Robots are taking our jobs, or at least they're about to
A view from Sue Unerman

Robots are taking our jobs, or at least they're about to

Programmatic is due to sweep across the industry and some jobs are becoming automated.

Well OK... but who's going to take the robots to lunch?

Margins aren’t getting any fatter in advertising. Saving time and resource is one reasonable prediction for top bosses’ priorities in 2017. In the age of automation what is the role of the buyer and the seller in media?

The erudite Nick Southgate gave his view on algorithms in an editorial recently, and was dismissive of their chances in the short term of taking the editor in chief’s chair, saying, "Editors choose content for human reasons. That’s why they are my editors and Amazon is only an algorithm".

We love to point out when the robots get it wrong in buying media too, although we don’t talk about all the times they get it right of course.

One friend is currently being served loads of ads for hotels because he recently searched for a hotel in Paris.

The ads are for hotels in London however (where he lives, so he doesn’t need a hotel). Except the ads are for hotels in London Ontario (where he has no intention of going as far as he knows (maybe the algorithm knows something he doesn’t).

In truth robots at the moment often don’t so much reduce human interaction, they redistribute effort.

Your bank can employ fewer people to serve in the branch for sure. But that’s because you’re doing more of the work processing paying bills and moving money around for them on your smartphone app.

The civil service can employ less people to process government transactions because you are doing the work of applying for a driving licence, or applying for power of attorney online at gov.uk instead thanks to the work of the Government Digital Service.

You’re happy to. It feels like you are more in control. And those institutions are saving time and headcount.  There are more jobs than ever in battling online fraud and ensuring security. It might net out at fewer jobs overall, but it isn’t just a saving of headcount.

In agencies the types of jobs are changing at the moment rather than decreasing, from people involved in manual media scheduling to people who run automated process instead.

We still need people to interpret and use data in different ways. They also need to be there to override wrong assumptions about behavioural algorithms such as where you’re likely to want a hotel.  And to interject when circumstances overtake normal machine learning – for the changing nature of Black Friday for instance.

So we’ve established that there are still people at media agencies to go to lunch. Will salesmen still exist to take them out?

When you meet a great salesperson you surely know it. They won’t oversell to you. They will mirror your body language (watch out for this it’s very persuasive).

They’ll convince you that you want to buy, and that you in fact wanted to all along. They’ll even leave you feeling that you got a great deal, and that after a 30 minute chat that you’ve got a new friend for life.

Most media sellers of heritage media remain unconvinced that they’d benefit from allowing all their inventory to be sold programmatically.  Media is most likely first to polarise. On the one hand brilliant data insight will pick out what is of value to brands with increased effectiveness. That’s going to help ROI for brands.

On the other hand there’s the premium content. The gold spot in the next blockbuster. The best of VoD.  The first right hand page in November’s Vogue. The full page newsbrand ad. The first ad in Victoria’s sequel, the Gogglebox new season first ad break, Fargo series 3 (can’t wait).

These slots will surely planned, bought and sold by hand for some time to come. So we won’t see the lunch crowd disappear either.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom.
@sueu