Can Machines Manage Brand Engagement?
Just about everything these days involves some degree of computer-based automation. My coffee machine starts brewing while I am still snoozing. The subway that I ride glides into my stop as a robotic voice announces the station. Even as I compose this on my flight back from the Consumer Electronics Show I realize that we are largely on autopilot, connected to a central computer system that dictates our takeoff, flight path, speed, altitude and landing. And of course, media and advertising are becoming increasingly driven by computer algorithms, statistical optimization, and data-driven marketing equations.
In many ways, this technological infusion offers benefits to both buyers and sellers. Speed, efficiency and cost savings can make a big impact on a marketer’s bottom line. And while it is estimated that 30% of all online ads are now bought “programmatically” through automated marketplaces, some predict that the number could go as high as 90% in the coming years. Plug in your target audience, your performance metrics, and your budget and press “go.” But the reality is that programmatic advertising will always be limited to the inventory that is "programmable" -- the standard placements with the standard dimensions on the standard sites.
It is understandable that this media is becoming commoditized. But marketers want more, and expect more in this ever fragmented ecosystem such as customized marketing programs that integrate brands in unique ways throughout a site. Native advertising is a good example that incorporates special content from marketers and delivers something new and valuable to consumers. Interactive media and gaming experiences can also deliver brand messages in engaging ways. No two of these out-of-the-box media solutions ever look the same.
And what about the issue of “scale”? Some proponents of programmatic advertising criticize native advertising for its inability to reach huge swaths of audience cheaply. To that I reply that scale is not the goal -- impact is the goal. Efficiency should be measured by cost-per-point-of-impact, not by tonnage -- and less overall reach can actually be more efficient if the marketing is intimate and engaging. And relevant, contextual marketing is the stuff that is read, watched, and shared. And if certain elements of more "native’" approaches start to become programmatic, they will cease to be "custom" and will therefore lose a degree of value to both consumers and marketers.
So while sometimes it feels like the advertising world is headed for a future connected by a Matrix and filled with Terminator machines, human creativity still plays a vital role in creating emotional connections between brands and consumers. And at least we program the machines. For now.