Of Black Holes and Human Contact

Of Black Holes and Human Contact

The visually stunning movie “Interstellar” was lauded not just for its special effects but also for the fact that it had a heart, with a strong human connection at the core. An important element of the plot was the existence of a black hole in space; a very large and opaque object that sucks all manner of matter into its inky core.

With our fascinating world of advertising never far from my mind, I was seeing a metaphor for the digital universe up on the screen. Ad Tech has taken us to wonderful places, allowing us to automate the drudge work that drives people new to our business out of agencies. It also allows us to optimally sell and buy media within milliseconds. Let’s not take this for granted! But let’s be mindful not to let the grand potential of ad tech, and specifically Programmatic, spin into a black hole.

This business has always been about science and art and we need to be vigilant about not losing the right balance between the two.

On the science side of the equation, marketers are correct to be skeptical about being “sucked in” to the black hole of Programmatic: is the preponderance of middlemen in the process insidiously driving up pricing? Where are the ads running and how visible are they? If the ads are seen and clicked on, is it a human or a bot and, if a human, are they a customer/prospect? As an industry, we’re making progress re: visibility (although the bar is still set quite low) and inventory quality but we can’t neglect the human element of the equation as that’s where the “art” resides.

The art side of the equation will always be driven by passionate people and we can consider this from 3 perspectives: The first perspective is that passion drives tech. Having recently attended the Ad:Tech conference in NYC, I can attest to that. Passion can’t end with a successful algorithm or widget, however; we need to manage and harness these tools to better connect with real people in order to facilitate positive marketing outcomes for our clients. From an agency perspective; as automation reduces the number of man hours required to place and steward digital buys, let’s hope that the agencies can resist the siren call of improving their P&L by reducing headcount. Let’s redirect the time and passion of our people (particularly those who are new to our business) to bring their fresh viewpoints and creative solutions for our clients. A wide range of positive outcomes will result from doing this (vs. just talking about it). From an implementation perspective, we may be too focused on “scale” and “impressions” particularly as, we now know, a large percentage of these often-large numbers are fictitious. Let’s not forget about (as I inelegantly think of it) “real people who give a crap”. Real people with real passion are more likely to engage with an appropriately placed ad leading to real results. With new tools to discover the topics that engage our target and innovative ways to connect with them; we can, like “Interstellar”, (and here’s a spoiler alert) enter a black hole and successfully emerge with a positive result!