Is too much programatic becoming problematic?
First of all, I will be fully transparent – I have a vested interest in seeing more advertising clients buy direct. That said, I truly believe that the pendulum has swung too far towards using technology to make buying decisions.
If I seem a little old school in thinking that direct relationships between the marketer and the publisher matter, it’s because I started my career selling advertising before ad technology was even a thing. I actually knew my clients. I knew their marketing objectives. And the clients knew that we were working together to reach common goals by understanding the brand and achieving the best positioning. The client also knew who was responsible for the success of the media buy and what redress could be had if something went wrong. When something goes wrong now, it’s hard to know where to turn – DSP, SSP, ad exchange, publisher, agency?
Accountability matters. So do results. I am the co-founder of a premium ad network (The Ripe Network) that consists of six digital publishers who create amazing content around environmental awareness, green living and animal welfare. Their content and their audience is unique, and that comes with a price. Unfortunately, the idea of paying for quality now seems to be rare. I don’t go into a five-star restaurant and expect to get food truck prices, but that is exactly what has happened in the ad industry. As prices get more competitive, many publishers are responding by cramming more ads on to a page and using more intrusive ads to get attention. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has clicked on what I thought was a piece of content only to find that I’d clicked on an ad and been redirected. Bait and switch, anyone? Clicking on an ad unintentionally is irritating and not good for anyone — least of all the marketer. But that’s exactly what happens when the primary focus is on price rather than quality.
The last issue, and perhaps the most important, concerns brand safety. Content does matter when people are making buying decisions. If I’m trying to sell groceries, I don’t want to show up next to a news article describing a gruesome murder. However, if I am reading about healthy food choices, it would be exactly the right time to be offered some options as to where I can buy organic food. Companies spend millions of dollars to define and differentiate their messaging. And yet they rely on technology alone to get their message in front of the right audience without any control over where their ad is placed. The integrity of their brand is at stake, and that’s no small thing. If ever you want a case study on the power of consumer outrage over inappropriate ad placement, check out what Sleeping Giants has been able to do about advertisers who unknowingly support Breitbart.com.
Don’t get me wrong – ad technology has increased our advertising options and pushed boundaries in a lot of ways, and that is a really good thing. I’m not suggesting that marketers shouldn’t use it as a part of their overall plan. I’m simply asserting that common sense and strategy has to be a part of the equation for overall success.