Can Programmatic Give Us Better Targeting?

If you listen to companies on the forefront of programmatic advertising, they tout both its ubiquity (some say over 50% of the market inventory is now purchased programmatically) and its virtues for both publishers and brands. For publishers, programmatic tools have already provided an opportunity to monetize more content, although sometimes at lower CPMs than they’d wish. And for brands, programmatic promises better targeting. Even premium deals can now be done with the automated work flow tools programmatic has made possible.

But does programmatic really provide better targeting? The consumer’s jury is out on that one. Speaking anecdotally, I’ve heard many consumers simultaneously laugh and cry over poorly targeted ads. Millennials may have given up on advertising altogether, turning to ad blockers to rid themselves of “information” they don’t want in places they don’t want it. Mobile is more often than not the culprit in these instances, where unwanted advertising can eat into a user’s data plan.

But programmatic will get better, because there will be more and more data generated by each individual consumer. Wait until your watch, your thermostat, and your washing machine begin to generate data about your habits and wishes as a matter of course. Some of these objects have the capability to do that now, but most of us haven’t bought them yet. The Internet of Things, as it is called, is just beginning to take off for people who are not early adopters. That’s why ad tech companies were present in such force at the Cannes Lion Awards last month — an event that used to belong solely to the creative class.

One speaker at the awards said that marketers are going to have to learn “intent-based marketing,” which means they must shift away from trying to create demand to fulfilling the actual needs of customers. This is a huge shift, since advertising has been a big part in creating and sustaining the consumer economy. But once consumers have the power to communicate their intent so clearly in so many different places, ignoring that intent would be foolhardy on the part of the marketer. It’s better to get on the train in the direction it’s going in, rather than trying to reverse the train’s direction.

The plethora of data created and the ability to target it directly to someone who actually intends to buy a product will ensure the ubiquity of programmatic. Marketers must learn to embrace new patterns of conscious consumption and return to the idea of offering experiences rather than just products.

This shift has only just begun. Expect marketing and publishing to change rapidly over the next decade (again).