I love programmatic... but it’s not as important as people think

Wayne Blodwell, founder and chief executive of the Programmatic Advisory, has recently rebranded it as TPA Digital, deliberately phrasing out ‘programmatic.’ He believes the industry has outgrown the term and there are opportunities abound outside the tech’s broad umbrella.

I’ve spent the majority of my career in programmatic and I unashamedly love it. It’s provided me with the perfect way to apply my technical, mathematical and social skills into a career. I genuinely don’t know what else I’d be doing if I hadn’t fallen into programmatic in 2010.

The thing I love is how programmatic is an enabler. Yes, I’m an advertising enthusiast (particularly regarding the economics of it), but how it gets done in practice is what has really fascinated me over the years. Pre-programmatic in 2008 when I was a digital planner/buyer I was ringing people up, negotiating deals at fixed cost per thousands and faxing the agreements back and forth – it was an arduous, outdated and unsophisticated process for the part of the industry I operated in, primarily a hangover from TV. When programmatic came into my life, I saw this as a huge opportunity ahead of me and the industry.

In 2010 it was about the early demand-side platforms representing the needs of the buyers and the early ad exchanges representing the needs of the publisher, and a whole host of other technologies and service layers adding value on top. The low barrier to entry, easy-to-raise funding and democratized plus globalized approach to programmatic meant we saw a boom in companies – we all know and love how the Lumascape represents this.

This created a tonne of ‘interesting’ commercial and operational relationships, and it’s fair to say those relationships often haven’t had the interests of the customer (advertiser or publisher) at their heart. They can be opaque, unauditable and overly dynamic – meaning that consumers and industry have many questions, which in turn creates concerns and lack of trust. These negative connotations get bundled with the lowest common denominator – programmatic – whereas it actually isn’t the fault of programmatic, but the operators within it.

Despite all this, programmatic continued to grow at pace. The M&A side of programmatic has been aggressive, particularly so in the past 12 months, and more spend is transacted through these technologies than ever before.

So that takes us to why we are dropping programmatic from our company name. Well, programmatic no longer represents what we do, and I’d argue it doesn’t represent what very many companies do at all anymore.

Over the years programmatic has been met with confusion – some companies lead with being programmatic first, while many other companies with similar attributes to ‘programmatic-first’ ones do not. For example, if you go person to person on whether Facebook Advertising is programmatic, you’ll be met with split opinion. When you look into the names of teams that carry similar functions some call themselves the ‘automation team,’ others the ‘programmatic team,’ some even ‘digital engineers.’ There’s nuance, but it all points to the same thing – the integration of data and technology to deliver advertising.

Programmatic should no longer be taking the lion’s share of headlines, predictions or content within company earning reports. The premise of what it offers is now default. Saying you believe in the future of programmatic is like saying you believe in the future of technology. It’s obvious. It’s far better for the industry to focus on how technology enables a better advertising ecosystem as a whole, not waste time over definitions and silos.

As we look to a future of increased regulation, new ad formats enabled through technologies and a competitive service layer adjusting to the control that advertisers are increasingly taking, it’s right to ask whether we think programmatic continues to be a usable term. I’d certainly argue it serves a function for buying via a self-service DSP, but nothing else beyond this. It’s time to lean into the broader digital advertising opportunities, and by simply defining ‘programmatic’ as just one very focused part in the process and removing unnecessary complexity – at least at a strategic advertising level – the industry will better realize that tech and data should be our largest focus, and that can only further our industry.

It’s time to think broader and integrated outside of programmatic, because ultimately that’s what good advertising has always been about.