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Chango is kickin’ it old school. The digital advertising firm has found a somewhat unlikely success marketing itself via a glossy quarterly magazine that educates clients and the industry at large as to the nuances of programmatic and ad retargeting. Putting a fun spin on what is often a dry, technical subject is no small feat, but “The Programmatic Mind” does just that, engaging even casual readers with its breezy presentation and artful layouts.

chango_programmatic-mind_q42014Now approaching its second year of operation, The Programmatic Mind seems to have found a receptive audience among agency types and brand marketers who don’t seem to mind learning stuff while flipping through its whimsically designed pages.

Though the company won’t provide exact figures, “distribution is increasing 25-50% every quarter,” says Ben Plomion, Chango VP Marketing, noting “the goal is to demystify programmatic marketing. We try really, really hard to discover what our audience want to find out, what their problems are, and we can offer that will help solve them.”

A sampling from the most recent issue, Volume 7, includes pieces that range in subject from a successful CMO skillset (data geek and storyteller), case studies of digital marketing strategies employed by Bass Pro Shops, and Fresh Direct, and an interview with Contently’s Shane Snow. There’s a nuts-and-bolts tutorial on using programmatic to “transport your brand story,” and newsier articles on “The Future of Native” and the trend of agencies losing programmatic business to in-house marketing arms (that last, documented in an exclusive survey fielded by Chango in conjunction with Brand Innovators, the results of which debuted in the issue).

It’s a tricky balancing act. All the brands featured are Chango clients, and while the information is substantive, the tone is light, so non-techs can follow along. The overall result is impressive. While this clearly isn’t the place you’re going to find an expose ripping the lid off the dirty underbelly of programmatic ad buying (if there is one; while there are some skeptics, the science of programmatic is ad buying is an established and growing marketing sector), the articles are substantive and, more importantly, informative.

Earlier this year Jimmy Kimmel joked that programmatic is “the gluten of advertising,” because like gluten, lots of people throw around the terms but few know what it actually means. (It’s essentially automated ad buying — electronic inventory purchases made by a computer, often in real-time at velocities exceeding a million impressions per second.) Magna Global predicts that when the dust settles, programmatic ad buying in 2014 will total $9.8 billion in the U.S. and more than $20 billion worldwide. That number is expected to hit $53 billion by 2018.

ben-plomion.jpg

Ben Plomion,
VP Marketing, Chango

“Our goal is to educate and simplify programmatic,” says Plomion, who is based in Connecticut, heading up North American Marketing “one of Canada’s fastest-growing technology companies,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Toronto-based Chango from offices in Connecticut. “The Chango branding is very subtle. Plomion says he has had inquiries but turned down third-party ad inquiries, “because our target audience is media buyers and marketers, and those people are being sold to all the time.”

Plomion admits it was somewhat counter-intuitive for a tech firm to start touting its wares through a custom print vehicle. “At a certain point we thought, hey, we’re producing a lot of content. What can we do with it?” The company has, over the years, maintained a very active blog. “At first we thought about distributing a linked PDF, then we decided to try something different and hit on print distributed to other marketers, which we felt would stand out more.”

Initially Chango relied on its own database and relationships with partners, but recently it began piggy-backing on to AdWeek mailings. “As a company, we’re always going to try to avoid shortcuts. So instead of just buying an ad in AdWeek, we decided we’re going to produce a whole magazine and ship it with AdWeek. It’s much harder, but not necessarily more expensive. It comes down largely to a willingness to try something new.” Next year, Plomion expects distribution of The Programmatic Mind to double as a result of three new circulation partners in the U.S., U.K, and Canada.

All this with a staff of four dedicated exclusively to “Programmatic Mind,” and editorial contributions from freelancers as well as Chango’s executive team. “Content marketing is not new, it’s been around for decades, if not centuries. John Deere did its own magazine. The recent development is using it to not only tell a story but drive revenue.” Although its impossible to tell, as yet, whether the magazine is driving Chango’s own revenue, Plomion says the company is pleased with the way it has helped reinforce the company’s own brand image of technology that is not only effective, but fun.

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The Q4 issue went out with holiday wrappings.

The Q4 issue went out with a Chango holiday card and kitschy wrapping paper — clever, and useful, too. Q3 included playing cards for “Marketers Against Marketing” (an entertaining parody of the popular game “Cards Against Humanity,” an idea Plomion went on to see “borrowed” by at least one agency).

“Print is back to some extent, and one of the biggest developments of 2014 was nostalgia marketing, which was definitely back. The good ideas get copied and don’t stay new for long, which is why we’re going to keep coming up with more.”

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by Brandon Gutman
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Brandon is an expert connector and seasoned business development professional. As Principal of Brand Approved, he's led the advisory to become the bridge between brand marketers and best of breed service providers that are reshaping the industry.

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