Most pilots would love to own a jet, but few can afford one, and those that can are usually not impulse buyers.

Why jump at a prospect if they’re not going to buy right now?

To answer this, let’s go back to Marketing 101 and talk about customer needs. We all need things for a multitude of personal reasons. When you’re in the buying mode, the need becomes more urgent. For example, if you’re looking for a new aviation headset, you’re probably a pilot, so you’re already set apart from the general population. If you’ve checked out a few manufacturers’ websites, compared prices on Sporty’s, Pilot Shop, Aircraft Spruce or even Amazon or EBay − the robots are watching your every move! They’re even watching the number of times you’ve checked these sites in the past. In other words, they’re sizing you up as a potential buyer. The more the algorithm sizes the customer up, the richer the information it passes on. Capturing that user at the moment he or she is on a particular site goes to the highest bidder.

Naturally, for high-ticket items like an aircraft purchase, your ad needs multiple exposures to make a sale. The good news for the advertiser (or the advertiser’s robot, to be precise) is that it is bidding on a prospect that has demonstrated a high interest in the advertiser’s product and is most likely ready to make a purchase.

Think about it. How many times have you opened your browser and found a display ad for a product you’ve been researching on the web? Too often, right? Well, you probably fit the profile a marketer is looking for and one which its marketing robots are on the lookout for.

Are there limitations to programmatic advertising?

While the robots are very good at keeping track of people surfing on their desktops, they have a bit of a problem capturing your every move when you’re using your cell phone. This is because cell phone cookies (little files about your usage left in your computer) are not as uniform or as robust as they are on larger computers. This limitation won’t be around long given the speed at which technology adjusts to marketplace roadblocks.

Brave New Marketing Worlds.

Programmatic Advertising is here to stay. Big marketers were early adaptors, but it seems the word is spreading to all marketers. The reasoning is simple. If the target prospect is a fertile find, the chances of turning a marketing message into a sale are greater. If more marketing messages create sales, your return on investment goes way up. That’s a win-win for everyone except those humans who used to be media buyers. Brave new world? Certainly, but we humans have a tendency to adapt.