The Rise Of The Machines

One of the things I do to amuse myself when the weekend weather isn’t cooperative is to play video games.  I’m almost done playing the Mass Effect trilogy, which I highly recommend.  The games’ story revolves around a galactic war between biotics (humans and other species) and synthetics – machines, basically.

I flashed back to the game as a dozen articles about programmatic media buying came through my news feeds.  I don’t think it’s a shock to any of you to read that media buying has been transitioning from the personal, relationship-based business in which I grew up to programmatic.  People don’t talk to one another in today’s media buying and selling business: machines do. The days (and nights) of long lunches, emailed proposals, phone calls on Friday afternoons to sell out the weekend, and the entire one-to-one negotiating process have become mostly a memory.

I get it.  Programmatic is far less labor-intensive and a lot more efficient than the way I learned to sell media.  Efficiency, however, isn’t the total story and as the machines take over quite a few other things get lost.  The biggest one in my mind is transparency.  In many cases, the current media buying platforms primarily provide breakdowns of networks, and total schedule dayparts, and only after the campaign is complete do you see what has transpired and individual spot affidavits are shared.  Clients (the people who pay the bills, after all) are spending big chunks of their budgets on a plethora of middlemen, each of whom extracts their little pound of flesh for touching the buy.  It’s common for a third or more of the buy’s budget going to pay for services rather than media.

The biggest issue I have, frankly, is the loss of context.  Buying has shifted to buying audience delivery from buying based on content.  The machines buy and sell cookies, basically.  Those cookies might enable the buyers and sellers to learn quite a bit of information who is on the other end but they don’t add context.  Does that matter?  Indeed it does.

“While it certainly offers the opportunity to reach audiences more efficiently, our research shows that advertisers can’t ignore the strength of the publisher’s brand as a fundamental part of the ad experience and overall effectiveness of the campaign.”  That’s a quote from chief marketing officer and chief client officer at Millward Brown Digital as he reported on a study they had done.

According to Millward, as the “Brand Score” went up, so did the fit of advertisements, the consumers’ enjoyment of the ads, the trust consumers placed in the ads and the usefulness of the ads. Millward based its ratings on behavioral and attitudinal data collected about the consumers that visited the 44 sites during February 2014.

It’s not just about getting the right message to the right people at the right time.  It also involves the right place (read site/program).  I think that takes a human touch.  While beer ads make sense to a young male, those ads on a page containing “beer” and “drinking” keywords might also be a report of a car wreck due to drunk driving.

The human touch in media buying alerted us to when an episode might have subject matter that’s wrong for our ad. Buying audiences without regard for the show they’re watching or site they’re reading is allowing the machines to win at the expense of our marketing.  As the guys who spent the weekend battling them, I say no.  You?


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