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Automation will free us to add value where it counts

Charlie Makin, Investor and Board Advisor of Bitposter   |   08th November 2016

A little while ago, Jerry Buhlmann said that Dentsu could be "approaching 100% programmatic by 2020". It created a minor storm for two reasons: Buhlmann, global chief executive of Dentsu Aegis Network, is a highly regarded industry leader, and programmatic is a value-laden term.

Programmatic has been weaponised in the increasingly hostile power struggle between agencies and clients over fees, costs and rebates. It is, without doubt, the most contentious area in the report published earlier this year by the Association of National Advertisers in the US about lack of clarity between marketers and agencies.

High-value media

Although growing rapidly, most programmatic buying is still confined to digital channels, where there is an almost unlimited supply of low-cost inventory and editorial content that is often free or cheap to create. It’s a very effective way of distributing a mass of inventory that could never be managed manually.

The issue for the future is how this model can be applied to high-value media, where there is finite supply. Considering that an hour of Downton Abbey costs more than £1m to make and the 40-metre-long Motion@Waterloo digital screen reputedly cost £4m to install, one understands why "established" media owners still need to retain control over yields. 

High-value content and consumer experiences create mass engagement, which requires significant investment to deliver, and the industry should value this as much as the opportunities offered by precision targeting.

Programmatic, as a noun, perhaps deliberately, obfuscates a simple concept. Programmatic automates bringing buyers and sellers together and creates an automated marketplace driven by a set of rules (I’ve used automated twice in this sentence because it matters).

I’m involved in developing Bitposter, an automated platform for out-of-home media, and we have avoided programmatic as a moniker as our objective is to democratise the billboard market. We want to make it more efficient, transparent, accessible and easier to transact. Automation, as a term, isn’t value-laden and simply describes an objective.   

Automating trading 

Automation is a massive opportunity for the industry. Consumers are influenced by complex cocktails of media, and automation allows us to deliver better solutions. All media is automating trading in some form: out-of-home via Bitposter, Sky’s AdVance for TV, The Guardian for national, and 1XL and Trinity Mirror for regional press content are a few examples.

Automation will help advertisers access multiple channels more precisely and serve their consumers better.

I recently did a project for a FTSE 250 City broker with revenues of nearly £1bn. It has experienced all the same issues as the media industry, albeit ten years earlier. Forty per cent of its trades are voice, 60% are electronic.

Simply, low-value, high-volume trades are done automatically, leaving the brokers time to focus on complex deals that drive value, where some form of human expertise and intervention is vital. I suspect roughly the same will happen in media.

I don’t think the industry will be close to 100% programmatic in four years’ time, but I do think it will be increasingly automated across every channel, freeing us to focus on where we can genuinely add value for clients and consumers. 

Written by Charlie Makin is an investor and board advisor of Bitposter. He is a co-founder of BLM.


