What’s wrong with Programmatic advertising ? (PA)

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.

 

 

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