Marketers warned against placing too much trust in algorithms

An over-reliance on data in programmatic advertising is leading marketers astray, brands were warned during a cross-industry panel of senior media owners.

Media360 panel (l-r): David Weeks, executive director of The Week; Dave King; Hamish Nicklin; Davina Barker; Kelly Williams
Media360 panel (l-r): David Weeks, executive director of The Week; Dave King; Hamish Nicklin; Davina Barker; Kelly Williams

Kelly Williams, managing director of commercial at ITV, told the Media360 conference in Brighton yesterday that he struggled to understand why marketers would "hand over the welfare of their brand to an algorithm".

He said: "I see marketing directors cherish these brands and create amazing ads, picking the right creative agency and director to make this ad. But the bit I struggle with is, after they spend millions of pounds on that, is why they hand over the welfare of that brand to an algorithm.

"I think The Times [investigation into brand safety] talked about the extreme end of it but it illustrates the importance of context for brands."

For ITV, Williams said, programmatic and data is about "doing it on our terms" and said the UK’s biggest broadcaster is working on the addressable future of TV over the next four years. 

Even before The Times investigation in February, which revealed brands had unwittingly funded extremist groups, transparency in online advertising has been high on the agenda this year following an intervention by Procter & Gamble chief marketing officer Marc Pritchard.

Hamish Nicklin, chief revenue officer at Guardian Media Group, argued the algorithm itself needed to be improved to give advertisers a better choice over programmatic buying decisions by including engagement and context factors. 

He added: "All sorts of different signals exist today, which will give you a view as to whether something is safe or premium or high-quality environment…. At the moment these metrics aren’t finding their way into the algorithm. The minute they find their way in, the minute people can make a choice over whether to buy it in the same way that they have a choice over viewability."

For Davina Barker, sales director at Digital Cinema Media, media agencies are being asked by clients for better measurement of context and engagement in online advertising.

"Anyone can get reach these days but it doesn’t mean it’s the right reach. It doesn’t mean that it gets you engagement or the right context," Barker said.

"I think from the conversations that we’ve been having, that’s where [media agencies] are allocating a lot of their focus because they get that their clients want to measure the context and the engagement, rather than just generic number and I’m sure they will crack it."

The topic of the panel was "How are media owners transforming in a digital era?" and Barker gave an example of how DCM, the UK’s dominant cinema advertising sales house, got "carried away" with change that proved to be counter-productive.

She explained: "We started looking at apps, new websites, second screening… and it all became a bit of a mess. We got out our messaging a bit confused in the market. We constantly talk about the strength of cinema as uninterruptible for audiences and then we develop an app to take them away from the screen. It screwed us over a bit. We went back to what do really well and keeps us relevant in the media market rather than what everyone else is doing."

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).