The Rise of Self-Serve Ad Platforms

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In the past, food brands large and small had few choices when it came to advertising. Those with big enough budgets would either be forced to hire an in-house media buyer or work with an advertising agency that could leverage their relationships with advertising networks and place ads on their behalf. Companies with smaller budgets were left with even fewer choices due to hefty minimum spending thresholds enforced by the platforms themselves.

As technology becomes more ingrained into our everyday lives and the baseline for software savviness rises, many brands are taking a DIY approach to platform advertising and forgoing the assistance of a dedicated sales representative on the platform side. This growing trend of “self-serve” ad platforms gives brands, businesses and agencies direct access to place ads, define their own targeting and set their own budgets.

Social Media Spearheading the Self-Serve Movement

Facebook and Google have long been the pioneers of this sales structure. By making their ad inventory (the finite space available for purchase on a platform’s ad network) available to advertisers directly, the platforms are able to minimize their reliance on internal media representatives who often had to act as sales, technical support and everything in between.

But it’s only once a platform or network has gained significant momentum and trust from consumers that they are able to even consider making the tremendous financial investment to move towards a self-serve structure. Despite the time and investment required, it’s a trend that advertisers are seeing across the industry, especially among social platforms.

In 2017, Snapchat moved to a self-serve ad structure after years of exclusivity, restricted access and incredibly expensive inventory ($300k – $750k per engagement in many cases). While Snapchat has seen a steady decline in daily active users over the last few quarters, it has posted unexpected revenue growth each quarter — all thanks in part to a shift to their auction-based, self-serve platform where the price for placement is dictated by advertisers’ “bid” for impressions, views and clicks.

Self-Serve Goes Off the Beaten Path

Social media platforms aren’t the only ones moving to this more accessible model for buying ad space. More traditional mediums are also providing new ways to advertise. In 2017, Spotify became the first platform in the audio space to open up their platform to small- and medium-sized businesses. The “Spotify Ad Studios” suite of tools lets advertisers control the entire process, from ad creation to launch.

After uploading a script, Spotify offers free voiceover recordings and background tracks. From there, advertisers choose their targeting options and set their own budgets. This is entirely unique when compared to other competitor audio mediums like traditional broadcast radio or satellite radio like Sirius XM, neither of which offers robust options for self-service. While targeting options are fairly limited, it generally costs about $0.025 each time someone hears an ad (similar to a single impression in other formats), making Spotify a fairly affordable option to help drive awareness.

To help accelerate the adoption of these tools, Spotify has started advertising their platform on other platforms. Take for example this video that is currently being distributed in the form of an Instagram Lead Generation Ad.

Gaining Traction in Traditional Media

While billboards may seem like dinosaurs in the era of technological innovation, the growth of digital boards and the proliferation of smaller outdoor displays are a source of new opportunities. Third-party technology companies are now stepping in to provide self-serve advertising options to a new audience.

In 2016, Blip developed an innovative platform that allows advertisers to buy billboard and other “out of home” ad placements in the same way that they would buy banner ads. Blip partners with digital sign owners around the country, integrating with their systems and automating the sale of rotating digital ads on their signs.

In a few easy steps, advertisers choose their time and location, enter a budget and upload artwork directly into the platform. Advertisers benefit by not having to enter into long-term contracts to secure billboard placement while sign owners minimize their unsold ad inventory, a long-standing challenge. Blip is actively pursuing advertisers in an attempt to grow adoption for its platform in strategic markets, including our own here in Lafayette, Louisiana.

For brands, businesses and agencies of all sizes, the willingness of platforms to remove barriers to entry is a positive move for all involved (with the exception of those brands who’ve previously benefited from the exclusivity of said platforms).

But alongside these gains in access and opportunity, there are definite drawbacks to the self-serve approach.

If you’re a CMO or in-house marketing manager, you should carefully explore each option before sinking your teeth into the world of self serve. Convenience comes with a price, and sometimes that price is much steeper than you’d think.

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