Classified ads were quick to move online, with Craigslist, online job boards and real estate sites blossoming in the Internet's first decade.
But then a certain amount of stagnation kicked in: While the format itself was quick to go digital, programmatic advertising hasn't significantly tapped into this local market.
Enter Densou Trading Desk, a Copenhagen, Denmark-based independent trading desk launched in 2014. The company, founded by Anders Elley and Jacob Knobel, focused its efforts on programmatic classifieds in December after working with a real estate client.
"Every real estate agent has their own budget to advertise for any given house, so we gave them a platform where they would enter house ID number, and then it would generate a banner and an RTB campaign, with reporting and stats and optimization and banners," said Jacob Knobel, product director and co-founder of Densou.
Densou realized the power that the optimization could bring to advertising, especially something like classified ads, he said: "This was something that used to be very important for publishers, and it's one thing that the digital era hasn't been able to catch."
The product, called Densou Automation Engine, works by pulling information from the existing ad and creating a banner, or an ad creative that would normally have to be done manually. Then Densou builds a campaign automation platform that is able to sync into all major SSPs and publisher ad servers to deliver these new ads for classified listings.
Densou is integrated with AdTech, Smart AdServer and Google DFP, which Knobel said covers approximately 80% of Danish publisher ad servers. The remaining 20%, he added, can be covered through RTB.
The technology has promise for publishers like Berlingske Media, one of the oldest Danish media companies, having first published a newspaper in 1749. While the company has transitioned into digital over the years, classified advertising was a struggle, according to Allan Olesen, the digital business development manager for Berlingske Media. Berlingske and Densou don't have a business relationship, but Olesen is considering one.
"The customers are not that well-established in the digital world and some of the clients don't understand the digital world and especially don't understand the opportunities in the programmatic setup," he told AdExchanger. But with Densou Automation Engine, the company is providing publishers a way to automatically create banners for their classified ads, using the same feed they use to communicate classified ads to the printers.
Olesen added that he could see Densou's product helping their inbound department that handles classifieds, or even evolve into a self-service platform for the advertisers themselves.
"This product is the first time I've seen ... programmatic going in and perhaps strengthening the print product in this way," he said. "This automation tool could actually help us get ahold of the long tail, the small budgets."
One of Densou's clients is Ofir, one of the largest job listing sites in Denmark. The company hadn't worked with Densou in the past, but was intrigued by the technology.
"In the past, we had a manual way one of doing it: working with one media partner after another and setting up each solution," Rasmus Jensen, director of ad sales and partner sales at Ofir, told AdExchanger. "Densou works with more than 1,000 Danish media, so this new product was a very quick way to get in touch with a lot of job seekers instead of the old-fashioned way."
Jensen explained that only 10-15% of Danish people are actively job searching at any given time, but around 30-40% are passive job seekers: They aren't visiting job sites, but they may be interested if the right job was put in front of them. Ofir is able to use Densou's product to get its job ads in front of these passive job seekers. Many of Ofir's customers are interested in this type of advertising for their openings.
"It's a bit too soon to say exactly what they got out of it and the number of new job seekers, but we can see that those job ads are more visited, so overall more people will submit an application," he said.
The programmatic classified product accounts for 5% of Densou's revenue, Knobel said, but it hopes to grow that to 40% by expanding throughout Europe and into the United States and China. Knobel, Elley and their team plan to travel to 14 countries and meet with 30 publishers this month alone. The company has 13 employees, including the two co-founders.
"Local advertising spend is around $100 billion in Europe alone, but only 10% of that is digital," he explained. "There's a mismatch because media consumption by consumers today is [heavily] digital, so we're able to solve this problem with technology."