Ashton Media
Marketing & Customer Experience Hub

Avoiding programmatic stress disorder



I was on the panel at an event recently where the topic was whether the world is better off with or without programmatic advertising. It seemed I was in the minority. My cohorts delivered the familiar arguments about how we now faced issues with viewability, non-human traffic, fraud, the quality of inventory and transparency. And that was all the fault of the technology. Or so they reckoned.

Sure, ad fraud would be less likely if you personally met with the owner of each website you wanted to advertise on, then used a quill pen to fill out a booking form in triplicate. But you also wouldn’t serve many ads – and the ones you did serve might still fall short on other metrics. Way better, I’d say, to deliver at scale, using technology to filter out placements which don’t reach the right audience or meet quality standards.


Without programmatic technology, it will become progressively more difficult to plan advertising across multiple channels, with tightly defined targets and behavioural feedback to continually fine-tune the campaign. It’s difficult to do all that with schedules in Excel and phone calls to media reps. Programmatic platforms do all of that at a million miles an hour.

Unfortunately, my fellow panellists aren’t alone in decrying the rise of programmatic. To anyone thinking of joining the chorus, it’s worth remembering all the things that can’t be done in a world devoid of programmatic advertising. We can’t, for example:

  • Manage user experience/frequency across multiple publishers
  • Make decisions about inventory based on opportunity to view
  • Optimise towards human beings, and away from bots
  • Understand the exact value of each piece in the chain – data, media and tech

In reality, programmatic shines a light on problems with viewability, fraud and transparency. It’s not the cause of these problems. These are issues of the digital space at large. When you book directly with a publisher, how much visibility do you really have into where your ad ran, if it was delivered to a human or a bot and whether it had the opportunity to be viewed? And how much of the information that you do receive is immediately actionable?

Programmatic technology provides third party tools that give you the reassurance that campaigns ran as planned. And the interrogative capability means, with a little digging, you can see where ads are failing and investigate the cause – whether it’s bad placement, poor creative, viewability or something more sinister, like fraud. You can examine value at an impression level in a much better way than ever before. In other words, programmatic is really the only tool you can use to prevent the digital ills it is ironically being accused of creating.

The technology fails when users see it as a solution rather than a tool. It’s not a black box that you plug-in and out spits your optimum ad schedule. The fact that it is often referred to as an automation tool disguises the fact that to be effective takes a lot of hard work. Programmatic enables you to plan, track and improve campaigns in ways that would be inconceivable just a few years ago. But it doesn’t do it all by itself.

If programmatic technology is left unattended and humans relinquish all responsibility for tracking what is driving optimum outcomes, then, yes, it can turn ugly. But who would do that? I’ve seen Electric Dreams; I know what machines do when they are left unattended.

I fall in the camp that firmly believes programmatic is a tool that gives us transparency and control. I’m sure my fellow panellists see the sense in that. Perhaps we just caught them on a bad day.

Join Lynn at the Programmatic Forum on July 20.

About Lynn Chealander – VP, Vivaki
Lynn Chealander led the Publicis Groupe's programmatic offering in Australia and New Zealand, and then successfully oversaw its integration into the agencies.