Programmatic Needs a Dash of Trust

At the quite contentious IAB Annual Leadership Meeting,  four Town Halls were set up to address some of the big problems facing the industry: ad blocking, fraud, mobile, and programmatic. Because all of them met at the same time, attendees had to choose one.

We attended the programmatic Town Hall, there most of the conversation was about making programmatic tools better, so they could be used to connect the right buyers and sellers — not just more buyers and sellers. Last year, the advertising industry has learned that more — more ads, more frequency, more reach — is definitely not better. On the other hand, there are many imperatives urging us to advertise with fewer ads that are more visible, more costly, and more acceptable to consumers. There’s still some doubt about whether programmatic can actually bring that off.

Programmatic has certainly taken over the industry and automated the work flow. However, it got off on the wrong foot as a tool to help publishers monetize the worst of their inventory rather than the best. Because the buyers know they’re buying remnant, and are only using it for reach, it’s easy for targeting to go wrong in programmatic. What’s missing is trust.

We’ve been around the ad business a long time. During most of that time, a buyer and a seller met for lunch and a drink and discussed the “buy.” The buyer (agency or brand) could not only tell the seller (publisher) the objectives of a campaign, but could ask questions about the availability and desirability of the inventory. Software, while it should have been able to replace these conversations, hasn’t done it. Rather, it has provided both sides greater opacity in a process that used to be relatively transparent.

No wonder so many ads miss their targets, raising consumers’ ire. I’m not sure publishers who refuse to serve content to people who use ad blockers are the solution to this problem any more than ad blockers themselves are.