“It eliminates all the fun.”​ Automation taking over marketing?

Jon Loomer, a well-respected digital marketer, was interviewed by Andy Gray in Andy’s podcast.

They discussed automation and the impacts it has on the future of digital marketing.

Andy asked what happens when everything becomes standardized by the platform? That is, when the platform sets the click price, chooses the targeting, and even writes the ads.

The logic of the question was that a marketer will no longer have any competitive tools against others within the platform – and it appears we cannot do anything to get ahead of the competition anymore.

Jon’s comment to all this — “it eliminates all the fun” — got my attention.

Eliminating all fun is an important aspect from a marketer’s perspective. One can easily lose the meaning of one’s work in such an environment where all creativity, experimentation, and decision making is taken away, and one is left with the role of supporting the algorithm with occasional oneliners that the machine chooses from.

However, from a macro perspective, a couple of thoughts about the future.

First, we might enter some form of “perfect market” where supply and demand are matched in perfect alignment of the platform’s vision. Then, if the rules and procedures are the same for all, this can be considered fair (as in: procedural fairness) and the “biggest checkbook” doesn’t always win.

One example is the quality score — it can equalize advertisers by setting click price based on quality, not the willingness to bid the highest.

…in quality score’s case, though, the score becomes eradicated as the platform is taking over the quality part of ad creation. But the point remains — there may arise natural differentiation factors. For example, a major brand couldn’t buy “barber shop in [small town x]” keywords because the system would (supposedly) be able to know that the major brand doesn’t have an outlet there, and so the small barber shops that have would be at a structural advantage in this local example of bidding.

The question still remains: how would the winner be determined among the rivaling small barber shops?

In my opinion, there would need to be some secondary information that serves as a signal for matching user intent with the best possible alternative for that intent: product reviews, website usability, pricing…

The kind of information that affects how likely a user is to buy from Barbershop A vs. Barbershop B. Think Google reviews, Core Web Vitals, XML product feed information (or simplified versions of it). Opening hours, etc.

Take an example of user searching for a barber shop at midnight: is there one open? If so, it wins the competition due to natural factors, not due to “optimization”.

The point is: there will always be natural signals (as in: characteristics appearing outside the ad platform and independent of it) that the ad platform can incorporate in its decision as to which ad takes precedence. These signals can take away the “game” or “gaming” of the platform, that we call optimization (at the same time taking away the fun from doing digital marketing), but it’s not certain this would result in a situation where either the companies using advertising or the users would be worse off.