The future of advertising is automatic

In our world, data is king. The more we know about the DNA of our audience the more powerful we are and the more effective our communications can be. With this in mind, my recent trip to Silicon Valley with the STW Group was massively stimulating, but also a little worrying.

Whilst the technology companies I visited were very welcoming, with lots of smiles and American hospitality and keen to work in partnership with us, there was an underlying and unspoken belief that, in the not too distant future, they would do what we are currently doing, better and with fewer people.

Call me paranoid but the likes of Google, Yahoo, Marketo, Facebook, Twitter, TubeMogul, LinkedIn and many others are not only delivering creativity to their clients, they are also automating the process through programmatic media buying and marketing automation. This is enabling more precise targeting and greater cost efficiencies through the use of algorithms that do the thinking on behalf of us mere mortals. For those not in the know, programmatic is the use of software technology to buy and sell digital ad impressions and make data driven decisions with limited human intervention.

Programmatic isn’t a completely new concept, and it isn’t just isolated to the digital world, it’s now a reality across a number of different media channels from outdoor to cinema. There’s also a company in Silicon Valley offering programmatic copy writing, albeit with limited success so far.

According to TubeMogul, from constant optimisation over a long period of time, brands are achieving an average of 87% lower cost per viewable impression with programmatic always on, for their digital display advertising. Companies with an always on strategy are typically doing six times better than those with a campaign based strategy. Now TubeMogul is a little biased in this area, but their stats make sense. Marketing has long been seen as an expense centre but now it’s a profit centre. By switching off their marketing at any time, businesses are losing money.

What all the organisations I visited have in common is the role of data in their business, it has become their lifeblood. Without it they are nothing, with it they are holding all the cards. Their data is more precise than it’s ever been, it’s real-time and increasingly proprietary. Their analytics has moved from manual to machine led, so predictive is becoming the new normal. This was especially true of Google.

But, and this is a BIG but. Until machines have real intelligence they can never replace the human capacity for emotion and ultimately creativity. Advertising isn’t a complete science, yet. Maybe sometime in the future it will be, but for this to happen artificial intelligence needs to be given a heart and be taught to learn more quickly.

Right now there’s a need for clever people to drive the strategy, make the decisions and come up with the big ideas. Phew… I was worried for a moment there.