An application programming interface – or API – is what allows different databases, software programs, and applications to communicate with each other effectively.
They allow sites like Kayak.com to aggregate travel deals from around the web, Yelp to populate a map sourced from Google, and your favorite food brands to pull Pinterest recipes onto their website. Each is built to render and communicate specific types of information between two or more different systems.
In the process of ad creation and ad serving, an API takes a call from an ad server, translates the request for whatever ad content is available in a data warehouse, and then expresses it back within the parameters needed to render the ad experience properly.
How the API is built will determine what types of content and creative can be displayed, how quickly it renders, how stable features behave, and much more. The more complex the ad experience, the more robust the API must be.
In the Q+A below, Cofactor’s resident expert and Director Product Management, Shama Patel, shared some more technical specifics to help marketers understand what capabilities they should look for when attempting to meet those demands.
How can a marketer explain what an API in just 2 or 3 sentences?
Shama Patel: An API is a common capability for different systems and different programs to talk to each other. Or in even simpler terms, it’s a delivery mechanism for content.
A brand or whomever they are working with requests a particular piece of information via an API call. The relevant content is then returned and expressed through the outlet it’s being called to.
What type of marketing content or information should any “good” API allow a brand to express in an ad unit or on a site experience?
SP: So you just articulated a misunderstanding many marketers have about how an API functions, and that’s an important thing for us to address here.
A “good” API is one that is not dependent on type of content. In fact, by definition, an API should allow you to access any type of content.
When building an API for your brand’s marketing content, your engineers will want to make sure it can handle the various types of content you have at your disposal – particularly nowadays when there is such a huge variety of marketing content consumers want to see in ads. There are different parameters for images than videos, for example, that need to be accounted for, so when an API is called those content types can be expressed properly and quickly.
What then makes an API truly versatile and able to express a variety of content types? Or express content featured through a variety of channels like mobile or desktop?
SP: An API that is truly flexible offers various parameters and calls to access content behind it. It should be simple to use for whoever provides the content as well as the partner making the API call. That is an ad server or publisher, but also a website or mobile app.
The channel challenge is also something the engineers need to account for. And if you’re talking about mobile, you really have to make sure it can provide faster response times, that it’s scalable in a way to handle a large amounts of calls – particularly during a busy shopping times like Black Friday weekend – and has features that reduce the number of “round trips” or repeat calls from the requester.
Security is a huge concern for brands nowadays not just in terms of online purchasing, but when you look at the data used to deliver more personalized ad experiences. Does a good API have specific security standards marketers should know about to prevent their content from being improperly accessed?
SP: An API should always be secure to restrict unauthorized access to the content.
That is the responsibility of all partners involved in serving up an ad – from the brand providing the customer data to whoever does their targeting to who tracks their consumers’ interactions.
Usually, a unique key that is time bound is required to access an API, and typically that access remains available until a timed expiration disallows it. The key can also restrict what content – type, for which area, etc. – can be accessed.
How do robust API capabilities help brands do more with their content rather than having to tackling the challenge of building their own?
SP: Well, I can speak to what I know best, which is Cofactor’s API.
It’s a seasoned API that is capable of handling one billion calls per month. That is a huge number, even for the busiest times of year. Pair that with our highly experienced operations team in optimizing the actual ad content provided by our clients, we really offer a full-content activation platform.
The API is a key part of that because it’s partner agnostic – meaning we can take the optimized content and work with whoever our clients want to.
A partnered approach allows brands to focus on the creation of their content, identifying who they want to message rather than tackling what content they might be able to express in an ad. I think when a brand stops worrying about the “how” they can focus on the more important questions like the “where” and “who” and “with what” when they’re putting together an ad campaign.
It’s also just far more cost-effective for a brand to focus on producing that good campaign content with strong messaging that consumers connect to rather than trying to build all the tools needed to share it with them properly.