In the (near) future, everything is programmatic

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Catching up on some of the latest marketing news recently, I found myself drifting off into a deep sleep (keyboard as pillow). My dream, quite predictably, was all about the future of digital media.

Here’s what I remember of it...

In the agency of the future there are robots. Well, a robo-receptionist at least, who sends an email to the relevant member of staff when a guest arrives, and offers a coffee while they wait.

Manual media buying is basically dead, save for the last few scraps of inventory left. The market is no longer dominated by a few major players; the volume-discount era has passed.

Everything is available programmatically now, and most of it is bought this way: all of display, most of TV, and the majority of outdoor. Programmatic direct has declined, as a series of legal cases cleared up the mess in the digital ecosystem, restoring advertisers’ confidence in the open exchange. Breakthroughs in ad tech enabled a couple of pioneering broadcasters to open up their most coveted inventory to the live auction, eventually forcing the most stubborn TV companies to follow suit.

Personalised radio adverts are fed into driverless cars; electronic billboards adapt their ads to pedestrians based on signals from their smartphone; digital assistants make recommendations based on shopping queries; in some smart homes, even fridges represent potential digital media inventory (supermarkets, for example, pay to have their delivery service recommended when the fridge announces it’s time for a restocking of milk).

There are legal disputes about personal privacy, antitrust cases are ongoing as Google and Amazon leverage the popularity of their smart home systems, but overall the Internet of Things is taking off as a new platform for digital advertising.

And everyone likes programmatic now

Ad fraud is still an issue, but a culture change towards transparency has forced all media buyers to update their safety protocols. YouTube has undergone a series of adaptations to enable advertisers to fully protect brand safety (advancements in machine learning enabling a far more sophisticated monitoring system, or something). Display ads served on inappropriate sites are a rarity, but when this happens the agency and advertiser are immediately made aware.

SSPs are still used, but after the precedent set by the Rubicon case, and the need to compete with header bidding, their fees have been greatly reduced. DSPs no longer include a markup button, and, following a severe audit, have updated their services to exclude arbitrage with SSPs. Despite these improvements, a large percentage of advertisers have opted for owning contracts with DSPs, rather than via their agency.

The programmatic ‘tech tax’ has plummeted from 60% to around 35%, as the many profiteering ad tech providers and agencies have been weeded out, or brought into line.

Google has improved

The European Commission’s landmark case against Google, as well as increasing competition from Facebook, has led to some positive changes in their services. Universal search is still going strong, including the new addition of Google Careers to UK and European search, but rival comparison sites are no longer demoted. Trademark bidding has been banned, and exact match has been made exact again.

(The UK, incidentally, decided to harmonise with the EEA in terms of laws related to paid search, despite some fierce industry debate.)

Data is better too

AI capable of deep learning has further unlocked the potential of big data. Over time, the AI is able to learn which datasets are most effective, according to the performance objectives of the client, and to develop audience insights. Many of the tasks of an agency have become automated, but job growth within the sector has boomed on account of digital advertising’s huge expansion.

The attribution challenge has been overcome, and the value of each marketing channel has finally become quantifiable. It turns out that display advertising is actually really effective.

After some initial turbulence, the implementation of GDPR has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on digital advertising. Despite the scaremongering, third party data providers have survived, enabling businesses without a large supply of first party data to compete with the greatest data-holders. The improvements to individual data privacy rights has altered the public’s attitude towards targeted advertising; the creepiness factor has diminished, as people feel more in control of how their personal data are used.

Even Marc Pritchard believes in digital

On a big screen at the agency of the future, Marc Pritchard is congratulating digital advertising for overcoming the many problems it faced only four years ago. There is a slight tear in his eye as he marvels at the simplicity of its eco-system, efficiency of its trading, and the transparency of every agency within it...

It wasn’t clear to me what the year was, and the funny thing is that this fantastical future could have been decades from now, or it could have been much nearer. How quickly we make it the present is up to us.

Dan Gilbert is founder and chief executive officer of Brainlabs

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Daniel Gilbert

Dan Gilbert is chief executive officer of Brainlabs, a paid media agency.

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