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The key to evolving the man-machine partnership

James Murphy
The key to evolving the man-machine partnership James Murphy

There's a lot of talk about "Man vs. the Machine" now that automation plays a greater part in our industry's work. In this era, there can be no debate: Programmatic has changed creative thinking, as well as the creative process. With the rise of Big Data, machine learning, and predictive modeling, one might assume that the human touch is no longer necessary. This is not true -- far from it. The challenge and opportunity of human strategy and creative in a programmatic environment will and should evolve.

The best axiom for successful automated digital advertising should be Man and the Machine. These forces are not in opposition; rather their full power is harnessed when they work in harmony. Consider the stock market. Without the knowledge of the traders on the floor, the buying and selling of stock, even though powered by a real-time exchange, cannot be executed without the expertise of a human being driving the direction, researching company fundamentals, and making judgment calls based on experience and insight. The same can be said in our industry. This co-existence is what will lead Man and the Machine to achieve optimal success.

Programmatic does the heavy lifting

It is true: There are many once-human tasks that programmatic now handles for us in a manner that is more accurate and efficient. In a real-time and automated fashion, technology can deploy and optimize scalable digital ad campaigns with more precision. It allows for data segmentation and targeting, while facilitating placements across open supply inventory, thus enabling pricing and bidding in fractions of a second.

Beyond that, programmatic is smart and it learns on the job, thus aiding a level of optimization while working within the parameters of complex triggers and/or rules-based campaigns. Enhancements to media placement, determining what copy goes with what visual and to which audience segment, are all factors that are executed at a mind-bending pace, faster than the blink of an eye. The details of campaign planning, management and reporting that once consumed our time, are now taken care of.

The evolution of human strategy

As automation works behind the curtain, there is still much to be done to put on a show. The strategists and creative thinkers of the digital ad world can now think big picture and turn their attention to matters of evolving importance. As we develop more complex segments and user targeting via the data that is supplied by programmatic technology, strategists needs to dig deeper for an understanding and analysis of this vast pool of rich data now at our fingertips. A machine cannot determine the business value of these audience segments; a human, a critical thinker with an emotional and intellectual capacity, must make that sort of inference.

Programmatic also cannot clearly define the ideal customer journey. User behaviors, device usage, and content-consumption patterns are all things that are by their very definition, human. Understanding how the channels work in concert with one another is a key factor to creating success in digital advertising. It is a partnership between man and technology that allows us to strike the right balance between creative innovation and seamless execution. Here, we believe it makes sense for technology and creative to have an equal seat at the table, with creative working with technology to define parameters, but also to push boundaries.

The final piece of the puzzle is the message. While ads can be served in an automated fashion, creative will always have control over the message and the story that an ad is trying to communicate. This is the most human part of the process and it cannot be discounted. Making that message -- through format, words, visual elements -- stand out from the competition can now be our real focus. And we can use programmatic to test messaging and design to get real-time feedback about what is working best, and then to capitalize on it to grow and scale the campaign.

Working together

At the end of the day, the Man and the Machine are both on the same team, and we work better when we work together. This is a blend of art and science. Just as developers have had to adjust to the breakneck pace of evolving code bases and languages, the strategic and creative minds in our world can thrive in an environment that constantly changes.

The new reality is that data will continue to inform and transform creative strategy, as well as media planning and execution. This includes everything from the initial concept to visual design and engagement features to cross-platform ad unit choices, down to the approach to personalization. "The Machine" allows "Man" to become a more sophisticated marketer. As programmatic handles the work that once monopolized the time of industry professionals, we can test strategies, pivot, and elevate as we create even more successful creative executions. In short, while programmatic does the busy work, we get to have a real-time dialogue with consumers and audiences in a way that we could never before via the union of human creativity with real-time technological precision.

James Murphy is vice president of programmatic at RhythmOne.

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