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Tom DenfordAug 24, 2023 6:46:53 PM4 min read

The (Actual) Future of Programmatic

Brands Deserve Better Media

A weekly column from @tomjdenford



With all the recent scary stories about the risks involved with programmatic advertising, wouldn't it be nice if someone simply laid out a path to a better future…?


Well you’ve come to the right place. 


The decade of wonderful promises made by the programmatic supply chain (specifically the ad tech industry) about how programmatic would improve targeting, reduce costs, accelerate speed to market have all proved to be somewhat overstated (that’s an understatement right there). As I stated in my last column, “No Surprise, Programmatic is Still a Mess.”


It's easy to see a headline about programmatic these days and fear the worst: more doom and gloom, more scary stories, and more smug OpEds telling marketers that they’ve made mistakes. Followed by a plethora of ad tech press-releases stuffed with features and benefits trying to sell the latest cure-all technology to the unwary marketer. Enough. 

Cut through the noise

The World Advertising Research Center (WARC) just published a landmark report to cut through all the noise and bring some plain-speaking, objective sanity to the discussion. It's called ‘The Future of Programmatic’ and it does what it says. 


In this column I’ve tried to give a summary, but nothing beats the real thing so I encourage you to get yourself a copy and not rely just on my soundbites; get the substantive advice from the report itself. 


Disclaimer 1: My ace team at ID Comms partnered with WARC on the analysis and reporting. I’m very proud of the work. I hope you like it. 

Disclaimer 2: No money changed hands; this was simply a bunch of talented experts collaborating for a good purpose that helps push the industry forward. 

The report is available to subscribers of WARC and also free exclusively to clients of ID Comms (so like, DM me).


Why bother? 

WARC’s ‘The Future of Programmatic’ report looks to help media and marketing leaders by highlighting key trends across programmatic and also provides some practical guidance to advertisers that are interested in evolving their programmatic and ad tech capabilities.


The upfront analysis leveraged industry data, specialist expertise, plus interviews with brands, agencies, consultancies and advertising trade associations. 


The report consists of three main areas of focus:

1 - The search for privacy-safe solutions

2 - Addressing waste in the supply chain

3 - Expansion of techniques into emerging channels 



Programmatic is not evil

Let’s remember, programmatic is not a media channel. It should not appear as a line item in a media plan. If your agency just puts a lump of money against programmatic that is wrong, they owe you (a lot!) more information, namely about where the ad is placed and why and at what cost. All of this is part of diligent campaign set up and transparent reporting. Demand it. 


If programmatic is not a media channel what is it? Well, consider programmatic as a technique. It is a way of buying media that leverages data to make quick decisions about buying media inventory. In theory it should enable faster and more efficient application of budget to get the right message in front of the right people in the right place. Sounds easy right? To be effective it relies on those simple media planning principles to be upheld. Sadly they are often overlooked and instead programmatic becomes ‘get as many ads running as possible until the budget runs out.’ 


On that basis programmatic is not inherently evil. It is simply a technique; sometimes done well, often done badly. Reset in your mind that programmatic can be good, you just need to decide to do it well. 

Not all advertisers are the same

To me this is the most important consideration when discussing the future of programmatic. We have all received lots of insights and recommendations, but every advertiser’s situation is unique and has usually evolved (and entrenched) over many years. This makes it hard to unpick and decide how to make it better. 


Sadly, there is no single best practice template to follow because first the advertiser must understand fully their own situation. The only 100% commonality for all advertisers is the need to (please) decide to take some action to address programmatic and decide to do it better. One step at a time…


Just think, doing programmatic well will probably put your brand in the minority. To me that smells deliciously like competitive advantage…


Brands deserve better media. Deciding to address potential waste and have a clear strategy for your future use of programmatic (across current and emerging channels) is a step towards getting your brands the media they deserve and the impact they need to grow and flourish. 

What to do?

The report suggests a simple workflow to future-proof your programmatic approach. Guess what? It takes a little work and (spoiler) does not involve buying more ad tech. The first step is deciding to do something, to dream of better, to gather your best people, to agree on the problem and to raise the bar on what is possible.


Getting everyone in your team to read ‘The Future of Programmatic’ is a great level-set from which to start. Better knowledge will lead to better decisions.


Brands deserve better from programmatic. When brands get the 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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