Programmatic is over six years old now, and starting to make shifts from its traditional applications in digital display.

The technology is well known for what we refer to as 'dynamic retargeting' - basically serving digital display ads to users who are likely to be interested in their products (perhaps because they've searched for something, for example, or gone to a particular site). Increasingly companies can launch a campaign that takes 100% of the advertising space on a particular page. Cartier did that with the Guardian homepage earlier this year, and it's something that we'll be seeing much more of.

"Mail can maintain power and premium feel in a world where everything can feel a bit disposable."

So what does the future hold?

However, programmatic is often misunderstood and needs to evolve. One of the key challenges is not with the technology but with how the industry has a fundamentally short-termist perspective. If success is purely measured on short-term metrics, such as clicks and encasements, it ends up being about low-cost media - volume over quality - and that will prevent the technology from reaching its full potential.

Programmatic will fulfil its potential when it's viewed not simply as a display technology, but as a way of evolving all media. This is beginning to happen now with Sky, ITV and Channel 4 all developing cross-platform programmatic offerings and outdoor campaigns beginning to tie up with mobile, such as Exterion Media's partnership with Telefónica.

Mail is another medium that can be triggered by customers' behaviour and interactions with the brand. Of course some of the big supermarkets are already doing this by analysing shopping baskets or buying patterns and sending people vouchers for correlating products. These are just more examples of making media work together along the customer journey, so that we can give customers more personal and relevant experiences.

"With a physical product, at the moment of impact, there's a unique, fully committed interaction."

Using data effectively

Of course, our ability to be personal and relevant is dependent on how much we know about customers. Currently, most programmatic is based on what people have looked at or clicked on, but there are examples of how companies have used this technology more creatively, to understand how people feel about a product or an ad.

One such example is Group M's buying unit Xaxis. It used the camera on certain consumers' devices - with their permission of course - to monitor their reactions to particular ads. By recording whether someone smiled or frowned, they were able to build up a picture of what was likely to work for people who shared similar interests.

Similarly, the Guardian worked on a campaign with a car manufacturer to show if it was possible to establish not just what consumers were interested in but, perhaps more importantly, what they weren't interested in. Counter-intuitively, the consumers who responded well to this particular campaign tended to avoid other content about cars - people were interested in the brand, but not if they were petrol heads. It just goes to show the kind of advanced media strategies that are possible when programmatic is done in an intelligent way. Championing this intelligent approach is The Pangaea Alliance, founded by the Guardian along with CNN International, the Financial Times and Reuters. It offers advertisers access to a highly valuable combined data set, enabling more effective audience targeting. Technology is only as good as the data available and we can also activate more effective campaigns by working together - it allows us to build up a deeper, more complete picture of our users.

Linking to the tangible

Ultimately it's about using data, technology and media together to give people beautiful experiences. We see a far higher return on investment compared to those that are focused on just one channel. In this current environment it's about leveraging all the different touch-points - but the best experiences are frequently physical. At the Guardian, that might be about creating really impactful newspaper formats, which we've begun to do recently with gatefolds for big global brands appearing within the main news section. There are some interesting examples with direct mail too. No matter what size your company or budget, you can produce something physical to increase the impact of your overall campaign, such as a very simple and highly personalised piece of direct mail.

KLM carried out a campaign that involved mailing surprise gifts that were tailored according to customers' online pro les. And Inter ora responded to consumers' social media pro les by hand-delivering flowers to them. You can imagine how much more impact that that would have; receiving a personalised and timely physical item from a brand you've expressed a desire to engage with. Of course, the consumers had agreed that their details could be used in this way.

This desire for physical objects, from gifts and flowers right through to mail, can maintain an enormous power and premium feel in a world where everything can feel a little bit disposable.Anything that demands attention in the physical world stands out from the type of engagement that you typically get from digital media. Think about reading a physical print product - like a magazine, a letter or a piece of direct mail - it's very hard to do anything else at the same time. It is a unique relationship that begins with the moment of impact. There's a unique, fully committed interaction.

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Why the physical product is set to retain enormous power

Tim Gentry
Global Revenue Director, The Guardian