I have since written about this phenomenon many times here on MediaPost, predicting the death of the media buyer as we knew her/him within five years of that date in 2013.
My prediction was based on the fact that, when Wall Street switched to mostly algorithm-based trading, it shed about two-thirds of the humans who were the traditional traders. Instead, Wall Street started hiring like tech firms, recruiting large armies of programmers and software specialists who could shave of important seconds off each trade, delivering millions into the coffers of the brokers without having to spend any time on the trading floor.
Why am I mentioning this? Because last week a trade magazine reminded me of my prediction in the blog post and wondered why it seemingly has not come true yet. Several industry leaders were asked about the fate of today’s media planner. And after reading what these industry leaders are saying, I maintain my prediction that the traditional media planner is on her/his way out.
We learn that the traditional media buyer role is evolving into media data analysts in charge of monitoring and optimizing automated media buying schedules and plans (regardless of whether they are programmatic or not).
If Bud Light wants to attract young males, or Pampers needs new moms, and they don’t care so much where the GRPs are delivered as long as they are delivered within whatever the quality and quantity parameters are from AB-InBev or P&G, an algorithm can probably do the job faster and more precisely than a human media buyer. Just as Goldman Sachs can beat a human trader with one of its algorithms.
But then we learn one reason why it may not be in agencies’ interest to pursue the inevitable death of the media buyer: because many agencies are in the business of selling billable hours.
The money an agency charges for all the techies are captured in tech fees, which the World Federation of Advertisers places in the 40% to 60% range of all programmatic buys. On top of that, agencies charge for the hours of the media buyer who allegedly has been sitting behind her/his desk manning spreadsheets and negotiations to deliver and execute media buys.
That is a lucrative money-making formula! And agencies are reluctant to give up on anything that’s lucrative. They can only charge very little margin and overhead on an algorithm.
Still, the change is inevitable. Just like self-driving cars and trucks and drones, automation will prove to be faster, more accurate and agile at doing the job of a human.
So we have two more years to go on my prediction. Let’s sharpen it a little bit. By Sept. 16, 2018, traditional media buyers will not exactly have gone the way of the dodo. But in another two years their numbers will have dwindled to one-third of what they once represented, just like the traders who once occupied the stock exchange. Let’s check in again in 2018!