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Programmatic is still a mess
Tom DenfordJul 27, 20234 min read

No Surprise, Programmatic is Still a Mess

Brands Deserve Better Media

A weekly column from @tomjdenford



For the health of digital marketing, the worst thing we can do right now is nothing at all. So, here’s an idea for you…



The Association of National Advertisers has recently unveiled the initial findings of their study on the programmatic media supply chain. The study, titled 'Programmatic Media: Supply Chain Transparency Study - First Look', is available for free download from ANA. You must not miss this valuable resource!


Guess what? No surprises - programmatic media is still a mess. However, the study is shedding some light and making some headway:


1 - It's actually starting to put real numbers on the dollars wasted (and it's in the BILLIONS)

2 - It's actually calling it waste

3 - It's from the ANA, the single most credible and objective source of advertising insights. (They literally funded the study themselves, with no conflict or commercial interests, on behalf of their members who are America's leading brands and marketers)


So, time for us all to pay attention. 

Let's review the report and decide a plan 

More than a decade ago, we eagerly embraced the hype and potential of programmatic advertising. It promised improved targeting, faster market entry, and cost reductions. Brands eagerly jumped on board, hoping for a downpour of ROI. Yet, here we are, ten years later, still waiting for the storm to arrive.


Meanwhile, ad tech, or what Marc Pritchard aptly refers to as the "murky media supply chain," has generated immense wealth without bearing much responsibility. Every ad tech company possesses its own unique hammer to crack marketers' nuts, so to speak.


You know what I think about all this. I’ve been saying it all year…. 



Brands Deserve Better. 

Brands are the only things we all really care about. We are all in service of the brands that our customers love. When brands get proper value from their investments in programmatic then they will flourish. We have to attend to this now. 


In the meantime, the programmatic supply chain owes brands a huge debt. Brands have suffered eye-watering losses while not paying attention to where their funds are being allocated and who they are partnering with (and who can truly be trusted).


In 2017 Professor Mark Ritson and I had a disagreement about programmatic and whether the word programmatic had become so toxic that it would not survive. That was six years ago!! 



The infinite Whac-A-Mole

And yet here we remain, still wringing our hands about what to do. Like an infinite game of Whac-A-Mole, just as we start to comprehend the ever-expanding intricacies of programmatic advertising and the associated risks, a new report emerges, exclaiming, "Geez, it's even worse than we thought..."


No wonder many marketers' response has been to strike the ostrich pose and bury their heads in the warm and comforting sands of brand purpose and artificial intelligence over recent years. 



The waste is priced in?

Think of it this way: wasting billions of media dollars may seem insignificant if media fails to drive growth. It can be viewed as the "cost of marketing with the risks factored in." However, if you share my belief that a media impression holds value and that connecting with the right consumer, at the right time and place, presents an opportunity to enhance a brand or move closer to a sale, then prioritizing the quantity and quality of impressions becomes a critical skill for CMOs.


Getting more impressions than your competitors, and ensuring they are of better quality, will always be a winning strategy. Smart CMOs understand that this creates a virtuous circle, where the more impactful your marketing efforts are, the more successful your brands become, and the more resources you can allocate to this winning plan. Over time, the gap between you and your competitors widens, all other parts being equal.



Okay, take a breath (nothing is worse than nothing)

There’s a lot to be concerned about in this latest ANA report. But nothing will change if nothing is done. The future of programmatic now rests on what advertisers decide to do in the next 18 months. Apathy from marketers is expected and their silence will be celebrated by the programmatic supply chain. Doing nothing is not an option. 


The ANA guidelines are clear, with more to come. 


When brands get the programmatic media they deserve they flourish. 


When brands grow, we all win!





This post was featured in ID Comms’ weekly column, Brands Deserve Better Media. Each week, CEO Tom Denford shares insights on media and advertising and inspires us to work together to build a better future for the industry.

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