The rise of programmatic advertising has been one of the great success stories of the last decade in global media. The automation of online platforms offered to simplify and standardise processes and in doing so afforded hard pressed media teams more time to offer their clients better insights and leverage the burgeoning data signals to drive more sophisticated media strategies at scale.
However, some media agency groups simply saw this as an opportunity to take in house high margins from the ad networks and worse still others mainly saw it as an opportunity to drive down prices. Never was Oscar Wilde’s definition of a cynic more relevant -suddenly the media industry was guilty of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.
It has needed the captains of our industry such as Marc Pritchard at P&G to wipe the scales from blinded media eyes. Programmatic buying had been masking major brand safety issues placing layers of intermediation between advertiser and user in a way that obfuscated everything other than the most basic of measurement metrics. Measurement and results were everything and context, content and value had slowly diminished.
This environment had inadvertently encouraged less savoury actors to hide behind the many layers of the new ecosystem and offering fraud packages as clicks and impressions. In our drive for results our industry had literally lost the connection to the fundamental needs of our clients. Even advertisers themselves shared some responsibility through ever more oppressive demands on their agencies which had contributed to driving the price low and the quality lower.
Clearly the industry is now ripe for change. The key is that programmatic still has lots to offer and we must all take this opportunity to re-shape our industry and win back long-term advertiser trust.
My business is focused around using signals of user intent based on search behaviour. These are real users with a real time need that the right advertiser can fulfill. We know who they are and what they want and now we have developed the ability to target them in real time. AI enables us to map their search activity and to better predict what else they might be interested in and what they are most likely to respond to. Through these capabilities we are starting to reap the benefits of the network approach to media and all the associated data but in the context of knowing exactly where any given ad has appeared. Think of it as precision targeting at scale.
This has meant that there is now a re-emergence of the need for some of the planning skills that were crucial elements of media only a decade ago. A user’s unique profile is important for targeting but even more important is making sure that advertising appears in the right context at the right time and in doing so also wins the trust of the user.
The changes in the marketplace offer quality publishers the opportunity to reestablish the value of their content. Newsworks and the Association for Online Publishing (AOP) recently partnered with Neuro-Insight to investigate the effect of context on brain responses to identical ads. The results showed that context and environment have a significant impact on how ads are processed and acted upon. This comes as no surprise to those of us who are old enough to remember when advertising in traditional media was sold pretty much only based on context. The ‘medium and the message’ was the mantra in those days and if these traditional media values can be applied with modern targeting in trusted environments then it’s not too late to reap the benefits.
By utilising the benefits of targeting programmatically but not forgetting the lessons learned from traditional media. By showing respect to users. By offering greater data transparency and insight. By not being preoccupied with price alone. This is the way our industry can start to take advantage of the opportunities programmatic has to offer so that we can capture the opportunity of using data and analytics to drive precision targeting at scale.