Programmatic's Problems With Brands Are Simple - Let's Stop Pretending They're Not

Programmatic is huge news. It's here to stay and we'd best get used to it. That's not even up for debate at executives meet in London to discuss the industry this week. However, I'm never too sure how to react when I read another top marketer or advertiser making a distinction between marketing people and media people, typically pointing out that neither can quite see each other's view. Give it a bit of time and everything will settle down and all will be fine -- that's a general line that we hear. For some reason, this line has been repeated several times in the past week or two.

It's just laughable, to me, that the industry can think a better understanding between creatives, planners and buyers and the people in the client side will suddenly iron out any difficulties they may have as they get used to the way each other works.

The problem with programmatic is very simple. Advertisers aren't entirely sure they can trust it. It's worse that they think they could be getting ripped off -- not just by rogue Web sites but also by their own agencies.

You really don't need to be a planner or buyer or ad exec of any kind to realise that if people buy something, they want to know they got it and how much they paid for it. They don't just want to know the end price -- they want to know how much markup there was on their media and which companies in the middle, with their fab tools, were also paid. In short, advertisers want an itemised bill -- and they're generally not getting it.

Even more simply, they want to know what they've paid for was actually visible to humans. Estimates vary, but generally tend to suggest around half of all display isn't viewable because it typically appears below the fold. An article this week in Real-Time Daily suggested that in some instances, it was way north of a half.

In a cost-per-click world that wouldn't be too bad because the client wouldn't have paid. However, for modern advertisers, display is no longer about engagement -- I mean, who actually ever clicks on an ad, other than a robot? It's all about branding and awareness and if you're paying for that, the very least you can expect is that your advert has the possibility of being viewed.

So let's have a really firm reality check here. Programmatic is a fabulous opportunity to buy targeted audiences in real-time -- it really is. However, non-itemised billing and display not being viewable and open to rampant click fraud are not very good things at all.

If you want the system to work better, this really isn't about saying how each other's jobs work out and who does what to bring an advert to a human eye. It is an incredibly simple case of being open, honest and transparent with clients and doing all one can to ensure their adverts are seen by real people. It's also about ensuring they -- and not rivals -- have access to their data, but that's another can of worms for another day.

If you want to know why some big brands are going their own way, or at least insisting they have a private trading desk within an agency, you need not look any further.

3 comments about "Programmatic's Problems With Brands Are Simple - Let's Stop Pretending They're Not".
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  1. James Nail from Forrester Research, November 20, 2014 at 11:34 a.m.

    For those of us old enough to remember a pre-Internet advertising world, "opportunity to see" is the baseline and certainly nothing new. Digital has resisted this so far, thinking log file data is more valuable. Glad to see them waking up and realizing there is more to advertising than pushing bits into the ether and calling it an impression.

  2. Sean Hargrave from Sean Hargrave, November 20, 2014 at 1:05 p.m.

    Yes James. Now display has become a branding/awareness tool and click throughs are incredibly rare, it makes it all the more important that ads are actually viewable so they can be seen. Under a CPC model you wouldn't have minded, but to pay for inventory that can't even be seen has to be a stretch too far for the agency-brand relationship. I've had some crazy chats with some agency people who point out you would never know if a print ad was seen. To which I always reply, you could at least buy the paper and see that it was there to be seen....

  3. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, November 20, 2014 at 4:48 p.m.

    The programmatic folks seem to do everything they can to (a) sell their services with over promise and obscuring reality... Then they (b) tell you to trust their black box of magic delivery. Except in TV, they then give BS impression data (data that simply isn't available) and tell you to just agree with them. Truth? I don't think there's much value there right now. They've taken a concept from the web and tried to apply it to TV. And that makes it easy to sell but impossible to this point in time. And I personally believe it will be a bust in the long run, too. But that's just a hunch.

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