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Programmatic Buying: It's White, Opening With The Queen's Gambit

Many believe programmatic media buying is like playing a game of checkers, simply moving pieces up and down a board — and capturing your opponent's checkers every time you have the chance to do so. Those people couldn’t be more wrong. I find programmatic media buying to be more like playing a game of chess. Chess is steeped in strategy and learning to play properly can take thousands of hours of practice and extensive knowledge of chess theory. Some people actually spend decades learning and devising chess strategies — from common opening strategies to ways to control the center.

In Chess, playing White, one of the most common opening strategies is The Queen’s Gambit. I’m sure all the people who ‘binged’ The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix during the pandemic learned that ‘the queen’s gambit’ is one of the oldest and most reputable openings for White. Some who got really into the program, like I did, learned when the queen’s gambit is used, the match always evolves into a strategic battle rather than a tactical one. And that’s what programmatic media buying is in 2023, it’s a strategic battle.

Buying media programmatically is such a strategic battle that when I went out to recruit for R2 Media’s programmatic buying team I didn’t interview people with one to three years experience. I interviewed people with five to 10 years experience. R2 Media’s programmatic buying team — which has omnichannel and multicultural advertising set in its foundation — is led by a person who has been buying media programmatically since 2005 (and before that he was a traditionalist).

The basis for every media campaign that R2 Media runs programmatically is tied to proprietary audiences and identity solutions. Who are the people we have to reach for this campaign to be successful, according to our deterministic and probabilistic inputs, and how do we want to go about reaching them? Then, we must layer on frequency of impressions, against the audience, and engagement results associated with those impressions, across channels. We, then, have to connect the ‘proverbial’ dots cross screen; measuring outcomes from our TV campaigns, to our audio campaigns, to our display campaigns. Finally, we need to optimize our campaigns, cross screen, in real time.

Programatic media buying is not, in any way, easy… and because it is not easy, rather than rely on a handful of third party tech solutions to make things work, R2 Media brought the entire programmatic buying process in house several years ago. R2 Media has ‘hands on keyboard’ and manages every piece of every ad campaign. Every iota!

There is a ‘silent hero’ to our process and that silent hero is the R2 Media pixel. Like the codebreakers of World War II (who helped the Allied forces triumph over Germany), the pixel allows us to understand what is happening so we can segment our audience, track conversions and fully envision the conversion lifecycle of our client’s prospects. Pixels are not only used to identify groups of users based on actions that they take, they are also used to track conversion events. If, for instance, we have a Vehicle Details Page that we are looking to track for a car dealer, we place the pixel on the page and the pixel helps us understand the number of conversions to the page and the conversion paths that were followed. This information, these pathways, are critical to efficient and effective programmatic ad buying.

When watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, I learned there are strategic competitions and there are tactical competitions. Not only is programmatic ad buying like playing chess strategically, it’s like playing chess, strategically, at a world class level.


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