At the Programmatic Insider Summit last month, Bret Leece, local chief analytics officer at Initiative, noted that programmatic is changing the nature of relationships between buyers and sellers, because once the programmatic technologies kick into gear, “it gets objective really fast.” Leece contended that programmatic tech has flipped the ratio as it relates to reliance on human gut versus machine processing.
But Real-Time Daily spoke with Ben Maitland, EVP of sales and marketing at MultiView, who believes the programmatic process needs more human creativity, not less.
Real-Time Daily: You think there’s a “need for human creativity throughout the programmatic process.” First things first: What’s the “programmatic process,” and what do you define as “human creativity”?
Ben Maitland: Programmatic refers to a broad set of online marketing technologies and methodologies, all of which require a manual process to configure. It's the scope of that process which is contested. Marketers often confuse ‘programmatic’ for ‘automatic’ and underestimate the process required to make it sing - planning, market segmentation, data acquisition, creative design and deployment, media buying, analysis and optimization.
When you break down the elements that drive success in programmatic, it's not just the platform - in fact, it's primarily the people. Marketers must demonstrate creativity in building engaging content and in segmenting audience data. In a new medium, people often underestimate the messaging. As the technology matures that will change.
RTD:So do you think human creativity is currently lacking throughout that process?
Maitland: It is. In business, we often associate automation with efficiency, and saving time and money – the opposite of the creative process. However, automation should be used to improve the product and create better engagement.
In the case of programmatic, that means believing that programmatic is built for marketers to achieve great things – not to replace their creative function as marketers.
RTD: Where have you seen this lack of human creativity, and why do you think it’s bad? Any specific examples?
Maitland: I watched a high level discussion on the topic of whether programmatic would replace the creative process. In this context they were talking about creative ad units, but it's important to understand that all human outputs in the process should be creative and strategic. I would have forgotten about this, if it wasn't echoed so often in our industry that big data has solved for the inefficiencies of yesteryear. For some reason, Don Draper ends up being in the title of many of these articles.
It's not that the dream of automating the creative process is bad in theory, it's just that it's impossible. Imagine if someone told you that because of Spotify, a programmatic music platform, artists are going to cease to exist; that the algorithms will take over. It would sound absurd - and it wouldn't be possible. That should be the same understanding with the programmatic distribution of marketing content and the intuition, artistry and analysis required to make it work.
RTD: What are some examples of what you’ve seen marketers do, or what do you think they should do? Any specific examples?
Maitland: Think of your favorite marketing campaign from any decade. The one that seemed to be speaking directly to you. That campaign, whatever it is, represents the best of what programmatic could be, because good advertising is targeted storytelling in any medium.
However, history has shown that for content to thrive in a given medium, it must make full use of utilizing the technologies afforded by said medium in order to creatively connect with its audience.
In programmatic, that would mean rich media, dynamic or personalized content with a focus on engagement and interaction- a more evolved version of the banner ad and even the television commercial. Creating marketing concepts that interact at a high level is a creative process - there's no automating that. But such nuanced design is paramount to achieving the most out of the medium.
This has been a challenge in every medium from print to radio to TV and beyond. For example, in the early days of film, many assumed that the simple filming of a play would disrupt the traditional theater. And so, it seemed logical that a camera positioned as an audience member with a wide angle view of the stage was the optimal amount of capture to deliver game changing innovation and replicate the experience of being there. It failed. What a boring way to watch something! It wasn't until the creative use of multiple cameras and camera angles, zooms and other attributes afforded by the technology that the filming of plays turned into the movies we enjoy today.
Programmatic is still that one camera positioned at the back of the theater. It's time to make better use of the technology by being more creative.
RTD: How creative can humans really get with algorithms? Isn’t the whole point of algorithms to processes and make sense of more data, faster, than humans could? Couldn’t a human trying to get “creative” with that process risk the benefits of using algorithms?
Maitland: Algorithms complement the analysis of people. As Peter Thiel said in his latest book Zero to One, computers complement people instead of substituting for them because they are fundamentally good at different things. Algorithms should help programmatic process data and make quantitative decisions - this is "machine learning's" core competency.
But that is quite different from the competencies of marketers who thrive on creative strategy and intuition. Nobody is suggesting creativity is a replacement to the algorithm. It's a complement to it, greater when leveraging to capacity and iterative nature of programmatic marketing.
RTD: Bret Leece, global chief analytics officer at Initiative, recently said at a conference that programmatic technologies make decision making very objective. Do you agree with that? Isn’t objective decision making a good thing?
Maitland: I interpret this as similar to saying your car's navigation system makes your decision on where to eat dinner objective. Programmatic is struggling in part because marketers are trading their learnings and strategic value for the pursuit of objective data. That undersells their own value of marketers.
Like any good tool, programmatic should assist the professional and augment their capabilities. Steve Jobs said computers are a bicycle for the mind. I think you could argue that programmatic is a bicycle for the marketer.
RTD: Leece also said that the adoption of programmatic technologies has flipped the ratio as it relates to reliance on human gut versus machine processing. Do you agree with that?
Maitland: If by "gut" we mean uneducated guessing as a strategy, then yes I agree. In fact, I agree, 100% it has indeed flipped the game.
But that's exactly why it's broken.
Any disruptive technology pushes the incumbent upmarket. For marketers (the incumbent), that should enable them to pursue higher level activities as they leverage the capabilities of programmatic. They should look to do things they've never been capable of before rather than being satisfied that a machine can now perform some of the tedious functions they used to spend their time on.