What’s the Matter with Programmatic Advertising?

A look at how machine learning and artificial intelligence can be game-changers.

Agencies around the globe rely heavily on programmatic advertising. Modern life, with its fast-paced and overly disposable sequence of news and trends, makes it difficult for a single human being – or even a big team of media planners – to clearly understand where the market is going, what are people talking about, and, in general, to keep up with the buzz: thus the importance of an algorithm that keeps track of every throw-away topic, and gives exact indications on how to target the right consumer with the right content.

Programmatic understands consumers

Seeking engagement is crucial: it is known that consumers nowadays want the companies to speak directly to them, in a one-to-one fashion. Above-the-line touchpoints – such as tv, radio or press – are slowly becoming less relevant: a good communication strategy has to make consumers feel important – not just a tiny, insignificant, part of the world. Internet and social media allow the companies to develop long-term relations with the customers – they just need to know what to talk about.
Enter programmatic advertising. At its core, it is just a software that uses data to analyze and segment the market: it collects users’ information scattered across the web, and then targets the most vulnerable consumer within the most convenient time frame.
The whole process might sound a bit immoral; some would say it spies consumers. At the same time, the argument can be turned upside down: programmatic advertising provides a service. It is just supply-and-demand.The downside is that programmatic only buys ad spaces. It does not automatically create any kind of content.

What are humans for?

A few years ago, Axe – a company which was otherwise known as the banner of the purest masculinity – began to subvert its core message. Media strategists found out that the most searched strings about masculinity on Google sounded like: “Is it okay for a guy to cry?”, or, “Is it okay for a guy to wear pink clothes?”. Axe’s role needed a shift: the company began exposing “the pressure guys feel to ‘be a man’ and empower them to be whoever they damn well want”. Needless to say, the campaign was a huge hit.
A software would never discover such an insight. Not yet, at least. We need artificial intelligence not only to buy the most profitable ad spaces, but to scan the web looking for insights. It is unlikely that a software will totally substitute human creativity, sure; but it might help to customize the ads.

The opportunity

Different messages would then be delivered to different customers. I’m not unaware that this may result in inconsistent, if not totally schizophrenic, brand images. Companies cannot deliver opposite messages; but they can fine-tune them.
Artificial intelligence, paired with procedurally generated copies and based on deep learning of human syntax and wording, could create custom messages. Is this a threat for media agencies? No. It’s more of an opportunity: it would make the work of planners easier. And, of course, would set the ground for a true understanding of customers’ needs.
You can be a part of this. And you will. Or you could just stop going online and continue witnessing the sheer flatness of a billboard advertising some brand new air conditioning device you will never, ever, buy.

Contributor

Marketing student at Bocconi University.

About Dario Russo

Contributor Marketing student at Bocconi University.

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