The phrase “Programmatic Advertising” may sound futuristic today, but in coming years it will get increasingly familiar — before ultimately, becoming a tautological statement.

At our recent “Creating a Breakthrough” Growth Marketing Workshop, Accuen’s Don Valdez gave us an overview of programmatic ad tech and a peek into the future of advertising. The overall aim of this field, which combines human understanding of advertising structure and function with cutting-edge machine learning processes, is delivering “the right message to right people at right time in the right places”.

What Valdez describes is the holy grail of advertising. Looking at recent highly successful targeted ad campaigns, such as Columbia’s geotargeted winter jacket campaign, this is achieved by targeting only interested people who are in a position to make a purchasing decision then and there — not gambling on ads making enough impact to be remembered the next time a buying opportunity arises. This way of working, where conversion rates are pushed higher than what we could have thought possible, is set to become the new status quo.

Advertising Today, Programmatic Tomorrow

Media buying is a complex industry comprising the application of several skills and techniques, which up until recently acted as a gatekeeper to most available ad space. The rise of internet advertising democratized the process, making it straightforward to display ads to a demographic of interest. Programmatic advertising takes the guess-work out of isolating customers most likely to respond to ads for a particular product, bootstrapping the process with predictive analysis, then using data generated by the campaigns to improve the targeting as it goes along. It’s the self-improving aspect which represents the biggest advantage over human workers: this numerical grunt-work is exactly what computers are good at.

As the field evolves, we can expect more and more ad space to become biddable, making prominent ad spaces will be available to anyone, not just huge brands. Smaller businesses with limited advertising budget are already choosing to invest in programmatic strategies, realizing that as well as improved targeting, using self-improving targeting algorithms to sniff out receptive customers represent better return on investment over time.

Programming The Future

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Currently, targeted advertising can be hit-or-miss: current algorithms can end up showing customers ads which make it all too clear that their browsing patterns are being keenly eavesdropped for clues, making them more likely to install an ad-blocker than click through. But a look at targeted advertising done right shows that people don’t hate ads if they’re appropriate: right message, right people, right time, right place. Over time, a new advertising culture could develop, based on considerate marketers playing to a more receptive, non-defensive audience. Ads would feel more like helpful, tactful suggestions than brash demands for attention.

However, as with other fields becoming infiltrated by machine learning algorithms, the area of programmatic is moving so fast that it’s hard to predict exactly how things will pan out, in terms of which skills will become more important and how ad buying and selling will work on a practical level. As the IoT approaches, even advertisers become increasingly cognizant of the threat of technological unemployment: will programmatic increase efficiency to the point where humans are removed from the equation altogether? Regardless of long-term developments, it seems clear that in our immediate future, ad buying processes will have increasingly little to do with human grunt work and more to do with relationship building, networking, and higher level campaign strategy.

Valdez closed his talk with the statement “In five years, ninety per cent of digital media spend will be programmatic, so when we say programmatic advertising in five years, that’s going to be a redundant statement.” Considering the algorithms themselves are able to draw feedback from results of their real time bidding activity, and constantly self-upgrade with increasing efficiency, it’s a fair bet that Valdez’ prediction is on the money.

The age of programmatic advertising is here: keeping abreast of developments, and adapting your advertising strategy accordingly, will undoubtedly pay dividends in the new age of marketing.