Programmatic is Soylent Green

Chuck Heston is appalled

For anyone not familiar with the complete works of Charlton Heston, Soylent Green is a foodstuff in a world racked by pollution, starvation, environmental disaster and depleted resources, supposedly in an imaginary future (or 1 year after President Trump)…only you might want to look at its ingredients closely…In a 15 mins talk at Google Firestarters I tried to explain why I think Programmatic is currently like Soylent Green but in future it can be force for good.

Alphabetti Spaghetti with a side order of pesticide

Even for an industry that loves and lives on acronyms Programmatic can seem like an impenetrable language. The name itself can be off putting. I’ve seen people (strategists, clients and creative) recoil from its utterance as if it threatens to do something terrible to their soul or creative idea.

On face value the potential to buy media at a price that represents its true value and potential to influence a specific individual would seem a leap forward and Programmatic is now an established part of the media mix and yet there is still is confusion about what it is.

I recently watched a thread on LinkedIn where people were debating “What is Programmatic?”. After much back and forth they eventually decided “It’s basically buying on a DSP”.

When an answer is an acronym and its expanded form needs explaining you realise that there is trouble brewing.

A typical plumbing diagram explaining a typical buy

So many Programmatic presentations, articles and discussions resort to “plumbing diagrams”, boxes and arrows and chains of all the actions that can be accomplished in a split second as an impression is auctioned and served. While accurate and impressive these things can actually hinder understanding by being overwhelming or placing knowledge into the box marked “too complex”.

A (lack of) transparency waterfall…

In addition to this confusion we need to add stories of fraud, multiple cookies & JS taking page weights over a meg and stopping pages rendering on mobile devices, adblocking wars, the in-house v. managed services debate and the untransparent complexity of the tech stack syphoning away money so publishers get 40p in the £ if they are lucky…clients need help navigating the landscape and technology. And help to breathe.

Programmatic needs to be made simple and more human.

Like the Soylent Green of Chuck Heston’s nightmares Programmatic could be seen as a heavily tech influenced product where people are uncertain what goes into it (some don’t really want to know).

But really Programmatic is media’s name for personalisation.

Programmatic is People.

And it is their Stories.

It is a new way to build utility and narrative into brand building.

Programmatic is People

Creating tailored story arcs for the individual means effectiveness through data inspiration.

In 2015 the deterministic targeting of Facebook could take an average CTR from 0.06% to 1.5% and while direct response KPIs are not the only measure of success, the DigitasLBi campaign for eBay called Shop and Awe using narrowly missed auction items shows that data-fuelled, hyper-targeted creative personalised with 1st Party data to be relevant and contextual can have a significant impact on brand and business metrics.

Blending 1st and 3rd Party data for personalised messaging and journeys

It is possible to achieve targeted mass reach but the goal should be to use data to determine a customer’s Job to be done — not force them into an artifical profile, persona or demographic segment – and deliver against it.

Happy harmony?

If we are going to be successful and not risk killing the goose that lays the golden egg we need to stop thinking of Programmatic as a media thing or even a performance marketing thing. We have to Blend Media AND Creative AND Technology. The fragmentation between companies, silos and diciplines is one of the reasons why 70% of assets used in Programmatic are not DCO! The future needs re-integration. But re-integration in an evolved form that of the 1980s.

Working together means we can change the creative standard and approach.

I’ve been lucky enough to sit on a few Programmatic roundtables and panels and in advance of this talk I asked around a few industry colleagues for examples of great programmatic or DCO creativity. What came up time and again were same examples….

The usual suspects

From the 100,000 videos of Axe’ Romeo Reboot, or the 2007-Flash-site-esque “see your name in the ad” Share a Coke digital extension, or Diesel Decoded’s tailored copy or Amanda Foundation’s Digital Pawprint matching of pets and people, the same examples came up time and again.

We need to think beyond Ads and messaging. Instead of looking internally as an industry we should look to utility and entertainment.

You had me at Cake.

Perhaps we should look instead to the BBC’s R&D unit and their Perceptive media project that has been evolving since 2012.

One of their latest project is called Cook-Along Kitchen Experience (CAKE).

CAKE customises recipes based on your familiarity with ingredients and methods, your tastes or dietary preferences, and how many people you’re inviting round for dinner. The experience reacts ‘in the moment’ to your progress, allowing you to create new dishes at your own pace. Novices can level-up and experts can cut to the chase, supported by an evolving dialogue between audience and presenter.

Perceptive media is programmatic media.

Perceptive/Programmatic media shows we need to think beyond ads.

Because nobody, no matter what the IAB says, has ever, ever, ever said…“Please show me more relevant advertising”.

Cats on the tube

This isn’t to say that relevant messaging does not improve recall, response or conversion on advertising. Empirically it does.

But modern advertising itself is not “as popular” as nostalgic memory says it once was. People dislike advertising so much they are willing to fund Kickstarter campaigns to replace the ads on the tube with cats.

As the campaign put it:

“We want agencies and brands to be mindful of the power they wield and to use it to encourage positive values in society. Things like empathy and tolerance, community and togetherness deserve to be at the heart of our culture.”

In this utility and positive values context, Programmatic’s real implications cut across more layers of brands and business than performance marketing or media usually touch.

The “slippage” Layers of Brands and Business activity and problems after Brand and the Clock of the Long Now

Programmatic touches upon the fast and the slow even though we currently focus on the very fast (0.01sec) and CPCs and CPAs.

Really effective engagements already look more like management consultancy that media planning and buying. Operationalised and embedded Programmatic culture will mean helping to design business platforms, with core services moving slowly while faster layers enable experimentation and learning through prototyping. Not just the Head of Media or CMOs must be involved. CTOs, Data Science & lawyers must all play a role.

Media is just a small part — data needs to flow through from AdTech to landing pages and CRM systems across device and platform and back again.

It is about creating the best in the world end to end experience.

But to do this the Data must flow.

[Insert Dune Joke Here]

Yet 80% of data is currently collected but not used. This “Dark Data” predicted to increase to 93% by 2020. We are seeing a flattening out, not only of business and organisation culture’s ability to cope, but also human ability and capacity.

The answer is to use AI and automation to erode the dark data mass.

As William Gibson said the “Future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed”. Programmatic is already the first widespread adoption of AI in business.

The human strategist’s role in this becomes knowing what the brand is about and what you should use and feature not just what you can do.

It is becomes about the judgments AI can’t make, yet. Programmatic strategy in the interim becomes more creative and ethical, working with and alongside technology — even offering freedom from spreadsheets and reporting.

The evolution of Programmatic eras

If you work in media, if you work in technology you work in ethics.

The future of advertising — and the way past the adblock — is helping people.

It is creating Living Systems: technology in the service of humanity.

It is harnessing Machine Intelligence and human creativity to create Sustainable Customer Value(s).

A model for brand and business value beyond the short termism of MSV

Programmatic is already part of this potential world with Samsung R&D’s use of Programmatic algorithms to fightback against network incursions only the first part of a positive feedback relationship.

Future is programmatic, the future is people, it’s what we do with it that matters.

Whatever we do we need to make it count.

Or Programmatic is just so much Soylent Green.

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