The dawn of this decade pretty much marked the beginning of the programmatic era of digital advertising and marketing, and the promise of smaller staffs and easy money was all the rage. At its apex, publishers and agencies were told that the placement of a few tags was all that prevented them from making money while they slept. Call it the dawn of the machines.
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We all know now that the “easy RTB” chapter didn’t last long. But like a weekend bender, it left the place a mess, with fraud piled up over in that corner, viewability issues spilled all over the carpet and marketers walking in and disapprovingly shaking their heads. But this post is not about denying the onward march of programmatic automation; that would be silly. No, I’m instead questioning one of its central principles: that the rise of programmatic means the exit of people. I don’t believe it has and don’t think it ultimately will. Let’s call this the Peoplematic age.
In today’s Peoplematic age, programmatic spending is most certainly on the rise. Very large pluralities of total digital spend are being booked programmatically, and by all accounts there’s even more to come. Yet at the same time, we are realizing that buy it programmatically isn’t the end of the sentence, it’s just the first phrase. The easy RTB chapter came crashing down because marketers demanded sophisticated data plays and access to quality content environments. This ushered in private exchanges, private marketplaces, programmatic direct and a host of other more sophisticated strategies. And those strategies in turn demanded talented people to construct,oversee and execute them.
The idea of a centralized trading desk with a tiny handful of people and a fancy logo is now anachronistic. Equally out of date is the publisher with one “programmatic guy” who jumps in as soon as somebody says the word. In the Peoplematic age, programmatic trading is something that every agency and planning team must do, and programmatic sales is something every relevant seller must engage in. Then there are the specialists — experts in data, programmatic process ninjas and more – who will continue to appear and propagate.
I think we’ll be in the Peoplematic age for a long time because of the inescapable fact that the system just runs better with talented people overseeing it. Managed service may sound awful to a venture capitalist or investment banker, but it’s how the lion’s share of successful programmatic campaigns and programs end up happening.