Hypebusters: Automation Won’t Make Advertising Better

Technology and advertising have collided. From ad exchanges and real-time bidding to demand-side platforms, automation technology is at the core of the industry’s innovation. But let’s make one thing clear: It won’t necessarily make advertising better.

Yes, technology can make things easier and more efficient. But can technology really understand what is best for a brand, pulling from years of experience and real-world knowledge to deliver results? Can it tell you that you’re creating an effective, content-rich, brand-safe experience for your audience? You may be buying more placements, more quickly, but are you buying the right placements?

It’s natural to want to increase efficiency to reduce friction and improve workflow. While automation is often the easy answer, all too often our industry relies heavily on technology while it’s still in its infancy. It’s commonplace for marketing to lead product and for startups to push their technology out prematurely so they can be the first to deliver that shiny new thing. This often results in missed expectations and, more importantly, improper execution.

I’ve witnessed countless new technologies come to market promising more, faster, better results, and I have been disappointed time and time again when our teams pick through a vendor’s product, peel back the onion and discover that what was promised is far different than reality.

At some point, the benefits that automation offers are countered by the potential negative impact on brands when running through an environment deemed appropriate by a machine.

So what is the answer to making digital advertising better? We simply cannot forget the benefits that working with real people provide, including the following:

Increased flexibility. A media planner or buyer can assess and make changes on the fly, based on experience-driven knowledge of what’s worked well for other brands in the past. They have the ability to hand-select sites to customize a campaign to a specific vertical, demographic or audience and give brands the ability to measure real results holistically, not just tracking individual metrics in a silo.

Better/Earlier Placements. Most publishers run through the best inventory first, catching the viewer’s eye early during their visit, when it has the greatest impact. Clients and vendors who have direct relationships with publishers get higher placements in the queue. Demand- and supply-side platforms and exchanges are often well down the ad server list, meaning if you rely solely on automation, your ad could run much later in the user session, producing lackluster results.

Performance Buying. Sure, price matters. But knowing how to build a custom network for your brand, working with publishers who can best reach your target audience? That’s priceless. A diversified portfolio of inventory across proven sites improves the odds that your campaign will be effective. A lots of the best inventory falls outside of exchanges and can only be accessed directly, so if you’re a buyer only focused on technology … what then?

More Effective Creative. Let’s not kid ourselves, no technology in the world can leverage an imaginative mind and sheer business knowhow to fine-tune a campaign’s creative. An ad-buying professional assesses creative and identifies ways to ensure its effectiveness, well before launch. Leaving the delivery of your creative to automation … isn’t that an oxymoron?

Custom, Branded Experiences. What does automation do for clients interested in lifting brand awareness? Not much, as far as I’ve seen. Applying years of experience, buyers and planners can work with experienced sellers to come up with creative solutions that just can’t be matched with any technology solution in the market.

There is no question, combining the best of technology helps to speed campaign execution and make media buyers’ jobs easier. But the fact is technology doesn’t come in shades of gray. It’s either black or white, and advertising is rarely that simple.

Dan Cassidy is vice president of performance for Undertone, a video and display advertising network.

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