Humans Vs. Machines, Who's Winning?

It's not quite at the "I, Robot" level (yet), but the humans vs. machines debate is both popular and important. The three-martini lunch might exclusively belong in episodes of Mad Men nowadays, but where is all of the automation driving one-on-one relationships between publishers and advertisers?

Yesterday's Quote Of The Day touched on the subject of the human's role in advertising. It said, "'There’s always the art piece to it. There’s always the intuitive piece. I worry about the science becoming too much of a focus. The balance has gotten out of kilter.' -- WPP Chief Martin Sorrell responding to the Harvard Business Review's query: 'Is advertising all about the algorithm now?'"

It seems like whenever the question is asked, everyone in the industry is quick to proclaim that humans will always have a place; that their creativity is what ultimately drives a successful ad campaign. On the one hand, people cling to the notion that humans play the most important roles in the process. On the other hand, people are thrilled about the possibilities that come with programmatic buying and selling, and for good reason.

So, which is it? Are the human relationships that are being lost amidst a sea of algorithms replaceable? Andrew Casale, VP of strategy at Casale Media, doesn't think so. Earlier this week, Casale Media put "man before machine" by re-inking a deal with IgnitionOne in order to "maintain a more personal touch with publisher relationships."

Casale says that the automation process is beneficial on several fronts. "What's great now [is that] you can take a single campaign and span it just about everywhere, all from one central spot," he says. "[But] when you look at that in the context of the relationship between the buyer and seller, this models runs the risk of ruining that." 

Publishers are in tune with their audiences and buyers, and Casale says, "Buyers benefit from that dialogue. If we replace that with robots - buying purely based on data - that dialogue never surfaces."

Paul Alfieri, VP of marketing at Turn, says, "Humans and automated platforms are complimentary. Computers can quickly process huge volumes of data, find what’s most interesting and surface that for the marketer. This frees up people to do the things that computers can’t, allowing marketers to focus on creativity, strategy and developing plans of action.”

In the same vein, Keith Eadie, VP of marketing at TubeMogul, says, "Getting an ad to a captive target audience is only half the battle," noting that the automated buying of ads does not remove the human element of brand advertising. "That said, we wish there were more recognition that creative A/B testing via small, targeted media buys prior to a large branding campaign can be very powerful."

Both Alfieri and Eadie are confident that humans and algorithms will work together. That is true on a fundamental level, and always will be. But both Alfieri and Eadie fell back on an old belief (despite the newness of the technology): "Humans do creative. Computers do data."

Howver, Casale believes humans bring much more to the table in addition to their creativity. "Let the automation do what it does best," he says, which is analyzing data. However, the automation can't measure and analyze everything. Casale says, "[Buyers will say], 'We still want to speak to you. Tell us about yourself. Tell us why you belong in the mix.' And then we can alter what the machine might do." Another way to put it: humans can measure the intangibles and machines can't.

Casale says, "Everyone is running into change, which is terrifying." In the grand scheme, it's still early in the game, and the exact role of the algorithm is still being fleshed out. If automation is going to be the future method for buying and selling inventory, Casale says, "We are in the first inning. We are nowhere."

1 comment about "Humans Vs. Machines, Who's Winning?".
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  1. Chris Vinson from Vinson Advertising, March 1, 2013 at 7:09 p.m.

    I think we are OK until we let robots buy everything from other robots. How about an ad that reaches robot males 35+. lol

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