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What Insiders Think of IAB's Plan to Swap 'Programmatic' for 'Automation'

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EnlargeSnapshot from the IAB’s white paper. Credit: Interactive Advertising Bureau.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau released a report Wednesday that attempts to rid the advertising world from the word “programmatic” and replace it with “automation.”

Ironically, the news arrived on the same day as the IAB Programmatic Symposium.

“Instead of relying on the false dichotomy of defining overall buying and selling practices as ‘programmatic’ or not, IAB proposes a framework rooted in the digital supply chain processes that can (or cannot) be automated,” the report said.

The report itself is complex, and replaces the P word with automation at nearly every turn. We checked in with some industry insiders to get their take on the proposed plucking of “programmatic.”

Susan Bidel, senior analyst, Forrester:
“Just when people were beginning to coalesce around the meaning of programmatic, we’re going to change it? The way it’s used now, programmatic means the application of data to the purchase of media. The word ‘automation’ doesn’t begin to cover that complexity.”

“As an industry, advertising technology has never been concerned with applying traditional definitions to their products and processes,” she added. “I see no reason to start worrying about this now.”

Jessica Barrett, global head of programmatic, Financial Times:
“It’s already ingrained in our vocabulary and work patterns. However, I’m sure there will be 10-plus new synonyms and/or acronyms for programmatic this year. We love creating new words in this industry.”

“Changing the name is like painting over a moldy wall,” she added. “You can call programmatic whatever you want, but it will continue to be clunky and manual unless buyers and sellers start using it correctly.”

Michael Connolly, CEO, Sonobi:

“The word should be ‘pragmatic’ as pragmatically, it is leveraging technology to simply add more value to the buying and selling process of media. Programmatic is requiring more work than non-programmatic, so we have more maturation that needs to occur before we can call it automation.”

In fairness, this is the IAB’s first attempt at getting its arms around the subject. It created a unified lexicon of sorts, which is filled with colorful flowcharts and some terminology that is even new to this reporter. All this was done in an attempt to educate marketers about what the technology can achieve, and how to properly use it, something many feel is lacking.

Tim Wolfe, VP-revenue operations, USA Today:
“I think ‘automation’ is a bit optimistic at the moment. While the ecosystem is more efficient than the traditional sales process, there is still a lot of handholding and troubleshooting in the process to declare it as ‘auto-mated.’

Wolfe said if given the option, he’d call it “pipeage” — not “automation.” “We are simply connecting and moving data and dollars and sometimes those pipes get clogged with sludge.”

Still, not everyone is betting against the rise of “automation.”

Keith Grossman, global chief revenue officer, Bloomberg Media:
“If Patagonian Toothfish can successfully be marketed as Chilean sea bass, then I am sure we can one day move away from the word ‘programmatic. But I’d replace ‘programmatic’ with ‘addressable’ instead.”

Rob Emrich, CEO, Gimbal:
“There’s always been a tendency in ad tech to fall in love with our own products and we give them fancy names and jargon that no one outside of the industry understands. It’s confusing. And I think taking strides to be more clear and literal with our terminology could do us all a favor.”

John Koetsier, mobile economist, Tune:
“I think for a couple years we’re likely to increase the level of confusion with yet another term, but it should get better over time.”

“Automated ad buying is a little more straightforward, a little easier to understand, and has the great advantage of being accurate: you are automating the sale and/or purchase of ad space. Of course, not everything is automated, and there are generally rules to contain the automation within boundaries that are acceptable to publishers and advertisers, but it is accurate.”

Martin Coady, exec director of marketing technology at VML:
“From my view, the word ‘automation’ is another harbinger of the impending absorption of ad tech into the larger martech stack. Eventually, these ads will be simply part of the overall personalization story rather than a separate category.”

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