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For immediate release (October 6, 2017) Media Contact: Judy Abelman Email: Phone: 440.725.8861...

Programmatic or Problematic?

TomK_120x158By Tom Kramer

Get ready. As a professional who has run thousands of online campaigns, I am about to go against the grain and buck all of the current “conventional wisdom.” Full Disclosure: I own and operate a RTB DSP with a fully integrated DMP, if that matters, and we use programmatic buying tools every day.

So what’s the rub? Well, I’m NOT in love with “programmatic online ad buying,” that’s what. There, I’ve admitted it publicly and maybe I’m on the road to recovery. Or maybe I’ve opened myself up to relentless attacks. We’ll see …

It’s not that I don’t think programmatic buying is effective – clearly it is, in context. And the data supports it, depending on how it’s viewed. But I don’t think that it’s the silver bullet that all of the marketing hype pretends it to be. Let me explain.

Programmatic online ad buying has been heralded as the marketer’s panacea. The notion that advertisers can purchase online advertising, flawlessly, by leveraging real-time data and maximizing ROI is tantalizing, to say the least. But there’s a slight problem — programs only do what they’re told to do. They don’t rationalize or hypothesize, they optimize — toward EXACTLY what they are programmed to optimize toward; right or wrong, doesn’t matter, they just do it. And if the person setting up and running the campaign misdirects or misinterprets the strategies or tactics, the campaign could be set up to chase a butterfly off a cliff. Not good, but it’s more common than you would think. As they say, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

If that happens — rather, WHEN that happens — there is only one hope: That a highly skilled and experienced ad ops engineer catches it and corrects the problem; that they put the campaign back on track, so to speak. There’s something remarkable to note in that statement: The importance of the human factor, which is curiously absent in all of the marketing hype.

This isn’t a ridiculous hypothetical either, it’s reality. Despite our best intentions in setting up campaigns, we honestly don’t know what we don’t know. There’s no historical data to rely on, only the emergent data can answer the questions that we have regarding optimization. More importantly, only a highly skilled ad ops engineer can interpret that data and refine the campaign parameters to keep the campaign moving in the right direction. When there are THOUSANDS of campaign parameters to define and manage, unintended outcomes occur. It is important to not let those misdirects define the campaign but to correct them instead.

What programmatic buying DOES extremely well is to manage the minutiae. It takes our intentions, as interpreted by our campaign parameters, and automates the “granular” tweaks for us, saving a lot of time. But don’t be fooled. The time saved benefits the DSP and rarely translates into “savings” for the advertiser but rather “profits” for the DSP in reduced man-power. And worse yet, it sells a false concept of “set-and-forget” that pervades the industry. We trust that the programs are doing the work for us and I can promise you, they’re not. Again, they’re only doing what the campaign parameters have instructed them to do; right or wrong.

So, that’s why I’m not in love with programmatic online ad buying. It can be either a tool or a shortcut, depending on the DSP. Those who operate “assembly line” ad exchanges are most likely to use it as a profit-generating shortcut, and that gives the rest of us a bad name. Please make sure you understand HOW your DSP is deploying programmatic because there’s no such thing as “magic” algorithms. At least, not yet.

Tom Kramer has 20-plus years of experience in marketing and management with an emphasis on advanced technology and digital marketing/advertising platforms. He is the president and founder of Essex Digital Platform . He can be reached at



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