The programmatic revolution isn’t done and dusted yet – so let’s not get complacent | M&M Global

The programmatic revolution isn’t done and dusted yet – so let’s not get complacent

The argument for automation is being lost in many markets. A new case must be made for programmatic, writes BBC Advertising’s Tom Bowman.

Tom Bowman

The rise of programmatic is inevitable, right? It’s inevitable because it makes absolute, logical sense.

Why wouldn’t you want to target the precise audience members you are interested in, and to do so in the most efficient and responsive way possible? What strategy wouldn’t benefit from the ability to be increasingly clever about whom to target, when to target them, the context in which the engagement happens – and the creative that fits the context?

The topline numbers seem to confirm all of this: 90% of advertisers, agencies and publishers told the IAB they will increase programmatic activity in the next 12 months; and IHS Technology reports that 65% of all online video advertising in Europe will be bought programmatically by 2020.

And why restrict automated, data-driven targeting to the realm of online video? In the US, Wide Orbit Programmatic TV claims to reach 70% of local TV audiences.

The programmatic argument seems to have been won – unless, that is, you start looking beyond the UK, the Netherlands and a handful of other early adopting markets. In actual fact, programmatic’s sense of inevitability depends very much on where you are. And if we’re complacent about making the case for automation, then it might stay that way.

Programmatic is weighed down by the way we’ve presented it: unnecessarily complex, intimidating and powered by technology that changes on a monthly basis

I find this hugely frustrating because one of the most revolutionary impacts of automated, data-driven targeting ought to be our ability to scale campaigns internationally with the same strategic precision that we expect at a local level. This isn’t happening yet because programmatic adoption is still incredibly patchy at a market level.

The Netherlands currently buys 34.2% of video advertising programmatically. Hop over the border to Belgium though, and the share drops to 8.1%. In each of Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Poland it’s less than 10%. The IAB divides Europe into three tiers when it comes to Attitudes to Programmatic, the title of its most recent report. Of 30 markets, only seven rank as advanced in terms of programmatic adoption.

The other 23 markets aren’t lagging behind because they are somehow ‘not ready’ for programmatic. A country like Poland, which buys only 2.9% of digital video programmatically, has the same fibre-optic and 4G infrastructure as the UK. Its online advertising market may be younger but that doesn’t mean it has to trade advertising manually for years before it sees the value in automating it.

If programmatic is really such a no-brainer, surely markets would jump straight into using it?

Perception issue

I know from my own conversations that the real issue is one of perception. It’s not that Poland’s advertisers, agencies and publishers aren’t ready for programmatic – they just believe this technology is all about buying cheaply and therefore has a limited role to play. It’s the same story elsewhere. The case for programmatic isn’t being made clearly enough.

It’s easy to miss all of this from the UK because we are such a fundamentally early adopting advertising market. New ideas become mainstream thinking very quickly here. Agencies have gone ‘all-in’ on programmatic, and smart publishers are doing the same. And because we take it as a given that programmatic will grow, we are coming up with far more creative, value-adding uses for it. The IAB calls programmatic a “key imperative for every online strategist” and as far as the UK is concerned, it’s right.

In far too many other markets though, programmatic is still being weighed down by the way we’ve presented it: unnecessarily complex, intimidating and powered by technology that changes on a monthly basis. There’s still too much focus on cost and too little on strategic and creative uses. Given they are trading away their valuable data, plenty of advertisers and publishers in other markets aren’t yet convinced this is a game they want to play in.

So let’s avoid being complacent about the programmatic argument already being won. The adoption levels for most markets tell us we still have a lot of work to do. And some of the biggest benefits of programmatic will only be felt once we’ve done it.

Tom Bowman

Tom Bowman is a consultant. Reach him at

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