A consumer engages an eCommerce site, searches and browses, unaware that a legion of display ads lay bivouacked just beyond the horizon under cover of algorithms, data, and cookies. Brands take great care to curate the story on their sites in order to enhance the user experience, and they know they have the chance to continue the dialog with their audience based on what data provides them. Yet they forget that marketing is an art, and they too often bring a tuba to a violin recital. Programmatic is a term that came from music, and believe it or not, I find it especially relevant today.
Originally “program music” was used to tell a story in a specific sequence, evoking certain, specific emotions at certain, specific times. It was an integral part of the user experience for listeners that were used to augment the desired output of the score as an accompaniment. The producer, conductor, and performers all focused on creating the best experience possible for their audience. Program music grew through the years to enhance musicals on Broadway and then modern day Rock Operas, something close to my heart. My parents represented The Who for Tommy and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. Bob Ezrin (who produced The Wall) and I chat about music, technology and consumer experience.
In this genre, the music and the story are one; in fact the story was the accompaniment to the music for many fans, not the other way around. And it worked fantastically well. A consumer should barely notice the programmatic advertising complementing their activity, as any good accompaniment would do.
But today’s online ads play out the antithesis of a program music effort. Consumers shouldn’t need a restraining order to protect themselves from online reminders for the next six weeks after viewing a pair of flip-flops. And programmatic advertising doesn’t just enable retargeting; when abused, it insidiously invades the consumer’s every user experience across every digital interface of life.
Worse, in the case of mobile, it completely disrupts a consumer’s attempt to act on anything. Is this really the program a brand wants the consumer to hear? It’s like going to an opera with Motorhead in the orchestra pit. Advertising should evoke an intended feeling and entice a dialog between a consumer and a brand, very much the same as program music. In digital, programmatic is a tool that can be used to accomplish these goals; unfortunately, most brands haven’t found the right maestro to ensure the best libretto of messages for their audience. Worse, as response rates fall, they just play the same song, only louder.