How to Get the Most Out of Programmatic Display Campaigns (and Make Sure You’re Not Throwing Money Down the Drain)

Programmatic advertising campaigns have become a force in digital media. But, if you want programmatic display to fast-forward your business, it’s critical to ensure your campaigns are optimized to drive meaningful, positive results for your brand.

To make sure your brand isn’t pouring money down the drain, we outlined 18 questions you should ask your programmatic display agency right away to make sure your campaigns are set up for success. The questions are split into four categories to help you identify any areas that should give you a particular cause for concern. If you see a lot of red flags along the way, it may be time to take a deeper dive into your programmatic campaigns.

If you want to avoid the hassle of doing the audit yourself, contact Mindstream Media Group today to talk to one of our paid media experts about your programmatic display campaigns. 

Programmatic display agency qualities

No. 1: How much is your agency partner charging you based on your spend?

When it comes to programmatic display, there can be several brokers between you and the publisher that serves your ads. The list includes media vendors, ad tech firms, data providers, etc. By the time the bill gets back to you, the price tag could be considerably higher than the publisher’s original cost.


This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If your vendor is working with reputable partners, each cog in the programmatic machine is essential in getting the most out of your media spend. It does mean, however, that you want to choose a partner that’s transparent about their pricing models and partnerships.

No. 2: How much of your media spend goes to viewable impressions?

Here’s a dirty little secret of programmatic advertising: ad impressions don’t always equal ad views. Since programmatic campaigns typically use a cost per thousand impressions (CPM) model, this is a big deal. A few years ago, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Media Rating Council (MRC) created the following standard for viewable display impressions:

A minimum of 50 percent of (an ad’s) pixels in view for a minimum of 1 second.

So, how do advertisers end up getting charged when their ads aren’t viewable? Well, unfortunately, not everyone follows the rules. Even with that lenient standard, some programmatic display vendors still limbo under the bar. To make sure people can actually see the ads you’re paying for, ask your agency partner what standard they use to qualify viewable impressions. Also, ask to see reporting on how many of your current impressions are “viewable.”

No. 3: Does your vendor have access to advanced planning technology?

Programmatic display advertising is a rapidly evolving practice, making it essential to partner with agencies and tech vendors that are at the head of the pack in terms of innovation. To make sure you have the latest and greatest techniques powering your programmatic campaigns, ask your agency partner questions like:

  • Do you have access to Automated Content Recognition (ACR) technology to better plan and optimize my campaigns?
  • What kind of beta programs are you involved in (either internally or through ad tech partners)?
  • What plans do you have to improve our campaigns in the future with new technologies?

Campaign targeting and scheduling

No. 4: Who are you targeting?

The main reason programmatic campaigns are so powerful is all the data involved. With programmatic, you’re privy to a wealth of information to help you target the right consumers at the right times, but that targeting is only as good as the data that powers it and the strategy behind it.

To make sure your agency partner is targeting the right audience segments, ask them questions like:

  • What targeting methods are you using?
  • What characteristics are you using to define our target audience?
  • What data points do you use to identify those audience segments?
  • What audiences are you excluding?

No. 5: Where are you targeting?

Taking that last question a step further, make sure your audience segments are in the right places geographically. This is especially important for multi-unit and franchise brands that need to target audiences close to their locations.

To make sure your programmatic campaigns are fully optimized, ask your agency partner questions like:

  • Have you set up geo-targeting around our locations to make sure we’re only reaching nearby consumers?
  • Are you able to distribute leads fairly and accurately between locations that are close to one another?
  • Can you run a report that shows the breakdown of impressions by geo-location?

No. 6:  What stage of the customer journey are you targeting?

The most effective media strategies take a holistic, full-funnel, multi-channel approach utilizing a variety of tactics to reach consumers at every stage of the customer journey. Ensure your agency partner is leveraging all of the programmatic channels available within their DSPs including CTV, streaming audio/podcasts, digital OOH, video, native and display to connect with the right users in the right place at the right time.

No. 7: What sites are your ads appearing on?

At Mindstream Media Group, one of our programmatic philosophies is to focus more on who we’re serving ads to than where we serve ads. Having said that, you probably don’t want your ads showing up on sites with explicit content or on publisher platforms whose principals aren’t aligned with your own.

