Is programmatic trading a creative exercise?

Can the value of programmatic trading only be unlocked when creative works alongside media, Maisie McCabe asks.

Among the appearances of comedians, Michelin-star chefs, former Page 3 girls and holding company chiefs at Advertising Week Europe, the organisers have managed to squeeze in a couple of sessions on data and programmatic trading.

It has been difficult to find an advertising or media conference that has ignored the subject in recent years. Lots of time and space have been devoted to discussing how technology is allowing brands and their agencies to buy ever-more precise audiences in real time. Yet creative agencies are paying little attention to this supposedly revolutionary development. Do they know something media agencies don’t?

In Campaign two weeks ago, Marco Bertozzi, the president, global clients, at VivaKi, said too much focus had been placed on the targeting of online ads at the expense of creative work. He believes ad agencies need to embrace and improve the potential of programmatic. If they do not, media agencies should start creating relevant, measurable and appropriately targeted ads.

Media agencies’ ability to create ads is a whole other debate, of course. But getting creative shops interested in programmatic trading is a difficult task. And that’s despite the Internet Advertising Bureau estimating that the market swelled to about half of all digital advertising spend last year. Moreover, three-quarters of marketers say they intend to increase their programmatic brand spend in the next six to 12 months, according to Infectious Media research.

Chrissy Totty, the head of innovation at Vizeum, says the doom-mongers predicting robots will rule the programmatic world have missed the point that unlocking the real benefit of programmatic requires great insights and great creative assets.

Of course, it could be that, as automated buying improves, the world is heading towards a point where human beings are no longer needed. Naturally, media and digital agency executives are quick to dismiss this. They insist that brands can only obtain the true value of programmatic buying if automation is combined with the insights and creativity that solely people can provide.