There has been much debate about whether digital advertising is moving towards an era of man versus machine, with the rise of programmatic buying. According to the Internet Advertising Bureau, 47% of display ads were traded programmatically in 2014, almost doubling from 28% in 2013. Given such huge growth, marketers are debating whether science and automation pose a threat to creativity.

Can programmatic and creativity co-exist?

Creativity in the digital age is about more than just the format alone, it’s about both design and distribution and that’s key where data is key. Yahoo processes around 150 billion user data events every day globally – that’s an incredible amount of knowledge that we have about consumers but it’s how we process data that really counts.

Data is the lifeblood of programmatic and we believe in the concept of smarter data – using data smartly to distribute content to the right consumer at the right time in order to minimise wastage and drive optimum performance.

Creativity needs programmatic because it’s so much more targeted and allows you to scale different creative executions for different audiences. It’s no longer about hanging your market campaign on one piece of creative – we’ve moved into an era of a multiplicity of creative and data helps to find the right audience for each piece of content.

When it comes to processing data, what is certain is that the machines alone cannot do it all. Rather than it be a case of man vs machine, it is actually a man (or woman) plus machine. In fact, increasing numbers of people are being employed on both the buy and sell sides of programmatic. Added to this the growing trend for marketing teams to employ in-house programmatic specialists, one could argue that employment opportunities are booming in this field and it is the dearth of people with the required skills which is the issue.

Advertisers are also acutely aware that the dominance of mobile is demanding a new approach when it comes to reaching consumers on their personal devices. There are one million different apps available through iOS and Google Play and on average, people use 20 different apps on their mobile phone, spending roughly 86% of their time in-app versus mobile web.

Looking at mobile behaviour, the number of possible apps is higher than the number of possible 8 million chromosomal combinations. As there are more than 410 x 1093 combinations of apps, one could argue that the mobile fingerprint is more distinctive than our biological DNA.

With that potential to interact with a specific user at a particular point in time – creativity moves back into the fold extremely quickly. There is an argument to be had that rather than killing creativity, programmatic is laying the ground for a new wave of creative thinking.

Nick Hugh

Nick Hugh


Nick Hugh is Vice President & General Manager, Advertising, Yahoo EMEA.