To safeguard your brand’s reputation, find out which sites are included in your programmatic vendor’s network and work with them to block any unsavory sites. If your vendor partner is unable or unwilling to share this list with you, that could be a serious red flag.

No. 8: What schedules are your ads running on?

This question is essential if you’re running direct response ads. For example, let’s say you’re a restaurant running ads that encourage consumers to visit your location, but you’re closed on Mondays. Since you’re not there to serve guests, you probably don’t want to run ads that day.

Pretty basic stuff, right? We agree. Make sure your agency partner does as well.

No. 9: What are your frequency settings?

If you’re like most internet users, chances are you see a lot of ads from the same company. At best, these ads are for things that are relevant to you and are somewhat valuable (you’d probably just like to see less of them). At worst, they’re akin to an overaggressive telemarketer who can’t take a hint. Make sure your brand isn’t “that guy” by finding out what frequency settings your programmatic vendor uses.

Conversely, if you want to generate brand awareness and search lift then the campaigns need to reach a minimum frequency to have the desired effect. Ask your agency to report on these key metrics so that you can maximize your overall goals for the campaign.

Performance metrics

No. 10: How are you measuring the success of your programmatic campaigns?

One of the most important considerations in any marketing effort is to make sure the goals of your campaign align with the business results that your brand values most. To make sure these concepts align, find out what metrics your agency is reporting on to measure the success of your programmatic campaigns.

One thing to look for is the quality of the metrics you see in your reporting. Is your agency reporting valuable conversions like form fills, calls and visits to your location(s)? Or are they simply reporting vanity metrics like impressions and clicks?

No. 11: Is your performance connected to revenue?

Taking that a step further, the ability to connect conversions to actual revenue is important in measuring the overall success of your programmatic display campaigns. Find out if your agency is able to connect your programmatic campaigns to your other tools – e.g., your customer relationship management (CRM) or point of sale (POS) systems – and measure the overall return on investment (ROI).

No. 12: How are you approaching view-through attribution credit?

While programmatic advertising can and should be used as a direct response initiative, digital display ads also excel at building brand awareness and generating conversions well after an ad is served.

For example, let’s say you’re reading an article online and you come across a display ad for running shoes. You like the shoes but you’re really into the article so you continue reading and end up clicking on another link after you finish it. Then you remember the shoes and head to Google to find them.

In a scenario like this, that original display ad deserves some of the credit. This is known as view-through attribution (VTA) – while the ad didn’t directly lead to a conversion, the fact you saw the ad led to a profitable action in the future.

Programmatic campaigns have sophisticated tracking methods that allow advertisers to track these types of conversions, but not everyone uses them. As you audit your programmatic campaign, make sure your agency partner can and does.

No. 13: What is your attribution window set to?

While VTA is key to understanding the non-direct actions consumers take after seeing your ads, there’s a right way – and a wrong way – to set it up. Typically, VTA is most valuable when the conversion occurs shortly after a consumer sees an ad, not weeks or months later.

To make sure your programmatic campaigns are only measuring recent conversions, ask your agency what window they’re using to measure VTA. The appropriate amount of time will vary by brand and product, but if the window is more than a few days, make sure there’s a good reason.

No. 14: Is your vendor able to calculate search lift?

Here’s another indirect metric your agency partner should be able to measure – search lift. Recent data from agency programmatic partner, The Trade Desk, shows that clicks to an advertiser’s site from Google search’s UTM were 8.5 to 10 times more likely to make an online purchase after being exposed to programmatic media.

Programmatic search purchase lift

Programmatic Assisted Search Purchase LiftThe ability to measure search lift is key to understanding what impact your programmatic display campaigns have on purchases and brand awareness. If it’s not already in your typical reporting, ask your agency if they’re able to calculate search lift across the programmatic networks used in your campaigns.

Optimizing campaign creative

No. 15: What creative assets are you using?

One of the biggest mistakes advertisers make with programmatic advertising, especially with video ads, is forcing ad creative from other media campaigns. For example, if you’re running a programmatic video campaign, you need to make sure your creative fits the media platforms you display your ads on. Copying and pasting a TV commercial typically won’t cut it.

Just like with social media, brands should customize their creative for the platforms, and hence, the audiences they are targeting. You wouldn’t use the same messaging on LinkedIn that you would on TikTok, so make sure your programmatic video is appropriate and relevant for your display audiences.

