Think Tank Panel Predicts Rapid Growth in Advertising Automation

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Get ready for automation to continue to disrupt the advertising industry as programmatic buying and selling grows to account for 80 percent of total ad buys by 2022. That was the bold prediction made by a panel of leading advertising experts during an Adobe Think Tank forum on “The Future of Advertising,” held during Advertising Week in New York.

While the panel agreed that the growth in advertising automation will accelerate over the next five years, there was also a consensus by the nine panelists that the remaining 20 percent will continue to require management by real people. “We believe that the 80 percent threshold may never be surpassed,” says panelist Phil Gaughran, chief integration officer at ad agency McGarryBowen. “That’s because the other 20 percent will require a human touch for brand storytelling and creating a brand compass that dictates what you do with the logical data that’s out there.”

The need for brand authenticity.

While a much more automated advertising ecosystem is evolving, Phil says it will take human management to connect brands with customers. Jill Cress, chief marketing officer at National Geographic, adds that one of the key roles for human management of advertising in the future will be to ensure authenticity in telling brand stories. “There’s going to be that fine line between a brand being seen as opportunistic through targeting and being very authentic to their role in the world, and what that means to the consumer,” she says.

Aubrey Flynn, senior vice president at Revolt TV and Media, notes that automation provides a way “to find that lightning in the bottle” more quickly than ever before. “Automation allows us to find the authentic connection between the content and the audience in a much faster, more efficient and effective way,” he says.

One of the keys to achieving a balance between automation and creativity is how companies are able interpret their data. “We’re all awash in data,” observes Sharmilan Rayer, vice president of audience and programmatic at NBCUniversal. “But we now need to apply the technology to actually derive some of those insights,” he says.

Mining automation data for insights.

Adobe’s Keith Eadie, vice president of Adobe Advertising Cloud, agrees that for automation to succeed it ultimately has to be connected with actionable insights. “Metrics and the ability to measure outcomes based on those metrics are the key to driving outcomes,” he says. “We can have all the automation in the world, but it’s not gonna serve the marketer without transparency and metrics.”

Moreover, adds moderator Martin Kihn, vice president of research at Gartner, “there is a thesis that in the future you can have insights and have no authenticity as a brand at all.”

Kelly Andresen, senior vice president at USA Today Network, says the 20 percent of advertising that will not be automated actually represents an opportunity to leverage automation data. “We think 80 percent of it is going to be taken care of, but then the other 20 percent is actually still an opportunity, around creativity and audience insights.”

An ideal scenario in the future, added Kelly, is one in which advertising automation and data help inform execution of targeted messaging. “What’s the message and what are we doing in the space today to get to a point where all roads lead together in 2022?” she asks.

Phil from McGarryBowen also characterized the rapid increase of advertising automation as an opportunity. Brands, he says, will be even more important in a technology-driven advertising ecosystem. “I think automation will mean new opportunities to engage a customer, not lead to a system that just runs on its own,” he says.

Jill from National Geographic said part of that opportunity will be for brands to personalize their messaging. “Brands will still need to tell you about what their brand stands for and hope to make that emotional connection with you,” she says, “but automation provides the ability to do that in a way that’s more personalized.”

Overcoming technical challenges.

Just how fast programmatic advertising will reach the 80 percent threshold remains to be seen. Keith Eadie from Adobe notes that the underlying infrastructure of linear TV today makes programmatic advertising “incredibly difficult.”

A key question, observes Eadie, is where the crossover point is between linear and online delivery, in which data-driven programmatic advertising becomes the norm? “We’re talking about a battleship to turn,” he says.

Sharmilan from NBCUniversal, adds that a lot of infrastructure still needs to be created in order to dynamically serve an ad on every device or screen in the marketplace. In the meantime, “there’s a lot that automation can offer in terms of increasing productivity in areas tied to servicing the customer better,” he adds. “Part of the projection is we’ll take a lot of the work that today is not driving significant value for the customer and automate that, so that human resources can focus on higher value activity.”

Eadie agrees that increased automation is going to come with the need for more insight and analysis to connect the data with a company’s marketing goals and media strategy. The next step in the evolution of automation and programmatic advertising, he says, is the development of strategies for placements, packaging, and targeting.

“There’s a level at which agencies and technology vendors will essentially create the campaign out of the strategy,” says Eadie. “Today, we can push the boundary on automation around the sets of channels that are programmatically enabled. In other areas, where we don’t have automation, you need an extra level of human insight.”

There’s a lot more to learn from the Adobe Think Tank conversation. Watch the recorded discussion from Advertising Week NYC, and get ready to harness the power of advertising technology to improve your bottom line.

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