Opinion: Programmatic snake oil? Shake this man by the hand

Everyone who bumps in to Nick Keenan from Maxus Melbourne should shake his hand. After reading his opinion piece on overselling media technology, we have found someone with a refreshing take on a much-hyped topic.

A quick search of the digital advertising and marketing trade titles reveals a plethora of articles arguing whether agency or independent trading desks are the best choice; whose ‘big data’ and inventories deliver the smartest results, and whether company A or company B has the latest ‘bells and whistles’ technology.

What Keenan has done is to strip away the glossy layers, the consummate pitches and the slick PowerPoint presentations, and bring the issue back down to the crucial element – the foundation technology that promises to deliver results. Delivering incremental value to agencies is key in a world where agencies run their own trading desks and, increasingly, have  data management platforms (DMPs). This is not easy and takes years of development by companies with data scientists and engineers dedicated to building advertising technology. It can also take millions of dollars of investment.

Just as important is the ability of any company that hopes to work with agencies to demonstrate how they can help them achieve specific business objectives. Black boxes are out and transparency is key. Incremental performance improvements are always welcome, but strategic analysis and unique insights are essential.

There is another point though; can great technology alone fulfil the needs of advertising buyers?

The answer is yes and no.

Industry experience shows that many independent trading desks use the same DSP technology as agency trading desks – they are just ‘white labelled’ with their own name, so don’t be fooled into thinking you’re partnering with a ‘unique’ proposition. Likewise, the data sets and inventories offered by independents can be similar or with negligible variations, so don’t make this a deal breaker either.

What makes the difference is almost archaic in the 21st century, where programmatic digital advertising is the norm. A trading desk is only as good as its human support network. Whether that’s the analysts who are adept at forecasting trends and user behaviour; the engineers who develop the right software, the traders who are skilled at optimisation and bidding strategies or the statisticians who interpret the results.

Crucial in the programmatic digital advertising sector are switched-on traders who can realise that some programmed ads might not be suitable due to last-minute circumstances. For instance, ads lined up to promote Collingwood Magpies football shirts might not be best served when they have just lost to Melbourne Demons during the traditional Queen’s Birthday match. Or they might be able to pull the creative just after the celebrity endorser has just been arrested!

Similarly, the human touch can deftly identify the quality over quantity aspect of serving creative. A purely programmatic approach may recognise the fact that there are very few people online at 6am in the morning, and may withhold delivery. The ROI would be poor, right? However, clever-traders will analyse data and realise that the few people who are browsing are very receptive to adverts about coffee or toothpaste, and will serve creative accordingly, often buying at a lower price point too.

The digital fraternity seem to be caught up in the whole ‘who is best?’ argument when they should be concerned with ‘what is best for my company and this campaign’? A holistic approach is needed – one that takes into account the technology in place; the data available; the inventory on offer; the impartiality of the organisation; the company’s approach to transparency and the calibre of staff pulling all these facets together.

Yes, technology is often the answer to digital advertising challenges but equally, no single technology is ever 100% the answer. It is a matter of identifying technology that brings something new and complements what you already have in place – and having trust in the humans that run it.

This article appeared on AdNews.

By Tara Crosby, Managing Director, Crimtan Australia.