Programmatic advertising and real-time ad buying are facing a similar backlash. Publishers see data-driven approaches to digital marketing as attempts to replace humans with machines. Marketers, particularly on the creative end, say these approaches force out creative content in the name of efficiency.
Because of these fears, we’re seeing a rush of comments denouncing the benefits of programmatic, saying things like it’s “killing the creative” and it “can’t be trusted,” and calling programmatic marketers “the bad guys.” These concerns are based more on sensationalistic theory than substantiated fact.
Let’s address these issues individually.
What about the claim that programmatic is replacing humans with machines? On the surface, that certainly seems to be the case, since programmatic does use algorithms to buy and place online ads. However, the goal is not to take humans out of the equation, but to make the process itself more efficient and ensure individuals can focus on higher value work. That doesn’t mean humans are gone, it just means that their role in the process is changing. Algorithms still need to be managed, data still needs to be studied, and markets still need to be evaluated. Humans may not be buying or placing the ads directly, but they are still the cornerstone of the process.
This leads into the next criticism, which is that programmatic is killing the creative aspect of advertising. The main argument isn’t about the ad buying/placing process, it’s about the actual content that digital ads contain, and it brings up a valid concern. In the race toward greater efficiency, an advertiser can be tempted to sacrifice investing in creative to access more data, preferring to get a bare-bones banner ad in front of the right people quickly instead of taking time to craft a quality message that will resonate.
Prioritizing efficiency over quality, however, makes a rather big mistake. While it’s best to get ads in front of potential customers as quickly and efficiently as possibly, those prospects aren’t going to waste their time on ads that don’t pique their interest. Customers today also prefer a more personalized ad experience. To get the most from digital advertising today, you need to show customers you view them as human beings, not just data, and to do that effectively, you need creatives.
That’s not to say, however, that creative content is more important than efficiency. People don’t want advertorials or ads that “take them on a journey” when they’re browsing Facebook or reading a BuzzFeed article. The age of "Mad Men" is over.
Instead, we need to establish the right balance between creative and data. Figuring out how to make a message engaging within set parameters has always been one of the fun parts of working in the creative end of advertising. A clever call to action, a funny hook, a witty catchphrase: these things aren’t being phased out by programmatic, they’re being given a chance to shine at a whole new level that’s faster than ever before.
When any industry moves forward, changes have to be made, and ad tech is no different. Positions might shift and job descriptions might change, but programmatic isn’t going to replace humans with machines or kill the creative side of advertising. What it’s going to do is reposition the online advertising industry to make it more efficient and effective.