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What are the robots missing?

With automation taking over more of the advertising process, could we be forgetting something crucial?

l-r Tan, Binns, Clifford, Oldham, Bailey-Navalón, Chester, Bonori, Daglish, Bunting; Front row l-r Jouanneau, Hoad
l-r Tan, Binns, Clifford, Oldham, Bailey-Navalón, Chester, Bonori, Daglish, Bunting; Front row l-r Jouanneau, Hoad

Robots have a lot to answer for. From retargeted ads betraying surprise trips and kids’ choices messing up carefully curated Spotify profiles, to Siri’s inability to understand accents and dating sites’ failures to fi nd ‘the one’, the automated world is far from perfect.

These are just some of the personal tech glitches regaled by dinner guests invited by Campaign and Newsworks to discuss the challenges technology is posing media planning. Has the digitalisation of media planning been overplayed, Emily Tan, Campaign’s global technology editor, asked. The growth of programmatic means finding the audience for a brand can be outsourced to algorithms to an ever-greater extent.

In the UK, programmatic has seen double digit growth since 2012, and is worth almost £3 billion in terms of display, according to Sabrina Bailey-Navalón, marketing director at Xaxis. "It’s about three-quarters of display and predicted to rise to 90%," she says. "Eventually we won’t even call it programmatic, just as nobody says ‘www’."

For advertisers, it is a boon, says Tatiana Vivienne Jouanneau, chief marketing officer at Duracell Marketing International. In established markets such as Western Europe, around 40% of Duracell ads are placed automatically. "We suffer in those markets where the capability is not in place," she adds. "For an established brand like Duracell, we are able to use it to combine our broad stroke message with laser-targeted messaging."

Jouanneau is not happy about less accountable areas where ads turn up but acknowledges "it’s unavoidable" within an 80/20 rule.

But others question whether any other channel could get away with a fi fth of inventory being so woolly. Concerns over transparency drove the industry’s ad networks code, says Steve Chester, director of media at ISBA. Ads popping up on unsavoury websites has led to an unfl attering picture of the industry and forced many brands to reassess their attitude to programmatic, he admits. As the sector has become more complex, it has become harder to police. In a long supply chain, transparency remains an issue.

Creative humans
Automation is not going away, but in the age of powerful machine learning and artificial intelligence, it is clear that the human factor still has a role to play, not least in the upfront setting of goals and objectives.

Vittorio Bonori, global brand president at Zenith, and a data scientist by background, says that although it is a golden age for analysts, data deluge is a danger. "You need to understand things to control them. It’s not enough to have access to 300 variables."

Sinead Bunting, European director of consumer marketing at Monster, agrees and says clients have to take responsibility for their brands. "Programmatic is just another way of buying media. We still need to segment audiences and to do it properly, because you still need to have insight. We’re all on a learning curve."

Brands don’t want to simply rise with the prevailing tide, they want to see outstanding growth, says Henry Daglish, founder of Bountiful Cow. "Clients are doing their own programmatic in-house and agencies are about the human value at the top of the machine. Clients want growth beyond what the machine sitting underneath provides."

With Google and YouTube forcing all brands into the same wind tunnel, it can be a breakout piece of madcap brilliance that makes the difference, says Alison Hoad, chief strategy officer at BBH. "At BBH, we put creative tech people with strategists," she says. "Tech people can be brilliant, but they’re only interested in the tech. Ours report into strategists because that’s how you get the best applications."

It is unlikely that the programmatic cat can be shoved back in the bag, but there is a yearning for a rebalancing, as well as an appreciation of media planning craft.

Hoad says it’s probably no coincidence that the overall effectiveness of marcomms is in decline at the same time as there is a substantial shift in the way brands spend money. "Too many conversations revolve around reach, rather than resonance."

The biggest problem, notes Marie Oldham, chief strategy officer at VCCP Media, is "moving from ‘what’ to ‘why’, and it’s the why that is usually the most important question to answer. Programmatic doesn’t tell you that. Brands can find their audience, but without knowing why they are there, it doesn’t mean much."

And in the rush to automation, "we seem to have also forgotten the ‘where’," adds Vanessa Clifford, chief executive at Newsworks. "Fifty years ago, Marshall McLuhan was talking about how the medium massages the message. Yes, things have changed, but recent work we’ve done shows that the ‘where’ is more important than ever before in a world of myriad choice."

Chris Binns, joint chief strategy officer at MediaCom, warns that data optimises to the average, producing standard, risk averse work. "Programmatic needs to move up the value chain and out of executional areas because clients want stand-out growth," he says.

While the robots look like they are here to stay, Clifford says advertisers should not invest all their faith in programmatic. "At the end of the day, it is people that we are targeting – and they don’t always fit into convenient silos."

Around the table

Emily Tan, global technology editor, Campaign
Chris Binns, joint chief strategy officer, MediaCom
Vanessa Clifford, chief executive, Newsworks
Marie Oldham, chief strategy officer, VCCP Media
Sabrina Bailey-Navalón, marketing director, Xaxis
Steve Chester, director of media, ISBA
Vittorio Bonori, global brand president, Zenith
Henry Daglish, founder, Bountiful Cow
Sinead Bunting, European director of consumer marketing, Monster
Tatiana Vivienne Jouanneau, chief marketing officer, Duracell Marketing International
Alison Hoad, chief strategy officer, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

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