Robots in Marketing are Great, But Humans Still Need to Chaperone

There is a school of thought in ad tech that espouses the point of view that brands should refrain from helicopter marketing in the way they conduct their programmatic media activities. This line of thinking asserts that people should not micromanage or hover over the excellence of machines.


Wait a Minute!

While machines are increasingly important and useful in achieving efficiency and efficacy in digital advertising, marketers should still hold human beings accountable for their programmatic media and marketing automation plans. Only humans possess the instinct to do the particularly subjective risk/reward assessments that can lead to marketing brilliance. Robots are incapable of such behavior.

How did we get to this point where so many marketers depend on artificial intelligence rather than their human counterparts? It is a result of technology company business models that are based on the arbitrage of media — buying media cheaply and then reselling it at a premium. This promotes self-serving black box tactics that lead to the elevation of opaque AI, which is at odds with serving clients’ commercial interests. This black-box trend, coupled with marketers’ tendencies to emphasize hitting performance-based targets, is detrimental to understanding the dynamics and behavioral signals of their customer base.

Marketers should strive for a more informed and nuanced perspective of their target audiences, which creative approach is most effective, and which publishers and channels are making the most impact. Marketers are missing opportunities if they are outsourcing to third parties without obtaining new customer insights during the process.

There are three reasons why marketers need to manage AI transparently:

1. Seeing the Signals:

While AI is important and relevant to achieve scale in an increasingly fragmented media market, transparency is paramount to optimizing spending and achieving goals. This lack of vendor and agency AI transparency results in the marketer taking on additional risk in programmatic media. In the evolution of media buying, buyer and seller share the risk. With opaque, black box models, vendors own the risk but share no insights through data. Consumer signals are irrelevant as long as conversions are made. The paradox is that this approach actually increases the risk for the brand.

2. Understanding the Attribution:

Opacity doesn’t belong in advertising models. Even performance marketers should demand tactical knowledge and insights. Full transparency should be standard procedure … opacity shouldn’t be exploited to keep marketers tied to vendors. Transparency also helps marketers understand the value ofalgorithmic solutions, and protects against impression-delivery timing and location games that might boost opaque AI results at the expense of other efforts.

3. Protecting Proprietary Insights:

Marketers may not realize that some opaque AI models essentially work to aggregate their signals from the noise across other customers. Marketers are thus participating in a great cookie collective for the third-party company. While some collective activity may end up as an exchange of data for the greater good of all members, certainly some data-rich marketers end up benefiting the data-poor marketers. Marketers should not let others hijack their data and mask how they are using it.

Media buying, like advertising, is a marriage of art and science. For all of its impressive qualities and attributes, artificial intelligence has difficulty keeping up with media innovations like the proliferation of new sites, apps and creative content. Though robots are smart and efficient, humans still best executethe art of media buying using emotion, instinct and insights.

How do we affect a shift away from opacity and towards full transparency in digital marketing and the use of AI? How do we end our addiction to black box advertising? The prescription is clear, if challenging: client marketers must demand more control of the marketing activities, insights, and use of their brand’s audience and advertising data.

Only through transparent collaboration with agencies and vendors will marketers perform due diligence and fulfill their fiduciary duties to their brands.



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