One of the biggest ad industry fears around the automation of digital advertising is the lack of a human hand in ad placement decisions. The concern is not only that humans lose out to technology in the actual job stakes, but also that the absence of a real person has a negative impact on the quality and relevance of the ads consumers see.
The truth is quite the opposite. And this has never been more relevant to the ad industry than it is today as the exponential growth of programmatic revolutionises the way advertising is bought and sold.
American author and poet, Brian Christian highlighted in his book, The Most Human Human, that the true risk of automation is not in humans being replaced by machines because they are better and more efficient at what we do. Instead, he argued that, if we don't automate, we will actually become worse at what we do, wasting our uniquely human talents on assembly line-like tasks.
As he eloquently puts it: 'Micromanagement, the 'kaizen' or lean production line, the over-standardisation of procedures and protocols – these problems are precisely the same problem and pose precisely the same danger as artificial intelligence'.
The path ahead is not to move humans aside. It is to elevate them, to empower them by automating away their drudgery and, in this case, automating the ad selling and buying admin. Meanwhile, programmatic buying of advertising uses more sophisticated data than ever before to match exactly the right ad with its perfect audience at precisely the right time.
Automated technology is therefore already playing a critical and enlightened role in shaping the advertising sales and media planning of the future. The ad industry in 2020 will not be devoid of direct sales teams, but instead will include highly creative and efficient teams – teams that are equipped to be more 'human' and more effective and deliver more value for the work they do, to focus more time on building and managing relationships, and applying their creativity and human insight to drive to better outcomes on each deal. We are different from machines and can't be replaced, but we can use machines to move away from the 'assembly line' and towards our strengths as creative, sensing beings.
In the advertising trading space, we now have within our grasp a single integrated system of technologies, a tech stack that will help publishers get the most out of our human differentiation AND automated trading methods. Improving the efficiency of the direct sales process is the single biggest thing publishers can do to counter the pressure on their direct sales forces exerted by real-time bidding.
It removes the bias towards targets defined by the advertiser that are based on getting the best deal. It also removes the manual grind to allow human sellers to focus on coming up with creative solutions to problems, spotting new opportunities and creating human relationships that can drive even better business outcomes.
The whole is truly greater than the sum of the parts with sellers (publishers) on a more equal footing with buyers (advertisers), and with the entire industry aligned to a more vibrant and healthy future in its role to power the advertising that powers the internet. And while the process is not yet perfect, with more human time freed up to focus on making this maturing industry even more effective, we're closer than we've ever been to the most efficient and creative internet advertising model yet.
Nigel Gilbert is vice president, strategic development, EMEA, AppNexus, official partner of The Drum's 2015 Digital Trading Awards.