Programmatic ad buying is emerging as one of the newest ways to target the right audiences – and Canadian marketers are just starting to discover it, according to Google’s advertising team.

During a press briefing on Thursday, Google executives from Canada and the U.S. delved into some of the search powerhouse’s strategies in programmatic ad buying – a method of advertising where marketers do real-time bids on targeted ad placements, designed to reach specific demographic audiences. One example might be of using an automated process to bid on a spot before a YouTube video plays, targeting a viewer who is male, between 25 and 40 years old, living in a specific country.

Here in Canada, marketers are just starting to experiment with the technology, said Adam Green, agency lead at Google Canada. He works with Google’s DoubleClick Rich Media Dynamic Creative group, which allows agencies to customize the messages of their ads based on the people they’re targeting.

He pointed to examples of brands like Loblaw Companies Ltd., which recently experimented with tweaking its ads to fit regional tastes in different provinces – for example, promoting a certain kind of squash on its site in Manitoba, versus what it might promote in Alberta.

“I’d say we’re starting to [use programmatic ad buying],” Green said, while noting Google isn’t the only vendor to get into this space. “I think frankly, we haven’t done a great job of selling the potential of it.”

He added he feels a lot of creative professionals and agencies are also hesitant to try programmatic ad buying, as it’s not something they’re comfortable with.

“You’re only as good as your last campaign … So if you’re always under threat of review, and there’s always this risk, you default to what you know. And we’re asking them to do something that’s really different,” he said. “Our market is right at the beginnings, where we definitely haven’t even really scratched the surface, but some of the big creative minds in the industry are starting to wake up to the potential, and it’s there.”

With programmatic ad buying, there are also advantages in being able to act in real-time, said Sean Downey, managing director of media platforms at Google Inc.

For example, during this year’s World Cup, Nike wanted to make more of an impact in social and to increase the visibility of its brand. So it launched a real-time campaign called the Phenomenal Shot, allowing soccer fans to pan and tilt their mobile devices around 3D animated figures made to look like famous players.

The campaign ultimately saw fans create more than 500,000 of these video vignettes, and it netted almost 2.5 million engagements, Downey said.

“The question for a brand, as we start thinking about programmatic is, how do I take advantage of a really engaged audience that is focused on a specific event or a specific point of time that is interacting with their friends in real time?” he said. “Nike’s strategy was to think about how can I participate in that, versus how I can sell something.”

Still, despite all of the advantages of programmatic ad buying, especially within an ad exchange as large as the one operated by Google, there are pitfalls. For example, fraud – when marketers buy illegitimate ad inventory or fake traffic through unscrupulous exchanges or with sketchy publishers – is definitely a concern. However, Google is working to police that, said Drew Bradstock, senior product manager at Google’s Ad Exchange.

Bradstock added the search giant also has a policy in place where it will reimburse marketers who have accidentally bought fake traffic, taking the money they’ve paid back from publishers who haven’t been careful. That has happened with big brand publishers in the past, though it does cost Google money, he said.

Google plans to roll out at least 13 new programmatic ad buying tools for marketers and advertisers, especially under the dynamic creative umbrella, Green said. The tools should be available in the “coming weeks.”

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