Machine Learning Taking Over

Juniper Research announced this week that machine learning algorithms, which are employed in programmatic advertising to enable more efficient bids in RTB networks, are expected to generate around $42 billion in annual advertising revenue by 2021, up from around $3.5 billion this year.

“Machine learning promises to transform this segment of the digital advertising market, in that algorithms are able to predict the success outcome of an impression, and thus adjust bid amounts dynamically,” according to Juniper, which is based in the U.K. “For example, the fact that the end-user has recently been delivered a similar advert may impact their likelihood of clicking on another. Meanwhile, other behavioral and contextual attributes are used to predict how successful an impression may be — on an individual level.”

Yeah, and all this has the ring of inevitability about it. Which leads me to raise the plight of an endangered species, the media planner, the media director and a whole culture. A recent ClickZ piece had the same idea, “Media Planners Are an Endangered Species, But Don’t Save Them!” We aren’t trying to save them either, but a little compassion is not unwarranted.

Personal history is necessary here. In 1987, I joined an advertising trade, and in 1989 helped found another one, Inside Media, which was geared towards media planners and media directors, figuring they were the ones who made the buy decisions. We ran ads that showed Inside Media arriving at ad agencies, with planners looking delighted. A highlight was when we ran a front-page piece by a friend, Amy Steinberg, about her travails trying to be a planner at an L.A. agency — especially tough because she wasn't good at math. Media planners of the ’90s were expected to be able to crunch numbers, getting to that GRP goal.

There was a huge and fascinating culture around media planners and media directors then. Print mavens like Roberta Garfinkle at McCann were all-powerful. If Roberta said a magazine was in trouble, it was in trouble, immediately. I used to savor calls to her, because she relished her power and had a lot of fun doing her job.

The ’90s Manhattan media scene was replete with big media sucking up to planners. Right out of college, planners making $12,000 a year were taken out to lunch at the Four Seasons, 21 and Lutèce by MTV, Vogue, Comedy Central, Vanity Fair, you name it. Rarely in history have young people paid so little held such power. And editors of media trades got the same invites. I gained 30 pounds in this period. Julian at the Four Seasons knew my name.

Clearly, all this is rapidly going away. The era of the flamboyant publisher, for example, exemplified by Condé Nast characters like Ron Galotti and Steve Florio, is just about ended. Florio died, Galotti retired to a farm in Vermont, and nobody has that kind of testosterone-fueled braggadocio today. At Time Inc., eager to lose all print connotations, the title “publisher” has been banished. And it’s not about personalities now, but efficiency. Machines are more efficient. Didn’t we learn that watching “The Terminator”?

But a great culture is being lost. Or, perhaps it wasn’t a great culture. Perhaps it was all about schmoozing and three-hour lunches, not efficient ad placement. I live in Florida now, and haven’t dined at 21 or the Four Seasons in a couple decades. But I still think about that culture, and what fun it was. Let’s all pause a moment to lament the loss of a really great business and the poorly compensated planners who made it fun.

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