April 8, 2019

The state of programmatic advertising in the travel industry

Looking for quick ways to improve the success of your programmatic advertising campaigns? Global Senior Commercial Manager Stefan Zahariev and Global Programmatic Ops Manager Elliott Donnelly share their top tips in this interview.

What even is programmatic advertising?


If you work in marketing, you’ve most likely heard this term before. Possibly even branded as ‘the future of digital advertising’. But what is programmatic advertising?

Essentially, programmatic advertising (or: programmatic ad buying) automates the selling and buying of online media inventory using internet technologies and automated trading.  This differs from traditional forms of ad buying, where humans create proposals, negotiate, and then manually insert the order – driving up the cost.

Programmatic buying has matured from being an experimental technology to a necessity for marketers and publishers. Because the right technology can help them scale and cut cost at the same time, it’s drawing increasingly large shares of brands’ display advertising budgets – including those in the travel industry. In fact, eMarketer statistics suggest that programmatic will account for almost 90% of total digital ad spending in the UK by 2020. But what’s the fuss all about?

What are the benefits of programmatic for travel brands?

Surely a whopping $46 billion going to programmatic advertising in 2018 can’t be wrong? The benefits for travel brands are clear:

Greater reach

Some 3.5 billion people worldwide browse the internet every day. Programmatic advertising has enabled huge scalability for brands by opening up access to a virtually limitless ad inventory – rather than identifying and negotiating ad placements with individual publishers. This also gives international brands the power to roll out their advertising strategy centrally without relying on agencies to localise and execute plans at market-level.

More relevant impressions and better targeting

Does the idea of only paying for impressions that are relevant to your business sound revolutionary? That’s exactly what programmatic lets you do – leveraging masses of data sources. Based on criteria such as demographic, weather or location, you can ensure you’re exclusively targeting your audience, at scale, and across devices.

Enhanced customer experience

Using data to make informed decisions on both audience targeting and creative messaging is key to advertisers joining the dots along the customer journey. It allows brands to serve the right ad to the right target customer at the right time through the right combination of creative format, device and platform. As a result of the rise of programmatically traded ads, customers are receiving more personalised messages and therefore, are more likely to engage with the brands.

Real-time information and instant analysis

The sheer amount of data available on programmatic platforms makes it easy for brands to keep an eye on which sites their ads are being served on, check spending and access the consumer seeing the ad in real-time. What’s more, the ability to respond to real-time events and optimise accordingly means advertisers buying programmatically can use those insights to make tweaks and adjustments in-flight, rather than waiting for a campaign to end to analyse results.

But what about the risks?

Is my brand safe?

Brand safety often comes up in conversations about programmatic advertising. Do you truly have control over where your adverts are going to land? Whilst it would be incorrect to claim that yes, your brand is 100% safe with programmatic, improvements in the technology since its humble beginnings mean that you’re not far off that mark. Ultimately, just like with traditional advertising channels, the onus is on the brand owner to ensure all possible safeguards are put in place to mitigate risks. Whether that’s filtering techniques, pattern recognition, manual blacklisting, or tapping into third-party technology providers for added safety, ensure you have a holistic view of your programmatic activity.

Transparency across the supply chain

Brands concerned about transparency within the supply chain (agencies, trading desks, demand-side platforms, exchanges etc.) should define accountability and collaborate right from the outset - set out KPIs, conditions for disclosure, and data ownership in the contract. Opt for an open approach that allows you to access data, fees and costs across the entire supply chain. At Skyscanner, we ensure accountability by requiring that all partners wanting to trade programmatically adhere to a 12-point list of programmatic advertising principles.

The future: Programmatic Guaranteed

At Skyscanner, we see Programmatic Guaranteed as a key component of the digital travel advertising mix. It is proving increasingly popular amongst advertisers, as it leverages the benefits of demand-side technology and allows brands to benefit from all the reporting and insights from demand-side partners whilst still buying on a guaranteed basis.

This deal type combines the control of traditional display ad bookings with the efficiency, targeting and data-led power of programmatic. Additionally, a price is fixed in a one-on-one agreement, and volumes can even be guaranteed from the outset (in the case of a Programmatic Guaranteed deal).

Whilst native display advertising remains a high-impact format to reach your target audience, a growing number of partners are opting for Programmatic Guaranteed deals with Skyscanner. Not only is there typically less technical troubleshooting required when compared to non-guaranteed deals, this type of programmatic agreement also allows partners to handpick the best-performing traffic from Skyscanner’s engaged audience of travellers. Skyscanner’s experts in programmatic are on hand to provide guidance and set partners up for success, and advertisers retain control of customisation tools such as audience, geo-location, language, frequency and pacing.

Mixing it up for success

It’s no secret that the programmatic industry still has a way to go to ensure consistent and complete transparency in what is a highly complex, dynamic supply chain. Nevertheless, it’s also important to remember that it has come leaps and bounds since its inception. Current government-led enquiries are expected to further shed some light, and over the next few years, industry bodies will most likely be working on implementing tougher regulation to oust murky practices.

At the end of the day, it’s crucial to bear in mind that programmatic ad buying is only one (admittedly important) component of an effective display advertising strategic mix. By joining the Skyscanner Partner Feedback Loop, you can be the first to hear about new display formats and advertising experiments. You get the opportunity to provide feedback and shape Skyscanner’s future advertising initiatives.