Media Automation Could Be Leading Us Into Huge Problems

We’ve been heading into a phase that could prove to be disastrous if not thought through with a clear mind.  That phase is one of automation and its relation to media planning, production and execution. We’ve seen it in every industry that has become automated – and even in our personal lives – that as computers and applications have been set up to make our lives easier through automation there is more work that fills up the time cleared by those developments. As ad networks and automated media planning become more automated – with some projecting upwards of 75-80% of all media spends being automated, we could be sliding into a huge problem.

It’s not just about media planning.  There are some interesting solutions that are hitting the market that espouse the ability for people with limited creative and technical knowledge to create quasi-compelling ads.  Unfortunately, they don’t really cut it.  With Google’s AdWords, there is solid automation where companies can go in and buy against search terms to have their ads show up alongside the organic search, but the placement of those ads is only half the battle. There needs to be evaluation of its many nuances to fully garner the power of the automation.

The proliferation of self-service marketing options lately is reminiscent of the rush for self-help books in the last decade of the 20th Century. They were of help, but there is still a strong demand for therapists – if not an even greater one.

The reality is that there is too much information working its way through the system – even with automation – to remove the sound judgement and strategy that needs to go into media plans and the marketing collateral that goes with it.  While numerous companies are pitching social media and media planning dashboards, the need for people to analyze what’s being shown in those applications and make judgements on how to react is still there. Unfortunately, too many companies are looking at the surface of media planning and execution and just figuring that automation will allow them to optimize the limited or reduced staff they already have.  In the end, we know that more work is usually piled on, data is collected by these automated tools and then disappears into the ether.  Or worse, the company keeps doing the same automated things over and over again – even if they are not as successful as they could be.

On the creative side, there are tools like what Jivox is offering with their video unit capabilities for political campaigns.  It almost makes it seem like an intern could make the changes on the fly successfully.  They probably could do that, but would there be a cost in the effectiveness? Does that mean companies could also do away with their creative vendors because the belief is that video is king and that anyone would be able to just take a video piece and automatically change it into an ad unit?  I don’t think that would be a smart move on either side.

There are certainly enough stories about media planners who are all about the RFP and have a hard time providing strong analysis of how a campaign did and what could be done in the future. That alone is not enough reason to go wholly into automation.  On the flip side, there is no need to rule out automated services just to justify keeping staff.

I do believe that automation is great if the company is set up to leverage that for growth and key learnings.  If there is proper staffing – whether on the client or agency side – to be able to not only plan the media, but evaluate in real terms what went right, what went wrong and optimize for future campaigns AND also look to create strong campaigns through creativity and innovation, then it could be a win-win.  But, that mix is organic and needs to be tweaked constantly.

Clear strategy and understanding of the need for streamlining processes while also enabling analytical, creative and innovative thinking in media planning and execution are key to our collective success.  Depending too much on automation will lead to banal ineffectiveness and many lost opportunities. Figure out the mix that works best for your company, but don’t discount the power that the mind brings to the equation.  And definitely don’t believe that automation equally reduces the need for head count.  Without the good mix of human and automation, your problems will be much larger than the execution of ad campaigns.

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