video may have killed the radio star, but is programmatic killing quality content?

Maybe it’s John Oliver’s (@iamjohnoliver) latest coverage on advertorials and the death of local newspapers that has me thinking about this, but I worry about the future of “good” content. By “good” content I mean – honest, balanced, well-researched, accurate and independent.

This may make me sound a bit old-fashioned, but I’m still a strong believer in traditional media buying. I believe if you align your brand with the right content and audience it increases brand recognition and sales. I believe you get what you pay for.  I believe cheap CPM services like programmatic are not as efficient as they seem, and could even damage your brand.  I believe if you stop valuing the content or media outlets you align with; they will stop valuing you.

What does this mean? How could media outlets stop valuing the very people keeping their lights on? It comes down to accountability.  Why would they continue to invest millions of dollars in high-quality (AKA expensive) content and writers if their advertisers are not even going to know it’s there? In most cases, this means more clickbait, but in the worst case scenario, this could mean outlets will sell inventory on the open market for sites that don’t even have content production anymore.  If all you care about is a demographic checkbox, maybe this doesn’t matter. Maybe you don’t care if you are buying ads across the ghost ships of the internet,  but as I wrote in this article, I believe there is more to successful marketing than just demographic targeting. Behavior and relevancy still matter.

The programmatic style of buying is not a new thing. We’ve seen this with bulk cable and radio network buys for years, but we’ve also seen the fallout. I’m not sure if you remember the major scandal in 2012 when Rush Limbaugh lost over 40 advertisers overnight based on something he said on the air. For me, the most interesting part of that story was that more than half of those advertisers had no idea they were even advertising on his show. For a few of these advertisers, his radio program was in direct opposition to company values. How could this be?

This interview with Bob Garfield describes it perfectly.  During this interview with the director of radio ad purchases for GroupM media, Kim Vasey says…

Because if you’re buying a program such as a Rush, we know exactly where that spot is running, if we buy program specific. If we’re just buying day part, morning, midday, afternoon across a thousand radio stations around the country, you may lose sight of where that may inadvertently end up.”

Sound familiar? With our increased demands for demographic-only targeting and competitive retargeting, we’ve lost focus on what media buying used to be.  In some cases, our programmatic ads are running across 1000’s of sites. Do you know all of them? It’s doubtful, even for the best marketing teams or b2b ad agencies. So if we don’t know where our ads are running, how are we ever going to know if these sites are producing the right content to align with, or even any content at all? It’s impossible.

Our customers still need content produced by independent media outlets and analyst firms to make educated technology purchase decisions. This is even more important in the b2b technology space.  In many cases, these outlets are what help you make the shortlist.  There’s a reason why technology marketers still love to show off positive Gartner Magic Quadrant rankings. Positive independent reviews and media mentions from trusted resources have a halo effect that you can’t recreate with your content, even if you hire the best experts in the industry.

Imagine if every movie review you read was written by a reviewer who was hired by the studio. Would you trust it? Would that make you more inclined to go to the movie? If we continue to support cheaper options that put less accountability on media outlets to produce quality content, this is where we are headed. And that’s not beneficial for any of us.

Now I know programmatic offers other advantages (retargeting, data pools, etc.), and I did simplify the service a bit, but next time you consider bulking up your programmatic spend, just think about it. The media outlets your customers lean on to make purchasing decisions are now getting cents on the dollar for the advertising that helps them invest in the independent content that your customers and prospects trust. In a world where the value of “good” content is lost, trust will be the first thing to go.

Agree or disagree with me? Comment below and let’s get the discussion going.


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