Programmatic advertising was once viewed as the most promising trend in advertising, allowing advertisers to forgo the expense and commitment of working with ad sales to commit to buying ads and instead choose a lower-priced, data-driven robot using AI to bid on placement on a variety of media sites. The offer of advantages such as lower price per CPM, real-time purchase and display, and multimedia site targeting is hard to resist.

Enter the reality

If you work in developer marketing, depending on your audience, there may not be enough data for a machine learning algorithm to work. Each ad space is bid on, meaning your ad may or may not place the winning bid. And, of course, there is no guarantee that your ad is being placed near content that you want to associate with your brand. When advertising to developers, this is particularly damaging.

Comparison: Programmatic and direct buy advertising

Programmatic advertising is the use of automation in buying and selling media placement. Advertisers use a demand-side platform (DSP) to decide which impressions to buy, and publishers use a supply-side platform (SSP) to sell ad space to brands. Direct buy advertising simply requires purchasing ad impressions for specific contexts and sites.

The main benefits of programmatic advertising are that it seems easier and seems less expensive because it is automated. However, programmatic advertising has not lived up to its promise of machine beating human. One reason—Programmatic advertising is ripe for exploitation.

Problems with programmatic advertising

  • There is a lack of transparency about ad placement, so there is an increased potential for fraud.
  • It is difficult to control what content your ad appears with.
  • It can create a disruptive experience for customers who don’t expect to see your ad with the content they’re reading or viewing.

While machine learning is definitely transforming marketing and advertising, the truth is that the algorithms just aren’t that advanced. Therefore, your ad may not appear in the best place. You will get audience exposure, but it may not be the right audience. And as attractive as “real-time bidding” is, there is no guarantee that your robot’s bid will win. In addition, you get a dynamic CPM instead of a fixed CPM, with no control over where your ad appears.

Advantages of direct buy advertising

The benefit of direct buy advertisement is guaranteed placement. You are guaranteed placement within the content and context you want. This has several advantages, particularly if you are advertising to developers.

1. Your ads are guaranteed to run on developer sites within the developer community. Therefore, you reach developers over a variety of media sites and digital formats, such as:

  • Newsletters for developers
  • Podcasts for developers
  • Developer-to-developer (D2D) media sites and communities
  • Sponsorship opportunities like unique developer virtual events (e.g. developer contests)

2. You can reach developers who are influencers.

  • Advertise on influencers’ blogs and sites like, John Papa, Ray Wenderlich, or CodeProject.
  • Build your brand within a developer community by consistently showing up in the content they crave.
  • Create influential developer allies by showing up as a developer community supporter.

3. Your ad placement is assured and verifiable.

  • Unlike data-driven robot bidding, your ad placements are guaranteed.
  • Your ad is also guaranteed to display within the developer-friendly content that gives it context and authenticity.
  • You can verify that the ads you have placed are run.

4. Your ad cost is fixed.

  • Your ad is placed at the price negotiated.
  • No one can outbid you for your ad placement.
  • While the cost is fixed once negotiated, ad campaigns are priced competitively based on the entire ad campaign package.

Humans win

Here’s the developer marketing paradox—In human vs. robot-selected advertising, humans win. The only thing programmatic advertising guarantees is the audience size, not the quality or qualification. With direct buy advertising, an ad specialist with experience in advertising to developers can help you create a more persuasive ad campaign than a robot with a poorly validated, unobservable algorithm. Guaranteed ad placement gives you a verifiable presence in developer-targeted media that protects your brand.

Programmatic advertising might work for selling products or events to general consumers. However, when your product or service targets developers, your ad dollars give you more value with direct buy.