Programmatics – Beware of the Weakest Link

Certainly, the biggest buzzword doing the rounds of the radio industry at the moment is ‘programmatic’.

Everyone loves the concept, or pretends to; but then, why wouldn’t you?

Born out of the digital world of New Media and adapted to traditional media.

What more could you ask for?

It’s like the Circus: it’s got something for everybody.

It gives marketers and media buyers the opportunity to actually look like they know what they’re doing, with their fingers deeply immersed in this new form of black magic.

Media owners will start getting bookings that they weren’t getting before, for reasons they really can’t explain.

…. and, clients – well, they’re smiling too.

They’ve been sold on the notion that they can focus down with laser-like precision on their target market at the time of day that the greatest number of these potential customers are listening to their favourite station.

It all sounds so high tech … it must be good!

Common sense says if you can really achieve these theoretical goals, it’ll make clients feel a whole lot better about not wasting precious advertising dollars on preaching their message to general listeners, who are never likely to buy their products or services, and, as a result today’s BMAD and ROS sales strategies will be left smouldering in a heap in the corner.

Well, it’s certainly a great concept and for marketing executives, not a hard one to sell.

After all, there’s not a company on Planet Earth that doesn’t want to see their advertising budgets operating at maximum efficiency.

Programmatic buying of radio commercials has been running pretty hot in the United States now for about two years.

In agencies across North America, algorithms have been hard at work around the clock assessing the best placements for the best clients at the best prices in the best markets.

For future-focussed, 20-something marketing executives, this new reality is digital heaven – almost a perfect scenario.

But, when something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

As the programmatic process now begins to move into the next phase of its development, sometimes called ‘cold hard reality’, what is becoming apparent in the US is that the data, on which the algorithms rely for their calculations, isn’t always reliable.

Experts are starting to say out loud that a lack of data integrity is responsible for producing some programmatic buying decisions that are less than desirable and far from accurate.

Some major clients, who were actually expecting the pin-point accuracy they were promised by their agencies, are finding the computerised buying decisions that have been made on their behalf have not necessarily been in their best interests or achieved their goals.

Unreliable data produces what’s long been known in the computer industry as GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.

What’s now being claimed by some US research companies is that the so-called ‘big data’, on which these programmatic algorithms rely for producing accurate buying decisions, isn’t always a case of comparing ‘apples with apples’ because there are too many variables between the various externally-produced data sources.

Some of those ‘apples’ may, in fact, turn out to be rotten.

Programmatics isn’t just a case of automating the buy-sell process and relying on one third-party data set being just as good as any other.

We’ve all experienced anomalies within research figures here in Australia from time to time even from what would normally be considered highly reliable sources.

For programmatics to work accurately and produce results that will be truly beneficial for the agency, for media company, and, most importantly, for the advertiser, the data, on which these computerised buying decisions are made, must go way beyond simply age and gender demographics.

Properly done, producing data is a sophisticated process and must be incredibly accurate to be beyond reproach.

However, experience in American markets has shown that many of those agencies, who have rushed in to try to be on the leading edge of programmatic buying, have found themselves in a race to the top, and in doing so, some have been taking short cuts with the third-party data they’ve been buying in and using.

Analysts in the United States are now questioning the integrity and lack of uniformity of the data sources that are being thrown into, what is normally, a complex mix of information that’s required to give the appearance of a highly refined and well researched outcome.

These analysts are now saying that, in many instances, the wrong questions are being asked to produce the raw data that’s analysed and this in itself is producing tainted results.

They say many of the sources of data on consumer spending patterns and lifestyle preferences are selective, and, when all this data is combined, it raises many questions about the veracity of the outcome.

Potentially, it’s a case of the weakest link in the mix of the data you’re using, pulling the reliability of all the data down to the lowest common denominator.

The Coalition of Innovative Media Measurement says its recent study has generated a series of guidelines for improvements in programmatic data across the entire American advertising industry.

Saying these things out loud can make you very unpopular, especially when you’re talking about ‘the next big thing’ – the idol at whose feet we should all be worshipping.

Before programmatics becomes too embedded here in Australia as a ‘must have’ tool for every up-and-coming marketing executive, the industry must embrace self-regulation.

Firstly, it needs to establish a minimum common standard by which data is gathered and analysed.

A standard for programmatic analysis should be treated just as seriously as the other professional standards we insist on and adhere to in the commercial radio industry.

The programmatics industry has to be all about ‘integrity’ going forward.

Advertisers need to know the information their radio buying decisions are based on is accurate, and, the image of the industry as a whole, from agencies down through every aspect of the broadcast chain, must be protected from the reputational damage that inaccurate data can so easily create.

 About The Author:

Brad SMART has been a journalist, consultant, author, broadcaster, film director and was the former owner of the Smart Radio Network throughout Queensland. Brad can be contacted on email here.  

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