Programmatic Automation Will Create Jobs, Just Like Spreadsheets Did

Nearly every advertising conference features some talk on how the programmatic robots are coming for agency jobs. Simply put, the rise of programmatic allowed traditional media planning and buying processes reliant on spreadsheets and faxes to be completed efficiently and automatically via web interfaces.

But before every media seller and creative bashes in their computer, it may be instructive to look at another technology—the electronic spreadsheet—and its own history of creating jobs, not eliminating them.

Before widespread computer adoption, accountants had physical spreadsheets where they would prepare, check and balance accounts, in order to provide a full financial picture of a business. It’s easy to forget, but bookkeeping was literally done with books. Making even a tiny change was a huge problem. You would have to revisit all your previous work and start re-calculating.



So when the first electronic spreadsheet program for PCs, VisiCalc, came out in 1979, people in accounting trembled. The software could do in mere seconds what it used to take an accounting department a whole day to do. If your job were to do calculations, you would understandably be concerned by this development.

But instead of destroying accounting jobs, the opposite happened. Between 1979 and 1989, accounting and bookkeeping was among the top 20 fastest growing industries in the United States, rising from 299,000 jobs to 520,400 jobs ten years later1. The number of jobs for accountants increased because automation enabled the accountants to do more and do it at a lower cost.

 Thanks to VisiCalc, and over time, other spreadsheet programs, people could now immediately find answers to pressing questions about their business with the tap of the keyboard. What if we increased marketing spend? What if we can’t sell the excess inventory?

When costs go down, demand goes up, and getting financial answers was now cheap and fast. To be an accountant meant you were no longer just keeping the books, but thinking more creatively about the business and testing assumptions.

Media buyers and sellers are the accountants and bookkeepers of today. They no longer just adjust spreadsheets, but now think about how to be creative with the media strategy. They increasingly use programmatic to test audience segments and targeting parameters to figure out the best way to reach their ideal consumer. 

More media than ever can be transacted thanks to automation, which means there could actually be a net increase in the media business.

Creatives have the opportunity to embrace programmatic as well. Rather than having to manually adjust every single ad unit across the multitude of formats and sizes, creative can use automation to refactor changes across their ads.  Every time media adjusts its programmatic strategy, creative can now adjust their work through automation.

Like media agencies, creative agencies will see even more demand for their services to produce more ad units and versions as their costs and time to produce them decreases.

Far from being a jobs killer, programmatic automation has proven to be a jobs machine. It’s time the advertising industry embraces it.  

1. Plunkert, Lois. The 1980's: a decade of job growth and industry shifts. Washington, DC: Monthly Labor Review, 1990.

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