An old maxim observes that new digital technologies tend to highlight formerly underappreciated qualities of their displaced analog predecessors. CDs and MP3s send audiophiles scrambling after the sound of vinyl; MPEG and JPEG lack the intangible quality of film; eBooks and eZines deprive us of the home-defining presence of their physical counterparts, and so forth. Sometimes, the cost of the sacrifice is high enough to slow down the transition – it’s taking a long time to replace the convenience and anonymity of cash, or even the simple ubiquity of business cards – but in the end, technology has a way of winning.
In the advertising world, programmatic media buying is in the midst of displacing old-style Madison Avenue transactions. The programmatic marketplace, centered on data and audience buying through real-time auctions with algorithmic optimization, delivers large advances in efficiency and precision over the expense-account-lubricated direct sales method. But the sacrifices are high, especially for those who still think branding matters in marketing. When brands give up control of the exact context in which they appear, the results can be upsetting. Consider this exposé by Digiday’s Jack Marshall: “This Beheading Video Is Brought to You By Nissan.” Here we have some very poorly placed pre-rolls, which summarize why many brands are – and should be – reluctant to embrace the brave new world of digital advertising. As Jack points out: “Digital ad sellers often complain that budgets aren’t moving online quickly enough from traditional channels such as TV, but until they do a better job of ensuring the quality of the content they’re serving ads against, they shouldn’t be surprised that they aren’t.”
Native advertising has emerged as an antidote to the hazards of blind placement, and some technology companies are working to reconcile these under the banner of programmatic premium models that offer both transparency and the ability to preview and approve placements before they run. For example, in August Federated Media announced a hybrid approach it called “Content Reachtargeting” (read about it in John Batelle’s blog), and start-ups like Nativo hope to build a business offering convergence solutions to publishers (see AdExchange coverage). But there’s clearly tension between these approaches, which adds to the friction brands are feeling as consumers drag them into digital.
So, while programmatic media technology is bound to revolutionize paid media markets (spoiler alert: Gartner has a prediction coming up addressing its impact on the resilient TV-ad business), one quaint feature of the old analog world is proving unassailable and immune to automation: understanding how people actually experience your brand.