No. 16: What is your creative testing strategy?

A key advantage of programmatic campaigns is they allow you to serve ads based on which ones are most likely to perform well in a given situation (i.e., based on the consumer viewing the ad, the website serving the ad, etc.) But this advantage is null and void if you don’t have enough ads.

Make sure you’re leveraging the full value of programmatic by finding out how many ad variations your agency is running with each campaign. This will not only allow you to run tests to find the most effective creative messages, but it will also mitigate audience burnout from seeing the same ad too many times.

No. 17: How are you leveraging video creative?

Start with asking your programmatic agency a simple question: “Are we using video creative?”

If the answer is no, follow it up with a sternly worded version of this question: “Why the hell not?”

Your programmatic agency might not be responsible for ad creatives, but they should be looking for any opportunities to optimize your campaign and video is a great way to grab consumers’ attention.

No. 18: Are your programmatic campaigns using dynamic creative?

We’ve hit on this point plenty of times, but we’ll say it again: a major perk of programmatic campaigns is that they allow you to determine in real time what message is most likely to resonate with a specific consumer. To fully unlock this power, make sure your campaigns can dynamically adjust creative elements like ad copy, calls-to-action and images based on the specific consumer viewing your ad.

Now that you’ve gotten through all the questions, how did your programmatic campaigns stack up? If too many of the answers were a cause for concern, contact Mindstream Media Group. We can pull back the curtain even further to give you a better idea of how to improve your programmatic display campaigns to get the most bang for your media dollars.

Editor’s Note:  This post was originally published in April 2019 and has been updated for freshness and accuracy.

What You Need to Know About Programmatic Advertising

In the past, real-life human beings were solely responsible for buying and placing ads on media platforms. If that sounds incredibly inefficient to you, it’s because it was. Humans are prone to mistakes, forget things, call in sick, show up hungover, etc. Compared to machines, humans are slow and a lot less capable of handling ad buys at scale.

To make up for our shortcomings, advertisers have increasingly turned to programmatic advertising technologies to facilitate the process of buying and placing ads. By 2023, U.S. advertisers will dedicate more than 91 percent of their total digital display spending to programmatic ad buys, according to eMarketer.

U.S. programmatic digital display advertising spending

(in billions and % of total digital display ad spending)


With the ability to scale and automate complex tasks, programmatic technologies are already a dominant force in digital marketing. And, programmatic will only become more valuable as agencies and tech companies introduce ways to make the process even more efficient. To make sure your brand can take full advantage of the opportunity, here’s an introduction to programmatic advertising and what it can do for you.

What exactly does programmatic advertising mean?

Programmatic advertising is the practice of using technology to automate the buying and selling of ad impressions on media platforms. These impressions could be for digital display banners, native advertising, online video ads and a myriad of other ad types.

What is the primary function of programmatic technology?

In terms of the ad buying process, the main function of programmatic technology is to automate the bidding process of auctions that occur in real time when users visit webpages and websites serve ads. These real-time auctions allow advertisers to buy ad impressions and publishers to sell advertising space at scale.

How does programmatic technology automate bidding?

In a programmatic setting, publishers serve ads dynamically based on the individual user visiting a webpage or app, thereby limiting impression waste by focusing on the right users in the right place at the right time. To do this, publishers use real-time auctions to determine which ad shows each time a user visits one of their webpages or app screens.

For example, let’s say you visit a webpage. When you click on the URL, the browser sends information about you (e.g., demographic information and online behaviors) and the webpage (e.g., main page topics) to a series of platforms that handle the buying and selling of ad impressions.

Upon receiving the information, these platforms initiate an auction to determine what ads you’ll see on the page. The auction’s buyers are brand advertisers and their media/tech partners who set targeting criteria to determine how much they’re willing to pay to get their ad in front of specific audiences.

Using a process called “real-time bidding,” these platforms can handle this auction – along with billions of others each day – in the milliseconds between the time you land on the page and when all the content loads.

Why is programmatic ad buying a good thing for advertisers?

The biggest reason is what we just alluded to – programmatic ad buying allows advertisers to target ads based on specific consumers rather than having to buy set inventory directly from publishers. This type of ad buying allows your brand to focus more on who you’re serving the ad to, than where the ad displays.

