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Programmatic targeting: Why we're approaching the end of the media category

The last decade and a half has seen the gradual creep of digital technology into almost all media sectors.

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What started in the late 1990s with the explosion of universal internet access and the launch of digital TV and radio channels, progressively shifted up through the gears of change with fast broadband, 3G, ubiquitous Wifi and the domination of smart phones and tablet computers.

This digital revolution has resulted in ever greater quantities of media content being sucked into the online or digital vortex as media owners followed eyeballs.

The first category to be really affected of course was print. It’s almost unthinkable now for a "print" media owner to operate purely off-line; magazines and newspapers either operate as solely online or run parallel on-off line publishing operations. Print with some notable exceptions is gradually becoming a subordinate product.

Now the divide between linear broadcast TV and streamed IPTV and pure online video is blurring and even in the out-of-home space media owners are digitising their poster portfolios. Some poster networks like Amscreen are already internet connected and are testing smart targeting technology.

Meanwhile, the likes of Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter (and arguably gaming brands) have essentially created vast new media categories that integrated horizontally with other media.

So if you were to fast forward another fifteen years what kind of a media environment would you find?

From a marketing perspective, I think one of the biggest changes will be a blurring of the lines between media categories. It will become nonsensical to define internet-connected media content by its delivery mechanism.

Most media is gradually becoming universally accessible by smart mobile devices, whether that’s a phone, tablet, wearable tech or perhaps even a connected car. As linear broadcast TV becomes just another internet protocol-based medium, even the historically dominant screen in the corner of the living room will begin to lose its definition.

There will be exceptions of course. Cinema, which has always been a medium defined by its physical experiential aspect, stands apart; it is and will probably remain a uniquely off-line medium. Some print newspapers (particularly free ones) could survive long-term. Glossy print magazines may remain as a luxury niche product. Radio might seem distinct too, but online listening is growing gradually so it’s conceivable that radio may inch-by-inch be absorbed into the great digital media spectrum.

The really revolutionary moment in this blurring process will come when we are able to target consumers on a personal level across any device, from phone, tablet, bracelet, smart jacket, to TV and laptop.

Cross-device targeting will be delivered by technology capable of linking a single device (or series of devices) with a single user profile and then match those devices to that same user profile through their TV viewing habits or desk-top browsing. The ability to do this is closer than you think.

At this point, brands will no-longer plan campaign strategies by thinking about media channels, but purely through programmatic out-reach to defined groups of anonymous individuals (from a programmatic perspective, audience will become a rather antiquated term) that flow from TV to video, to app, to retail site, to news brand and back again across whatever device they have to hand.

It’s likely that most marketers will see programmatic marketing as the core of their role. At Chango, we predict most brands will use Programmatic Advertising Platforms to automate every campaign in minute detail, with budgets targeting preselected groups of anonymous individuals on their media journeys.

We are also beginning to see hints of a massive new wave of media channels; once inanimate hardware such as fridges, bathroom scales, mirrors, etc. This "internet of things" could in theory be used as another route to consumers, although most people might have a problem with brands targeting them in the bathroom.

There are challenges on this journey towards a programmatic marketing utopia. Advertisers continue to be put off by poor brand safety online; targeting, measurement and price transparency will be critical and ultimately consumers will have more control over their privacy and will begin to price or trade their data.

Trust and standards will, along with mind-blowing programmatic targeting technology, be the key pillars on which this category-free media future will be built.

Dax Hamman is chief strategy officer at Chango

This article was first published on mediaweek.co.uk

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