Mediatel: The Programmatic Problem by Simon Daglish

Data insights are important, but which algorithm ever said a gorilla should play the drums to sell chocolate?

Simon Daglish, Deputy Managing Director, ITV Commercial

Clever planning remains one of the fundamental skills needed for a successful campaign. It is arguably the most difficult, complex and expensive skill that media organisations need. Discovering new approaches to market, creating standout and brand affiliation is crucial - it changes human behaviour.

To do this well you need time, curiosity and a way of thinking that doesn't deliver the obvious. This approach carries risks which is why the industry has tried to find solutions through more logical means - the use of data, algorithms, and logarithms.

The problem is that instead of using these as tools to help find solutions, media owners and media agencies alike want programmatic to be the solution and it is this approach which I fear will deliver bad planning and diminished results.

Data can determine patterns of movement, how we are reacting in real time what we are, and have been, doing. That is immensely useful, but it is not the only show in town. You don't grow your brand by targeting existing users, or by following established patterns. Fame, feeling and fluency drive consumer behaviour. If our role as advertising practitioners is to affect change in human behaviour, then we cannot use a single, linear approach - human behaviour is more complex and nuanced.

Data insights are certainly important, but which algorithm ever said a gorilla should play the drums to sell chocolate, what data said that you should have a Russian speaking Meerkat selling a website that doesn't exist for an insurance aggregator? That is human brilliance.

Data is fantastic and its mass appearance on the scene is to be welcomed by all who value the craft and skill of our industry. But it is very concerning that there is a creeping tendency to think data has all the answers. Data without human insight and creativity does more harm than good.

Furthermore, with big data currently dominating the planning psyche, the assumption is that any impact, any eyeball is an advertising opportunity. It is not! I've done a small - and some may feel bizarre - piece of research to illustrate this point:- 

According to the Office of National Statistics there are nearly 10 million urinals in the UK and 26 million males over the age of 18. So if we visit the 10 million urinals 6 times a day that makes 108,000,000 impressions. They are all male users, so no fraud, but does that make urinal advertising a great ad medium?

The pure application of data would say that this was a unique opportunity. Maybe it is, but human insight tells me that this may not be the opportunity it looks like.

You can read the original Mediatel article here

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