The Robots are Taking Over
Where does this leave us?
By Francois du Preez | January 15, 2015
As the Governator gave a teary-eyed John Connor the thumbs up as he sank into molten steel, humanity was saved. The threat of Skynet was terminated and we could breathe again. Or could we?
In popular science fiction films dating back to the fifties, we are made to believe that one day robots will take our jobs, become self-aware and eventually destroy humanity. As a child I remember watching programmes like Beyond 2000 and being both excited and terrified by the promise of advanced robotics and automation. Little did I know that one day I would be smack bang in the middle of the ‘bot’ revolution.
I’m referring of course to the automation of online media placement and how that affects our industry. In the past, digital media companies had a handful of reputable publishers to choose from. Online media was done in a spray-and-pray manner and there was no real way of guaranteeing any real results.
This was sold to the client as being thoroughly researched (at great expense) and promised to be fruitful, all under the cloak of confusing stats and useless data.
We soon realised that impressions alone meant nothing and the world moved towards affiliate and performance marketing models. This allowed us to be more specific in our targeting: Our target audience likes playing golf so let’s target them on smaller, lesser visited golf and related sites that have won their loyalty. Here they would be more susceptible to our messaging as their guards would be down. Pay per lead, pay per converted lead or pay per sale payment models made all of this very exciting and clients were finally getting their money’s worth. It all made perfect sense.
Soon ad networks started automating the planning and buying process and display ads were robotically placed on “relevant” sites within the network. With the automation of placement came its own set of issues. Click fraud became a very real problem, costing advertisers an estimated $11,6 billion annually in losses. Robots trained to act as humans started beating us at our own game. Ad fraud also includes respectable brands displaying on “websites of ill repute” and shady banners popping up on legitimate sites. There was a massive gap in the market for anyone who could offer some form of control over this monster we created.
In 2014 Google purchased spider.io, a startup aimed at weeding out click fraud and giving online marketers a clearer picture of what is actually happening with their display ads. Google had this to say on their official blog:
“Advertising helps fund the digital world we love today — inspiring videos, informative websites, entertaining apps and services that connect us with friends around the world. But this vibrant ecosystem only flourishes if marketers can buy media online with the confidence that their ads are reaching real people, that results they see are based on actual interest. To grow the pie for everyone, we need to take head on the issue of online fraud.”
Programmatic buying has since taken the online advertising world by storm. It seems like tighter regulations and better control has lead to a much more efficient way of automated planning and buying. It’s estimated that by 2017 programmatic will make up almost 60% of total global display ad spend. Does this mean that expensive research will eventually become redundant? Programmatic is effective on a level humans can never be, or so they say.
It has made it so easy to manage online media that some corporates have decided to take this function in-house, leaving both the advertising agency and media company out in the cold. Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark and Kellogg’s are among the brave, early adopters who have taken this route. It doesn’t matter where the ads are displayed, all that matters is who sees them, all the hard work is done by the algorithm. It seems like the robots have finally taken over.
This has sparked some massive changes in the advertising industry – agencies are slowly but surely adopting digital media as an in-house function. Digital media companies are widening their nets and transforming into content creators. Third party companies like spider.io are popping up and offering services that didn’t exist two years ago. So where does this leave us?
It seems like the industry is changing rapidly and companies who cannot keep up will start dropping like flies. We are moving into a space dominated by insights and smart data, the clients are savvy and empowered and the roles of digital media companies are becoming less defined. But can robots really do our jobs?
I don’t believe they can. Sure, it has become much easier to get to the right audience but can the “robots” supply the necessary insights on what to say to these users? Can they define this audience without human intervention? We should see this as a massive opportunity, not a threat. We are simply automating the legwork and we can now focus on targeted messaging, adaptive campaigns and gathering insights that would bring us much closer to the user on every available platform. Agencies are now empowered to deliver quick turn-around content to the right audience at the click of a button, monitor the response and adapt the campaign on the fly. It is an exciting time to be alive indeed. Everything seems to be pointing to good, relevant content — the delivery is just made so much easier by our “robot” friends.
“It is at this point that Sarah fully respects the T-800 and offers her hand in friendship to a rade before his final sacrifice, which he takes. Because of this event, Sarah looks to the future with renewed hope, believing that if a Terminator can learn the value of human life, then perhaps humanity is not doomed to self-destruction.”