Why Mobile Programmatic Needs to Combine Art with Science

This article was originally published on mobile advertising watch and can be found here.

The way some tell it, performance marketing is well on its way to a completely automated and algorithm driven state, with no room (or necessity) for humans at all. This doomsayer approach to the advertising professional’s role in the future may be a contributing factor in the slow growth of programmatic. After all, who wants to support the technology that may eventually put them out of a job?

However, there is an alternative and far more likely scenario: a near future in which scientific and artistic elements come into balance not across teams or entire companies, but within the advertising professionals themselves.

There are three key reasons why systems and algorithms will not entirely take over the advertising world replacing human labor. The first is increased automation in ad delivery, which is driving efficiencies that have largely negated human labor in ad tech. However, we can expect demand for differentiation and creativity in storytelling to grow. Companies are generating ads and content to appear across websites, social media networks, email and other channels and quite often, that messaging is not the same. As ad tech further enables precise, targeted ad delivery at scale, the need for human creativity to feed those messages will grow, as creating ads for a variety of audiences across multiple channels is more challenging and time consumin

Secondly, many have mischaracterized ads as a commodity, largely due to the fact that the mechanisms of RTB are quite similar to those of a stock exchange. Add to that the trend of finance personnel moving into ad tech and it’s easy to see how the waters were muddied. However, more are realizing now that we can’t compare finance markets with programmatic advertising, because despite the similarities between ad buys and stock trades (and how prices are set), each ad impression is unique. The context of the ad, time it’s seen, brand recognition, audience traits and more all play into one advertiser’s desire for that time slot over another’s. Ad tech has been confused with a commodity-type market, but savvy advertisers are moving beyond this misconception.

Finally, although we need machines to sort and parse and process the massive volume of data we have at our disposal, the interpretation of that data cannot be handed over to algorithms. The underlying reasoning driving decisions and feeding parameters to the machines must be human-driven, because machines simply don’t understand how people think; they can’t interpret the content of ads, or user reactions to them. The only entity that can create a valid link between the people the ads are made for and the machines that deliver the ads are other human beings.

These three compelling reasons the automation of ad tech will not progress beyond a certain level should give heart to advertising professionals struggling to understand their place in this rapidly changing space.

As media buying evolves, professionals must embrace and learn to master the technology driving efficiencies and effectiveness in advertising. The alternative is to risk obsolescence — not because machines are taking over, but because the industry requires skilled people to inform those machines and interpret results.

The entire labor-intensive process between creating the media plan and execution is being taken over by software, making it both scalable and more effective. That layer of people between planning and execution are being squeezed out of the equation entirely. Expect far fewer jobs in this segment in future, for the same reasons so many production line workers in factories found themselves shown to the door.

What this does in the advertising ecosystem, though, is it creates a need for skilled professionals to translate the output of ad tech into the best possible outcomes for clients.

Expect the iteration cycle to become progressively shorter, with mobile marketing at the very forefront of this trend. In mobile, where ads most often address immediate needs for on-the-go consumers (often with local intent), advertising professionals most in demand will be those skilled in accurately interpreting ad tech output and using it to inform optimizations in near real-time.

This programmatic mindset demands not data scientists or engineers, but advertising professionals with the following skills and traits:

  • High-level knowledge of the advertising ecosystem as a whole and how various components work together and interact with one another.
  • Deep understandings of user psychology and how/why people react in various ways to different ads.
  • Both media planning/execution and creative/storytelling skills, marrying science and art within one talented individual.
  • More mathematically driven and better able to interpret numbers, with an analytical mindset.
  • Savvy in two or three major areas, with a much broader set of knowledge.
  • Adaptable, willing to learn and comfortable in an interdisciplinary role.

Tomorrow’s successful advertising professionals should expect (and be prepared to offer) less art and more science. Those from non-traditional advertising backgrounds will take over this role; they may not be design school grads, but could be a product management or economics grad. The future is indeed bright for those able to master both their artistic and scientific sides — for those advertising professionals with a programmatic mindset.

What do you think lies ahead for the future of programmatic mobile advertising?