Programmatic has completely reshaped how the advertising industry does business. Last year, the IAB estimated that as many as 60% of display ads served were traded programmatically, equating to a staggering £1.6 billion of spend in the UK alone. There will be very few people working in advertising who haven’t felt this paradigm shift.

But while we may all have been impacted by the rise of programmatic, it has not been universally welcomed. In fact, programmatic is often accused of being a “killer of creativity,” with some marketers believing its reliance on data and automation is at odds with the artistic elements of advertising. Eyed occasionally with suspicion, it has often been relegated to a channel for purchasing remnant inventory, instead of being embraced as a driver of creativity.

As a technology in itself, programmatic is neither “good” nor “bad” – it’s simply a means of making the delivery of advertising more accurate and efficient. But how it’s used plays a huge role in the way the industry works, and this is dictated by the kind of talent brands, agencies and publishers recruit to buy and sell ads. If organisations get this right, programmatic can become an enabler of – and a catalyst for –creativity.

Talent recruitment

Recruiting the right skills for any role is a challenge, but finding the mix of competencies needed in this case is particularly complex. Traditional creativity skills are no longer enough: a grasp of data analytics, technical operations and automation needs to become the “new normal” for marketing and trading teams if programmatic is to reach its full potential.

To achieve this, the industry needs to take a different approach to recruitment. As a first step, brands, agencies and publishers need to understand and react to the diverse skill set necessary for programmatic success. This may well involve taking personnel “risks” by recruiting candidates that don’t have a traditional media background but whose skills do reflect where the industry is today and needs to be going in the future.

It will take time, but by being forward thinking with recruitment, stakeholders along the advertising trading chain can nurture a new generation talent pool; one that is best equipped to take the industry forward.

Content creation

Programmatic and cross-device capabilities have given us more ways than ever before to target and engage with consumers, but this access comes with risks. A rising number are reacting against uninspiring or irrelevant content by using ad blockers, meaning that relevancy of ads is of vital importance.

As an industry we need to remember that although programmatic has given us a new and more accurate means of communicating with an audience, the “golden rules” of advertising still apply: content must be exciting, relevant and engaging.

One of the biggest shifts for creative in this respect, is ensuring the content developed performs well within the digital, and even automated, environment. Content in the digital landscape relies heavily upon its visual aspects and, given the short viewer time it receives, needs to be immediately attention grabbing and never detract from the user’s journey. In particular, this is true for mobile, where the real estate available is so much smaller.

Selective targeting

One of the real benefits of the programmatic model is that it allows us to harness powerful behavioural insight and thus personalise campaigns to their individual audiences on a large scale.

At eBay we are in the unique position of having access to insights observed from our 19 million unique UK users, meaning we are able to respond to the interests, motivations and purchase behaviour of shoppers, and open the door to predictive targeting for brands.

Programmatic is a hungry machine; we need to feed it with trusted data to ensure campaigns are reaching the right audiences at the right time and place – and in the right context. And in a time of data decay, it’s now more important than ever before for this data to be relevant and timely, to ensure maximum campaign efficiency.

Where next?

There’s still a significant amount of education that needs to be done before the industry is using programmatic to its full creative potential – and to raise the standards of the industry as a whole.

Data and automation may be what drives programmatic – but targeting an audience in an incredibly precise way, in real time, can only get you so far if the ad served doesn’t inspire or interest them. It’s humans that we need to respond to ads – and it’s both sides of the human brain that we need to create them.

Jean-Baptiste Goux

Jean-Baptiste Goux


Jean-Baptiste Goux is Head of Business Operations and Tech Advertising EMEA, eBay.