Programmatic job advertising is the new star in the HR marketing sky. Everyone is talking about it, everyone wants it - but what exactly is it and why are Programmatic Job Ads so popular right now? We talked to our expert and partner Nils Decken - founder of the Stuttgart-based agency emplify - about what Programmatic Job Ads are, who it's for and what advantages this type of job publication offers.
Nils Decken has been working in HR marketing since 2012. In 2015, he founded the agency emplify with two colleagues. ARTS has now been working with the full-service agency since 2020. In our interview, Nils explains the basic questions about Programmatic Job Advertising and ventures a look into the future with us.
Short explanation - what is Programmatic Advertising and how does it work?
"Let's start with a little definition. Programmatic advertising is a term from online marketing. It refers to the fully automated and individualized buying and selling of advertising space in real time. Based on the available user data, advertising banners or commercials are delivered that are specifically tailored to the user.
Programmatic ads originated in the USA, primarily in the e-commerce sector. Google started using it as early as 2000, as did other providers such as Yahoo!
The basic principle of programmatic advertising is the automated buying and selling of advertising space on all kinds of websites. Almost all advertising spaces that we see in everyday life on the Internet are ultimately Programmatic Ads. The system behind it is simply that ads are presented to a target group automatically, via a mechanism that has collected and continues to collect as much target group data as possible. In other words, it analyzes the behavior of users: what they click on, what they look at, what they have stored in their social media profiles. What is programmatic about these ads, so to speak, is which ad is shown to whom. In the online shopping space, that's been used for a very long time.
In our area, so in employer branding and HR marketing, it's still a fairly new topic. It's been discussed on and off for 3 or 4 years now, and especially in the last year, the topic has really boiled up. There are more and more providers who transfer the Programmatic technology from the classic product marketing to the job sector. It's difficult to talk about "programmatic ads" because there are many different types of programmatic advertising in HR marketing. On the one hand, there are providers who rely more on a hand-picked selection of tried-and-tested job search engines, and then there are the newer approaches that use channels such as Facebook, Google, YouTube, Insta, Spotify, Tikok, and many others, and are more or less automated and no longer so focused on the individual medium. And in between, there's a lot in our field that's called programmatic ad, but it's a mix of the old world of job boards and the new world of cost-per-click media."
Why is programmatic advertising becoming more and more popular?
"At the moment, the topic is still in its infancy on the German market. There are actually two reasons why it is now becoming more and more popular. On the one hand, it just sounds cool. Artificial intelligence is one of those topics that everyone is talking about and sounds cool. And people are also hungry for new technologies. It just sounds cool when you can say that the job ads are now automated, algorithm-controlled and played out to the perfect target group. On the other hand, programmatic advertising, like many other topics in our industry, is on the rise due to the lack of applicants. More employers are looking for suitable employees, and programmatic advertising naturally falls on fertile ground. Because this way, companies can also reach people who are not actively looking for a job at the moment, but would still be willing to change jobs."
How important are data factors in this process?
"Of course, the data is very important and plays a big role in this. The display of ads becomes better and better targeted when you have a lot of usable information about the users. On the other hand, there is often the problem that if you have a programmatic mix of different channels, such as Google, Facebook and Indeed, you don't have the same data density for each channel. There is simply a tension between the platforms, which naturally want to collect as much data as possible, and the GDPR. But basically, you can say that programmatic ads work really well when you have a lot of data and the ads can be played out in a targeted manner. Because otherwise, there's really no difference to the classic ad."
What are the benefits of Programmatic Advertising for job ads?
"It's a good way to raise my profile as an employer over a longer period of time. Unfortunately, that has still not arrived everywhere today, that you need a brand as an employer and that you also have to make it known. To do this, you have to rely on an "aha" effect from time to time in order to get into people's heads and, above all, into the heads of many people. Especially with regard to passive seekers, who may become active seekers in six months or a year if they are dissatisfied or life circumstances change, and then it's good if I as an employer have already popped up somewhere in their heads because they have already been in contact with me somehow through an advertisement. Especially now, in a situation where there is a desperate need for employees, you can use programmatic ads to approach people in a very targeted, personalized way and address them, even outside of traditional job portals. That's actually the big advantage of it."