"As an industry, I believe, we have forgotten the power of repetition. Effective communication isn't small. It isn't cheap. It isn't once."
"Advertising isn’t supposed to be private. It’s supposed to be overheard, shared, stumbled across and discovered."
"And then there’s advertising’s past. The intrusive, inflexibile and mute billboards. They feel like throwbacks to the old way of doing things. A flat image with an unyielding rule that the consumer can take in no more than eight words (unless they’re Economist readers). How boring. How old school. Until you remember 2015's ‘Shot on iPhone 6’ campaign. Simple, traditional and utterly un-missable pieces of art in the urban landscape."
"Out of Home is the oldest medium of all There’s still huge power in the public message – the power of the public comment. It’s a big thing – it’s why people get married in front of an audience of 150; it gives a public sense of commitment."
"We've chosen to use digital to make everything more efficient...but we've forgotten how to explore and discover. It's a loss of serendipity and we've lost a lot of the humanity. We're becoming very reliant upon digital and the internet to make us incredibly efficient and we're losing out."
"The beauty of OOH is that it can double as a TV screen, a social feed, a camera, a vending machine, a download site, or a purchase point."
"OOH is constantly evolving, and its ability to integrate so brilliantly with new technology is one of its main strengths."
"Media changes, driven by digitisation, have left consumers facing a tyranny of choice—yet OOH is a channel that can still deliver huge audiences, and can increasingly do so in creative and engaging ways."
"The Out of Home sector has been tremendously resilient throughout the recessionary years, showing consistent growth driven by its fundamental benefits. In an ever-fragmenting media landscape, you can still reach pretty much the entire population, all at the same time."
"Out of Home is booming right now: OOH is the most ubiquitous media – you can’t turn the page, change the channel or switch it off, and Out of Home continues to integrate itself brilliantly with other new and innovative technologies."
"Posters decorate the world "
"Speed of change is all around us and no more so than in the rate at which advertising investment in traditional posters is being transitioned to include a far more flexible Out of Home canvas; the digital poster."
"I love OOH because the diversity of opportunities makes it a realistic option for almost any client. Add to this the ever growing possibilities for new innovation and it’s a media channel that is truly exciting to both agencies and clients alike."
"As DOOH becomes more “digital,” it becomes more agile, richer, and better able to play its part in a big idea. As a plugged in medium, DOOH can be the active element in a multi-layered campaign. It can create buzz, break news, invite interaction, and help to drive content and discussions online. Great DOOH campaigns are ones that sit comfortably within the wider brand strategy and capture the imagination."
"By its very nature, Out of Home’s remoteness from the consumer living room, from the office, and from the home computer, has made it a natural bedfellow of mobile marketing."
"OOH inhabits a wonderful space in which we benefit from a rich heritage of memorable, iconic campaigns and a truly exciting future unfolding before us. A broadcast medium that just keeps getting better."
"DOOH is a really interesting storytelling medium, beyond advertising. It allows you to touch and feel and interact in a way no other medium does. That's the real beauty of it, and usually overlooked"
"Show me any brief, for any client and any campaign and I guarantee that OOH will be able to have a justifiable role to play as part of the media solution. That role maybe big or small; local or national, classic, digital or both, large format, small format or anything in between... but it will be justifiable and worthwhile. There isn’t any other medium that can replicate that claim, or indeed come anywhere near doing so."
"London’s very large public transport network carries a great deal of OOH advertising. As a result, London alone has 170,000 advertising sites, more than 40 per cent of the national total. This makes London the most valuable city for OOH advertising in Europe and among the most important in the world."
"Digital OOH networks are multi-sensory and with the development of touch technology things are moving fast. Stimulating the senses more creatively generates social shares, great PR and awards."
"Central London will undergo a transformation and cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds will get even brighter and more connected"
"It makes sense for the most welcomed and least intrusive media to deliver presence for brands interacting through the media"
"OOH remains the flexible canvas for which a guaranteed audience is never too far away"
"OOH may be the oldest medium, yet it has shown remarkable resilience in reinventing itself"
"Smarter brands are contextualising their ad messaging, reaching a target audience when it matters most and can change behaviour"
"Poster sites really are the last true broadcast medium capable of near universal reach"
"Immediacy, targeting and excitement are what DOOH can offer that other media can't - its just very very cool.The opportunities are endless"
"The combination of classic and DOOH should be an intoxicating mix for any marketing director"
"Out of Home is an accountable, measurable and effective media for advertisers"
"Reaching people in the right place, at the right time is still Out of Home’s biggest strength"
"Posters are the purest and most effective form of communication"
"I would advise marketers using OOH not to see a poster as a Wikipedia entry, think of it as a piece of art"
"OOH engages hard to reach audiences on the move with inspiring and innovative communications"
"Using data to plan OOH enhances campaign performance by up to 200%"
"London is the most valuable city for OOH advertising... and among the most important in the world "
"Super premium digital Out of Home is one of the quickest ways to get into the conversation and make your brand famous"
"For a brand to live, it needs to appeal not only to the people who buy it, but also to the people who know about it "
"Media isn’t about the number of impressions you make. Media is about the power of the impression you make."
"In advertising, we have the power to change minds, change beliefs and change the world"
"DOOH offers deeper engagement than other media, more of a story and feedback"