Programmatic ad buying allows brands to focus on who they’re servings ads to, rather than where they’re serving the ad. Share on X

Another benefit to advertisers who partner with a programmatic agency like Mindstream Media Group? We have certified programmatic traders working in tandem with platform AI to monitor and optimize campaigns, combining human strategy and ad technology to achieve the most efficient results.

Who are the major players in programmatic advertising?

Remember how we mentioned there are a series of platforms that handle the buying and selling of ad impressions? Well, that series includes a fairly intricate roster of platforms and vendors to make sure the right ads from the right brands get in front of the most relevant consumers. To give you a closer look at the logistics of programmatic advertising, here’s a brief overview of the major players:


The companies that are looking to reach target audiences with their advertising messages.

Media agencies

The vendor partners that connect brands with programmatic platforms and develop campaign strategies.

Demand-side platforms (DSPs)

The platforms that help advertisers and agencies analyze available inventory and adjust bidding strategies in real-time.

Ad exchanges

The platforms that handle the buying and selling of programmatic ads (i.e., where the real-time auctions take place).

Supply-side platforms (SSPs)

These platforms help publishers identify audience segments, manage price points and facilitate sales across ad exchanges.


The companies that sell ad impressions on the websites, platforms and apps they own.


The people who view the ads on publishers’ websites and apps.


If your brand is already leveraging programmatic advertising, check out this blog on how to make sure you’re getting the most out of your campaigns. If you haven’t started running programmatic campaigns yet, contact Mindstream Media Group to learn how our innovative display solution can help fast-forward your business.

Editor’s note:  This post was originally published in April 2019 and has been updated for freshness and accuracy.

A Look Under the Hood, Amazon’s DSP

As the third-largest ad seller in the country, Amazon has secured its stronghold in the advertising landscape. With its millions of products available for consumers to peruse, research and purchase, it has become the go-to source for a great deal and quick delivery time. In a similar way, Amazon has also become a valuable resource for advertisers with its DSP – a programmatic advertising platform with many benefits for those who have the privilege, and expertise, to access it.

We sat down with our own Amazon Certified Programmatic Traders for a brief Q and A session to cover some of the basics of Amazon DSP.

1. What is the Amazon DSP?

Amazon DSP is a demand-side platform that enables advertisers to programmatically buy display, audio and video ads at scale. Mindstream Media Group uses this DSP along with others to execute successful client campaigns.

2. Can ads be placed outside of Amazon when using Amazon DSP?

Yes, ads can be placed outside of Amazon through the Amazon DSP. Audiences can be reached on third-party websites and apps, and through other exchanges like AppNexus, OpenX, etc.

3. What are the benefits of using Amazon DSP?

Advertisers are able to leverage Amazon’s exclusive, first-party shopper (in-market) audience to target potential customers and track product purchases/subscriptions. This access to this first-party data is especially valuable as third-party cookies face elimination.

Source:  Amazon

Another benefit of using the Amazon DSP is that advertisers have access to high-quality, guaranteed inventory across premium publications like A&E, Hulu, Forbes, CBS and FOX. Brand-safe environments like these uphold quality standards to ensure ads do not appear next to inappropriate content.

The platform also provides granular conversion and Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN) tracking. This allows performance to be measured at the individual product level for maximum transparency to influence optimization strategies.

4. What are the requirements to use Amazon DSP?

Amazon DSP can be used by advertisers regardless of whether they sell products on Amazon. As for the minimum spend requirement, the threshold may vary based on service option and country, but a minimum spend of $35,000 is typically required.

5. What advertising goals does Amazon DSP help support?

Amazon DSP can be used to support a variety of advertising goals including brand awareness, consideration, driving sales and increasing customer loyalty.

Common KPIs unique to Amazon are CPDPV (Cost per Detailed Page View) and Amazon ROAS (Return on Ad Spend).

6. Who can use Amazon DSP?

Although selling products on Amazon is not required, brands that do can utilize all of the features available for a more complete picture to track product sales, ROAS and leverage valuable shopper data. Because of its extensive reach, Amazon DSP is best suited for advertisers who want to programmatically buy advertising at scale.

7. What are the advantages of having an agency partner manage Amazon DSP?

By using an agency partner to manage Amazon DSP, brands benefit from enhanced visibility, elevated campaign learnings and granular conversion reporting.

