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Advertising Programmatic

Advertising, is it art or science?

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By Dom Burch, managing director

December 4, 2015 | 5 min read

I read a great letter this morning, via Mark Duffy, aka @copyranter, by the legendary ad man Bill Bernbach. He was one of the three founders in 1949 of the international advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), and directed many of the firm's breakthrough ad campaigns.

Getting programmatic wrong will stick out more than the Mona Lisa's nose

Two years earlier in 1947 he wrote a resignation letter to ad agency Grey New York. In it he makes the point advertising is not a science.

“There are a lot great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately they talk the best game...They can give you fact after fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising. But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”

One word sprung to mind as I read this fascinating and insightful letter: Programmatic. Next week The Drum, who I have the privilege of posting my thought of the day blog to every day, are hosting Programmatic Punch.

As the blurb says, we've heard so much about programmatic in the past few years, there have been numerous industry events on the subject. But what is it? And should we believe the hype.

Some would have us think buying digital ads in the traditional way will be a thing of the past, and soon we'll be living in a totally automated world. But to what extent is this true? The Drum event will ask what's the future role of agency trading desks? What are the ethics of ad blocking? In terms of publisher co-ops, can competitors really work together?

The timing is somewhat timely, for want of a better phrase. This week we became the first UK grocer to launch automated ad-serving at scale across our core e-commerce food retailing business. FMCG brands now have a unique opportunity to invest in both native advertising solutions along with our newly launched programmatic media.

The move pushes us ahead of other UK online grocers (for now) and is our first serious step towards becoming a credible publisher. Nick Bamber, Asda’s head of digital media, and the real brains behind the move, says it not only gives Asda a first mover advantage, but also aligns our media selling capability to the seismic shift in how brands now want to buy their media in the wider digital industry.

According to the IAB, programmatic buying has grown 76 per cent year-on-year, and is forecast to account for 80 per cent of all display spend by 2018. For us, programmatic is as much a necessity to stand still as it is an opportunity to move forward.

There has already been a strong uptake from a number of key brands, who have taken the chance to participate from day one. Unilever, Nestlé, P&G and Diageo, who are all at the cutting edge of digital innovation in the UK, are our key partners in the trial.

As a result we can offer them millions of weekly ad impressions, strong viewability metrics, rich media creative options and rising star formats like Scuta. Plus access to both contextual and behavioural media buying based on our first party, rich, anonymised user data.

Precise targeting and real time online sales performance and measurement are how we are able to differentiate. But our long-term ambition is to ensure we are able to measure the impact of digital media not only online but also offline where the majority of customers do the majority of their shopping.

As a retailer that just happens to be a media publisher, we obviously have a vested interest in the media working for our brand partners. Like them, we want to sell more of their products.

Thanks to our foray into programmatic 2016 will see a steady flow of new advertising products hit the market, as we seek to capitalise on our head start. But, key to our success will be balancing the science of data, targeting, audience mapping and analytics, with the art of creative.

As Mark Duffy put it so more eloquently than me: 'Content isn’t king, and data isn’t queen. The idea is king. And it isn’t married to any technology.'

Amen to that.

Programmatic ad-serving will enable us to deliver the best possible creative to the right customer at the most opportune time. Let's not forget why we are doing that in the first place. Get it right and the consumer shouldn't notice the technology. Get it wrong and it'll stick out more than the Mona Lisa's nose.

Dom Burch, senior director of marketing innovation and new revenues at Walmart (Asda), explores the ever changing world of marketing in his 'Thought of the Day' blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @domburch

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