So what defines programmatic job ad publishing?
"Programmatic advertising is always a two-stage model. Basically, and this applies to all ads, the focus is on what is being linked to. Is that an attractive target for applicants? That's actually the be-all and end-all, because if it's not attractive to applicants, programmatic ads won't do any good either. It might bring a lot of clicks, but you still won't get any applicants. What you have to remember is that programmatic advertising is not like a job ad. The topic really only works in the masses, here you have to think in terms of campaigns and landing pages rather than individual job ads. Since passive searchers are also addressed, the time periods are of course much longer and success does not come in the short term. Programmatic ads are therefore a building block in a mix of many different measures. We have to see this as a long-term issue that helps employers to be present with job ads over a long period of time. We have to get away from the expectation that a single ad will immediately bring in a large number of applications. Programmatic ads are more of a gold-digging method. If you keep at it, more and more will stick."
And in terms of providers, what's your advice to look out for?
"With such new topics, it's always difficult for customers to understand how it works. Of course, it's difficult or impossible to check the playout of programmatic ads. You really have to rely on how serious you think the provider is. But when choosing a programmatic ad provider, I would pay attention to their channel selection and how transparent they are with regard to the budget. For example, in my opinion, Google and Facebook must definitely be included in the channel portfolio today. If there are 500 - 1000 channels and most of them are free, then you should be suspicious. The same applies if a provider refuses to provide any information about budget distribution and service fees."
For which companies is Programmatic Advertising suitable?
"The Programmatic Ads topic is suitable, among others, for companies that recruit a lot and regularly. It is basically for all companies that have a permanent need, for companies that want to grow in the long term a sensible building block in HR marketing and I don't just mean large companies. We also do this for ourselves, for emplify, and even if we don't hire a huge number of people, it's still worth it for us. Through this permanent presence effect, especially on Google and the social media channels, we also get some unsolicited applications that have already led to good hires for us.
But for companies that publish a job ad now and have an acute need because they want to hire a very specific person in 2 weeks, Programmatic Ads is nothing for them."
What is the difference between programmatic advertising and traditional online advertising?
"There aren't that many differences, because in fact the same systems are often used. The difference is really only that I'm not advertising a product, but a job ad. Job ad marketing has to be more honest than product marketing. But that's more due to the thing itself than to Programmatic Advertising.
But when it comes to automatically generated ads and banners, you just have to know that the systems are made for products. Automatic text generation is also made for products and still has a few difficulties with job ads. That's why we always have a human being looking over it to make sure that everything really fits.
And there is also a big difference in practical implementation. The budgets and the masses that are generated are much larger in e-commerce, for example, than in HR marketing. And success simply cannot be measured in online stores. There still needs to be a cultural change here, because in my opinion, far too little budget is still being used for HR marketing and branding. Of course, this then also applies to Programmatic Ads."
A look into the future - where is the journey heading?
"At the moment, it's a hype topic, which is why an insane number of providers are jumping on it. There are currently an enormous number of startups in this area. But in my eyes, programmatic advertising is a small part of the whole HR marketing mix that you need for successful employer branding and a successful recruiting strategy.
If we look at it in the Gardener Hypecycle, we're probably coming into that valley now and that's where the market will consolidate in the coming years. So there will be some providers that will certainly establish themselves, but there will also be many that will disappear. You can maybe compare it a bit with Indeed and the CPC model in job ads. At the beginning, everyone was skeptical, the German market is always a bit more conservative anyway, but now it's become standard and I would predict the same for programmatic job ads. I think from 2025 onwards it will simply have become the standard."
Thank you Nils for the interview and your exciting insights!