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In online advertising today, the notion of “premium” is bantered around quite a bit. That’s because premium ads are generally associated with deep pockets and brand advertisers (in other words, those highly desirable clients coveted by our industry). In traditional digital advertising circles, “premium” has come to refer to the prestige of the publisher’s name (think top-tier publications and portals), the ad format itself (custom, oversized ad units), or both. But there’s another critical element missing as we define “premium” in online advertising: relevance.

Nearly every corner of the online world aspires to relevance, yet it is so rarely achieved. By contrast, programmatic buying uniquely enables relevancy when combined with the right strategic approach. There is now a significant volume of high-quality content available on the ad exchanges, and with it comes the perk of purchasing each impression in real time. The ability to limit impressions only to those that match campaign objectives makes this type of granular media buy quite powerful. In fact, it opens up a ton of new opportunities to align a viewer’s real-time intent adjacent to an advertiser’s message.

But real-time, per-impression media buying alone does not result in relevance if all you are buying is a bunch of cookies. Mapping your ad messages to the trinity of the right person, place, and time requires an understanding of “place,” which is basically the page a user is reading. Making that critical connection between an advertiser’s message and editorial content requires a far deeper understanding of the content on every page in order to unearth true meaning. It goes well beyond the limitations of keywords. This more nuanced type of “humanesque” intelligence is essential to unlocking real-time audience intent and nailing ad relevancy.

So, how does this new premium stack up? Traditional wisdom says no one ever got fired for buying an endemic, yet that leaves a lot on the table for scale and efficiency. Let’s say you’re an international airline carrier advertising on a travel site. It’s a solid bet you’ll reach a travel intender. On the other hand, advertising adjacent to a feature article available on exchanges about a European travel destination where your carrier just launched a new route presents an opportunity to capture a potential customer at precisely the right moment. It’s this type of potent, page-level granularity that — when combined with massive reach and scale — really showcases the power of the ad exchanges.

On the flip side, it’s a popular industry pastime to cast the exchanges as the sole domain of remnant and retargeters. Sure, following someone who’s visited your site around the web, also known as retargeting, can be great for direct response campaigns. But when your luxury car ad turns up on drunkensororitygirls.com, is that really premium?

This leads us to the other factor in the premium mix: brand safety. Even when you buy on a top-tier news site, there could still be individual pages with sensitive content that would be considered unsafe for brands. If your brand is running a campaign for its latest luxury SUV on a premium site or automotive news section, it could definitely be relevant, but in reality the ad itself could turn up adjacent to an article revealing a decrease in SUV safety, poor consumer satisfaction, wasteful gas consumption, or worse. This crucial step of preemptively vetting each impression for brand safety makes the difference between a compelling or cringe-worthy ad placement.

Where does that leave us? The rules of premium no longer apply as, more and more, the ad world adopts programmatic media buying. I’d say it’s time for some new math, where premium, exchange-based inventory equals relevance plus the assurance of brand safety.

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