Everyone is hot for it – so what could possibly go wrong?

A few things: My prediction- by the end of the year the trade press will be talking about a backlash against programmatic? Here’s why:-

People intuit that they are just “target audiences” (and let’s not pretend otherwise)

PA something that is done to people that masquerades as being in the interest of the ” the user”. It is a tool for targeting in a way that is most cost effective for brand owners. Yet, In the selling of PA,  many warm, comforting words are used (that Orwell would have taken pleasure in exposing as doublespeak) to give the impression that PA for some sort of greater good- so it is billed as an opportunity to “connect” in a way that is “personalised”.

A fine example of this is a document that has just plonked on my desk (with a  black  and gold, people-free cover) from Epiphany. It offers a fine explanation of the techniques and technology behind  PA – but it is unable to disguise it lack of humanity. People do crop up-but only as types that are ripe to be targeted.

Take this paragraph:

“With the right third party tracking tools, it is possible to connect a user to different devices. This allows for improved sequential retargeting ( as they move done the funnel, for example) and stops the same user from being served the same ad  multiple times across device”

So in a nutshell I am going to be stalked by an advertiser who will try out different sales messages on me whether I like it or not. And lots of advertisers are going to be at this game because all the smart guys have been switched on to programmatic. So I am going to be stalked by lots of advertisers.

There are two elephants in the room

In this seductive story of  brand efficiency  and media value something is missing.

People.

Who can fight back.

Especially the Digital Natives who know a thing of two about protecting their privacy ( think Snapchat) and keeping out unwanted intruders ( think adblocking – and the rise of it among the young). Strangely this  response to PA does not make it into Ephiphany’s “all wil be best in the best of all possible worlds ” version of Programmatic

The other elephant is this: once all the smart guys are using programmatic the early mover advantages and the dramatic stories of improved value will be less evident.

Some historical perspective is needed to see where this might go

PA is being oversold (as database marketing was before)

PA is the latest development in data driven targeting that started with Amex in the 70s. It was oversold then. It is being oversold now. Many of the warm words used to sell PA are the same as those used to promote “CRM ” in conferences I attended in the 80s.

Out in the real world the bubble of hype bursts when you received a ” personalised” letter with your surname misspelt or you reach a milestone birthday only for an algorythm to decide that some life insurance is timely for you ( or even a funeral plan) and to track you across the internet in the manner of a slightly dumb but insistent salesman who just wont leave you alone.

PA does not inspire great creative

Programmatic buying doesn’t “connect” with creative department in agencies. Why? For fundamental reasons: PA sees people as data points to be traded in real time based on cost. If people are seen mainly as data points that send off signals as to their practical needs ( insurance, a new car, a holiday) – then the creative developed will mainly be “response type”.

Great creative (and especially great database marketing ) depends on empathy with people as living breathing human beings. The DoubleClick team (which sold programmatic during my time at Google) engaged account planners ( like me) to bridge this gap. I am not sure they got anywhere. There was a woeful lack of case histories proving that programmatic leads to the kind of creative work that lights up emotions and make people  feel positive about that brand that brought it to them. An occasional example of creative would be held up  – but it was the rare exception that proved the rule.

Programmatic Advertising is being sold today as a silver bullet (or at the very least as way for marketers to deliver a more results oriented story in the boardroom.)

In truth it is the latest development in a long story about the pursuit of marketing efficiency using data and technology

And I predict that its failure to embrace the feelings of people (buyers/users/consumers/human beings) and the ambitions of those who want to do great creative work will bring a cooling of the current ardour.

 

 

London is full of free art shows. The artist rooms at The Tate dedicated to Louise Bourgeois are a great way to spent a free hour. You can also see where the likes of Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin got their ideas from. Her work is visceral, and sensual – unmistakably the work of a troubled and highly creative woman. About being a mother and a daughter.  And she had many more ideas than Emin and Lucas in her long life

 

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Occasionally you go to a show that gets you to see the world differently: Paul Nash’s show at the Tate is one such. Landscapes, from his perspective, have distinct auras, – as though they contain spirits and evoke a supernatural world. His first paintings were dreamlike night scenes. And through out his life he was able to bring out the spirit of a place (or of inanimate “found” objects) in his work.

His pictures are once real- and of real places- but also mystical as though tapping into a ancient spirit invested in the place

This is why his ww1 landscapes are so powerful. They picture not just devastated landscapes but a brutalised and damaged spirits, as though the earth itself was wounded.

I think too his was a universal insight- we all have places that are imbued with special meaning

I shall be going back for a second viewing images-2.jpgimages-1.jpgimages.jpgimgres-1.jpg

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(Book review published in Market Leader: September 2016)

Here are a few hours in the life of a modern everyman

I picked up my IPhone and Googled the location of my coffee meeting. Then I summoned an Uber and, on the way, planned my holiday on Airbnb. At our meeting we checked out a YouTube film and reviewed a Microsoft document. At the end of the meal I paid with my Visa card.

