Now that model, or rather that assumption, is under review. Brands are being wooed by agencies and tech vendors alike with the latest programmatic technology. It looks great and promises a lot. Customer types can be highly targeted through sophisticated use of data that just keeps getting better and better as lessons from campaigns are fed into the server. It's advertising in real-time with real-time results.
Trouble is, brands are wondering two things. Is this a case of The Emperor's Clothes, should I be the first to point out some inconvenient truths? Alternatively, they're wondering if I like the tech so much, what do I need you for? Like the proud astronaut who is surprised to find himself seated next to a monkey pushing buttons and flicking dials in the cockpit. He's been told his orders await him in an envelope which, upon opening, has a very simple message -- "Feed the monkey."
The transparency issue is massive. Advertisers no longer truly know where their inventory is coming from, they don't know how many middlemen they are paying, they're unsure whether humans or robots are seeing the adverts and they have no idea what the mark-up on their media spend is.
The other day someone confided in me that one auditor at a major brand suggested up to half of their media spend could be going into agency fees and payments to middlemen. When you then consider that many estimates suggest half of display advertising is either unviewable or only clicked upon by a robot, it is very easy to see why advertisers are highly concerned. Do they really need to spend GBP100 to get just GBP25 worth of inventory that is seen by a human?
Then there are multiple issues around data -- whose is it, how do I get it, who's learning from it, are my rivals benefiting?
If there are so many problems, despite the huge potential, many advertisers could be forgiven for thinking they could just take it all in-house and some companies are adopting this approach. It's tricky, littered with stumbling blocks and time-consuming -- but ultimately, they feel, the tech will buy the space and they will get the data without the need to pay someone else to pay their middlemen for them.
It's what will make Tuesday's RTB London event so interesting. I have the pleasure of presenting the event and I'm really looking forward to the lively debates around branding, mobile RTB, transparency, fraud and attribution.
It will be a lively day and one where the "whither the agency" question will be top of everyone's minds.
We still have some tickets available and even a free offer of tickets to qualifying brands and their agencies.
In fact, if you are a qualifying brand or agency, you can see if you can pick up a free ticket by emailing jronga@mediapost.
If audience targeting is more your bag, then we have a full-day event on Monday on developments in identifying, targeting and serving advertising to highly defined audiences -- details are here.