How Ad Tech Can Kill Excel

By: Eoin Townsend  Published: January 3, 2013

Link to original article

Online advertising is supposed to represent a marketing revolution, giving marketers access to cutting-edge technology that can match ads to consumer through a combination of creative and innovative algorithms. So why are digital media planners still so reliant on Microsoft Excel, an outdated piece of software from the 1980s? For digital to truly develop, we need to get to a world where the planners and buyers leverage unified marketing platforms and put Excel to rest.
Advertising has evolved tremendously. The traditional media buyer’s primary tool was the phone, as they spent the day calling contacts and dictating insertion orders to make sure a campaign hit the target demographics and markets. The rise of digital brought about the media planner, and while they undoubtedly utilize email, phone and fax, they are, as one columnist put it, “spending far too much time with mind-numbingly rote tasks involving Microsoft Excel.”
In the ad platform space, our biggest competitors are not other companies, but Excel. That might sound ridiculous, but I mean it in all sincerity. Media planners work with 20 different partners or vendors on average, and that number can climb as high as 50 for larger brands juggling multiple direct buys and looking for global scale. Managing these line items is a pain, and that’s what drives  planners to Excel. 
Consider this: online platforms represent more efficient buying practices, with performance and spending tracking capabilities that render Excel obsolete. They effectively give transparency not only into the 20 partners on the spreadsheet, but hundreds of available partners in the market. Yet 90% of online advertising is still bought and sold the old way, tracked by clicking the ubiquitous green X icon and staring into the cells.
The buying space should be inverted, with 90% of digital buying coming through efficient platforms. Homepage takeover ads and other kinds of native advertising will always require a direct connection between publisher and advertiser, but it’s safe to say ad buying platforms can account for the majority of online media in the next few years, including display, video, search and social.
Like the evolution from media buyer to media planner, digital’s next phase is the age of the media trader, where the former Excel maven at the agency or brand can now monitor and optimize campaigns in real time, just as stock traders watch the numbers from their desktop Bloomberg terminal. In an ideal world, all advertisers and agencies take advantage of the efficiencies and ROI measurement capabilities of programmatic buying and serving.
So how do we get to the point where we can invert the market? The key for the ad technology space is education. Today’s beleaguered media planners don't want to be chained to their desks. Platforms and technology providers need to reach this audience and show them how technology actually makes their jobs easier, once they sit down and learn the technology.
Networks can ply media planners with basketball tickets and vacation houses, but smart technology companies have the ability to arm them with skills that will help them climb the ladder within the company. The incentive for the media planner should be the mastery of skillset that only 10% of the market currently has, and then use that knowledge of a new technology as a springboard to move away from the spreadsheet and toward a higher position.
Getting planners out of excel benefits an agency’s brand clients as well. Spreadsheets are a time suck, one that drains the enthusiasm right out of a media planner. Platforms aren’t just about creating media traders – they’re about giving agency staff more time to work directly with brands on strategy. No one joins an agency to plug data into spreadsheets for hours a day. They join because they want to think strategically and drive market strategy, and automation gives them the time necessary to devote mental energy toward these goals.
Again, the platforms aren’t necessarily competing with each other here, and it won’t really matter which platform these media traders use. The goal is to first expand the market, and then differentiate. The intuitive and easy to use buying platforms will gain advocates within agencies and brands, and will continue to grow market share by growing the market.
Programmatic is an efficient buying practice, with continued growth forecast well into the coming years. But rather than focus on defeating each other, ad technology needs to focus on defeating the outmoded technologies of yesteryear.