Matchmaking describes every brand mentioned above. Matchmakers (AKA multisided platforms) have integrated their way into every part of our lives. They connect members of one group (like people seeking a cab) with members of another (like taxi drivers looking for custom). Microsoft Windows connects app developers and end users. Visa connects merchants and customers. And so on.

It is not a new idea.

Women in ancient China connected potential brides and grooms, prefiguring the glut of online dating services today.  Bourses in the 18th century connected buyers and sellers of stocks and shares, just as E-bay today connects people with spare stuff with those who value it. The advent of the internet (along with faster processing speeds and high speed broadband on the move) that have turbocharged them, not least because matchmaker start-ups attract the big venture capitalists. Many of the high growth start-ups in the world are “Multi sided platforms” including Alibaba, Lending Club, Pinterest, Spotify and Tencent. The excitement about the sharing economy (and “unicorns”) is really the story of the march of the matchmakers.

A new book anatomises matchmakers– the circumstances in which they succeed and the new skills and capabilities needed to build and sustain a successful one. It’s packed with wisdom that you would not necessarily learn at business school. That’s why Matchmakers by David S Evan and Richard Schmalensee is a necessary read for anyone who wants to understand the future of the digital economy. Here are six pieces of wisdom and understanding I took away

  • Look for significant transaction costs that keep buyers and sellers apart and you have spotted the gap for a multisided platform. If it is time consuming or expensive or risky to find what you are looking for (house/holiday accommodation/partner in life/London Cab) then that is the space in which it a matchmaker can thrive.
  • Matchmakers are difficult to launch successfully because they have a chicken and egg problem. They need a critical mass on both sides of the platform to create value. It is not just about volume. The clue is in the original meaning of the word matchmaker. Amex’s launch succeeded because it connected enough successful people with the kinds of merchants that they like to use (High end shops, restaurant, airlines, hotels). When YouTube launched they needed “uploads” and “eyeballs” in sufficient volumes to become self- sustaining. Getting a platform to ignite into self-sustaining growth is the central challenge in the early years. YouTube’s founders had to work hard at encouraging people to upload and introduced design elements that made it easy to do. Platforms that fail to cross the critical mass frontier will fizzle out or run out of cash (See below)
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  • Both sides of the platform must have their interests looked after- getting the pricing right can be critical from the start. Often one side of platform does not pay at all as their presence in sufficient numbers is key to success. Searchers on Google do not pay just as women often do not have to pay to get into a nightclub.
  • Matchmakers end up as rule makers and have to worry about how users interact with each other. Uber drivers can rate their rides and vice versa. Airbnb have a very attentive customer service system to resolve disputes-for example when a renter has trashed the place. They have to be prepared to exclude bad eggs for the greater trust in the platform.
  • Matchmakers do not just launch tech platforms; they launch brands- a truly successful model for brand building that is not initially advertising led. Service experience and active communication to all sides are critical to building trust. Although investment in advertising is the servant of both growth and maintaining scale. EBay, Google and Airbnb all now use the classic advertising media.
  • Matchmakers thrive in a larger ecosystem. For example, Airbnb “sits on top of” Apples IOS operating system, which is also a matchmaker in the same way that Microsoft is. More broadly they sit within frameworks of regulation and other institutions such as trades unions and trade associations. Matchmakers disrupt (and thus come up against vested interests and opposition) which requires first class public relations.

“A multisided platform is one of the toughest business models to get right” say the authors.

It is surely, too, one of the most rewarding (if the venture capital they attract is a measure). Matchmakers is a 200-page handbook in how to do it.

The photographers gallery continues to be great value-For £3-00 you can see two great shows

  1. Make you look: Dandyism and black masculinity 

Joyful,liberating and gloriously subversive. People inventing and projecting their own style.Often if you have got less materially then you often end up wearing your wealth and projecting your own style.  Your art is your life- something that Oscar Wilde also understood. It is also by the way true of going out in Newcastle (rather than  London)- people dress up to the nines for a night out. Some of my favourite images

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2) Terence Donovan – speed of light 

TD described what he did as “organised visual lying”. He was a great image maker. The people who sat for him enjoyed his company and relaxed. This shines through in many of the iconic image he created.

It is a nostalgic show – it reminded me of the 80s ad’ scene when consumerism boomed. TD got rich by providing images for both the ads and editorial during the golden age of glossy magazines-those vehicles of aspiration and desire- many of them no longer with us. Like Man about town- that became Town and then  disappeared IMG_7704.JPGan a