Using an agency like Mindstream Media Group to manage Amazon DSP campaigns provides deeper insight and recommendations to advertisers. Our expertise within the platform has helped clients optimize their advertising investment and better understand the nuance between audience and media types, and more.

8. What kind of performance data is available when using Amazon DSP?

Performance data such as impressions, clicks, product page views, ROAS and more are available inside Amazon DSP. Brands get performance visibility down to the product level to gain insight and help improve future campaigns. Having an agency partner with certified traders can help advertisers take full advantage of the platform’s capabilities.

Source:  Amazon

9. How are ads created?

Advertisers can use their own custom ads or quickly produce creative options using Amazon templates and creative builder platform.

Source:  Amazon

10. How can brands get started with Amazon DSP?

Mindstream Media Group’s Amazon Certified Programmatic Traders can help your brand maximize ROAS with complete campaign transparency and insight into optimizations and reporting.  Contact us today to determine if Amazon DSP is right for you.

How Agencies Can Grow Through Strategic Partnerships

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Our business intelligence group mines your data and ours, not simply to plan, but to adjust in real time as market conditions evolve.


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We make it simple for brands to drive results regardless of the selling environment and company marketing structure.


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We don’t work in a traditional media hierarchy. We’re organized in communities of experts that create a virtuous cycle of improvement and position us to swarm to client opportunities.

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The agency landscape has changed dramatically as a result of numerous challenges across the marketplace. Learn more about how we’re filling the gap for agency partners that have found themselves with limited media and research capabilities. In this episode of Fast-Forward the Conversation, VP of Business Development Fabio Ramos and Planning Strategist Misty Castellanos join President Zac Keeney to discuss the value Mindstream can provide not only to agencies but to their clients as well.



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[Case Study]: Media Restructure Delivers 55% Lead Efficiency in Pandemic Year

The Graduate Management Admission CouncilTM (GMAC) is a global, mission-driven association of leading graduate business schools. They own and administer the Graduate Management Admission TestTM (GMATTM), the most widely used exam for graduate business school admissions. Mindstream Media Group has had the pleasure of partnering with GMAC for several years to hone strategic media initiatives that grow their business, even in spite of the difficulties created by the coronavirus pandemic.


GMAC found themselves facing simultaneous challenges. The issue of potential MBA candidates opting out of business school to go straight to the workforce, combined with the increase in schools dismissing the need for the exam when recruiting new students, were already a trend impacting the business over the last several years; moreover, the 2020 pandemic caused all global test centers to shut down for months at different times as the virus progressed in each country. This resulted in a large decrease of their primary revenue source (in-person testing), considering at that point all tests were conducted in person.

These challenges needed to be overcome with less resources compared to previous years, due to the impact of the pandemic.


In order to solve these complex challenges, we gathered data and insights from previous years of campaigns and built a robust, yet lean, paid media funnel where the target audience (potential MBA candidates) could be nurtured through their journey from initial awareness and engagement, to the purchase of test preparation products, all the way through to the exam registration.

Based on the historical data, we completely restructured GMAC’s campaigns across all platforms involved, resulting in a channel mix allocation which included paid search, paid social and programmatic display. Creative focused on each step in the customer journey to resonate with users whether they had not yet considered graduate management education, were merely considering it or were ready to purchase study materials or register for the GMAT exam. Specific and measurable KPIs were identified within each stage to gauge campaign success.

The carefully planned funnel, along with remarkably close monitoring of data through our analytics technology and intel, allowed for agile adjustments on all types of allocations from channels, to creatives, to global regions, with the objective of maximizing the efficiency of every marketing dollar.


At the end of the most challenging year in recent times, the overhauled marketing strategy and implementation of the paid media funnel yielded extraordinary results. In 2020, there was up to a 55 percent improvement (decrease) in Cost per Lead and a 70 percent improvement (decrease) in Cost per Registration compared to the previous year (2019). We anticipate continued improvement throughout 2021 as well as funnel stage allocations are adjusted to fine-tune the structure.

55% YoY Decrease in Cost per Lead


70% YoY Decrease in Cost per Registration


Julie Slovin, GMAC Senior Director of Strategic Marketing notes, “The funnel performed so well that the performance gains that we saw this year I think were so significant that they sort of outweighed the market losses that resulted from the pandemic, from an advertising and marketing effectiveness and efficiency standpoint.” Click here for the full interview.