Everyone loves to hate on digital advertising, but it is here to stay—and adoption is on the rise. We all like the idea of uninterrupted content consumption, but someone has to pay for everything we do on the internet. The endless hours spent on social media or consuming streaming content wouldn’t exist without the programmatic solutions we use today.
But before everyone gets too excited about my defending the digital ad industry, let me focus my argument. I think marketers are better off today with digital advertising than they were during the days of the real Mad men. And my rationale is simple: There was no real way for advertisers back then to know if their ads were effective and no mechanism to get closer to their target market. If say L’Oréal wanted to target women of a certain age, there was no way to even tell if they were reaching men or women, let alone age range. This scenario is very different today.
Say what you want, targeting works
Programmatic is still evolving, but there’s no denying what it’s done for targeting. Today, you can reach everyone, everywhere with greater accuracy than it gets credit for. And it’s multichannel, which is a marketer’s holy grail.
And it’s not just the advertisers that benefit. Everything from one-to-one search, behavioral, engagement and contextual data, along with the technical ability to directly connect ad spots from individuals to purchases, have allowed us to create better experiences that are more engaging, relevant and appropriate for consumers.
Without getting too technical, higher granularity has enabled us to better understand our audiences, test our messaging and gain a more accurate understanding of campaign, brand and product performance.
And it’s only going to get better with time. With evolving data and trust, marketers will be able to get more specific about the audience they would like to reach, target their message further and not be so concerned about publishers or channels so they just let the data and algorithms find the audience you intend to reach.
Data collection is a trade-off
Most of us have become accustomed to exchanging our data for the benefits we derive online. Truth is, our data allows advertisers to tailor content to suit our preferences, or at least it should if the data is used appropriately in accordance with privacy standards.
Behavior and contextual insights help us better understand what the consumer likes, when and where. Audio is a great example. I am a music buff and have my tunes going in my car, at the gym, at home or at work throughout the day. But what I listen to changes a lot based on that context (think Pandora or Spotify stations). And it’s that context that allows those engines to provide suggestions. Same goes with advertising. My behavior should signal my interests at that moment, and more importantly, not give me what I don’t want or no longer need. If I just bought a stackable washer, why do I continue to get ads for that very same product I bought? But none of this can happen without my input, my data.
But data collection is a tricky business—especially today—and inevitable to a large degree. It’s as important for consumers to understand how companies use their data as it is for the companies themselves to respect privacy and be explicit about their intentions. Educate yourself on how companies manage, protect and use your data and make a call on who you grant access to.
In programmatic, we need to figure out what companies and content publishers can improve to safeguard our data and only use it in a positive way for the consumer. One area that deserves attention is the quality of the data we use. The industry could benefit from prioritizing first-party data over third-party. It’s the latter that’s contributed to the problem we have in digital today.
In the end, however, we have to realize there’s no going back from digital. Instead, we need to look forward, work tirelessly to protect consumer data and build technology and business models responsibly. GDPR is forcing us to rethink all this, which is a good thing.
Online is not always safe, but better tech can help
There is a good and bad to everything. While digital allows us to go far and wide to reach audiences, sometimes there are unintended consequences. Such consequences include being featured next to content that can align your brand with a negative event or political cause that can taint your brand’s image.
The more we can train systems to understand what content is being generated and presented in real-time, the better a system will become at preventing brand safety conflicts. Plus, algorithms are more effective when there is more contextual metadata. The more context and content an algorithm has, the better it can avoid or target the right place, time and format for your audience.
To sum it up, despite our current challenges, we’re much better off than 50 years ago. Yes, we could be doing better. And we’re working on it. We’re instituting new laws and developing better tech, which will create a better future for marketers and consumers.