Is Adland's Programmatic Knowledge Gap Due To Bright Things Leaving For Google?

Wanna buy a car? It's got ESC, DSG and AWD. No, sorry, I've no idea what that means -- but everyone agrees it's pretty good. Wanna buy it?

Curious though it may sound, that's kind of akin to adland's attitude to programmatic. Figures for last year suggest that just over half and just under half of display was bought programmatically in the U.S. and UK, respectively, last year. Yet adland still seems to have a problem understanding exactly what is it, grateful undoubtedly, that it appears to be selling itself.

Last week a study quoting Magna Global figures came up with some pretty troubling findings, which suggest that while advertisers sometimes struggle with what programmatic is, so too do media executives. Nearly three in four ad execs agreed that a knowledge of programmatic is important, although some 44% admitted to only having a little or no knowledge of what it is and how it works. Among advertisers, who are signing off the agency bills for programmatic campaigns, a staggering 63% admitted they have little or no knowledge and it was the same for nearly half of all publishers.

Surely if something accounts for half of display, it must be a piece of technology that people understand? Yet the results were mirrored again this week with a report from Warc and AppNexus that showed the same results -- presumably from the same source -- that nearly half of ad executives don't get programmatic.

Interestingly, the later research and discussion at Ad Week in New York was accompanied with a suggestion as to why. And it's probably right on the money. Programmatic is viewed as a piece of technology that sits inside a server and as such, is a black box nobody other than the tech geeks ever lifts a lid on. It's a good explanation -- but it's not an excuse. Ask any good car salesman what the terms in the ad or the brochure means and they usually have a pretty good idea. They might not be able to build it or fully convey every mechanical component, but they still understand what they're referring to and how it works. In fact, the terms in the intro paragraph -- in case you were wondering -- simply mean that car is likely stay on the road and offer a dual clutch that makes shifting gears simpler, because it can guess what the next gear is going to be and all the wheels can receive power from the engine when required.

Here's another explanation for the issue I was given the other day from a very high-ranking ad executive at a holding company with a very well-known trading desk. Again, it looks to be right on the money. Media buying and planning has become a little dull with all the tech, he admitted -- meaning it was all about spread sheets and results and less of a people business nowadays. That's meant that a lot of the bright young things have popped over to the likes of Google or Facebook, effectively running away from an industry that was fun but has now become a little like working in an accountant's office.

It was a remarkably frank confession, which he used to explain why so few people understand the technology. It's because those who would get it have now left the building -- leaving it to the number-crunchers to stick their heads down and make sense of some figures without truly questioning what's going on inside the servers with the flickering lights.

Again, it's a very good explanation -- and in fact, both excuses offered are very believable as to why the industry has a problem. The issue is, that needs to be addressed and fast. How are you going to carry on selling something you don't fully understand when the early momentum behind it dies down and people want reassuring it's bringing the benefits they hoped it would?

Time to lift the hood on the black box and get curious?

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