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Ad mishaps and failures: blaming the algorithm is simply not good enough!

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At the moment you can’t go a day without a story in the mainstream media about the perils of programmatic advertising. All too often it seems that advertising ends up next to inappropriate content because it has been matched by an algorithm, rather than a human being.

For example, one particular problem is domain spoofing, where unscrupulous publishers, ad networks or exchanges obscure the nature of their traffic to resemble legitimate websites, in order to get greater ad revenue.

According to Linda Yaccarino, advertising sales and client partnerships, NBC Universal, it’s just not good enough. “How often have we seen the excuse of ‘whoops the algorithm did it’ – and these excuses aren’t just from small companies, either,” she told The Wall Street Journal’s Journal Lara O’Reilly at the FIPP World Congress in London. “Effectively their lack of discipline in so many areas is punishing the end user.”

Not only is Yaccarino critical of programmatic advertising, which she believes is nowhere near as efficient as many people think, she also believes that Nielsen, which measures TV audience size in the US, is largely out of date. Furthermore, it is completely absent when it comes to digital audiences.


“Nielsen is at least 10 to 15 years behind where consumer behaviour is,” she argues. Backed by powerful people in the ad world, such as CEO of WPP Sir Martin Sorrell, NBC is hoping to challenge Nielsen’s monopoly on TV audience ratings and is currently working with Data Plus Math to provide more competition in the marketplace.

According to Yaccarino, pure play digital companies are able to release audience figures for their own services which, she believes, aren’t always accurate. “Right now, there’s an imbalance. We can’t grade our own homework which digital companies can do.” 

However, she believes that the advertising market place is very strong for TV at present, partly because digital players haven’t always delivered on their promises.

Although initially criticised for bringing NBC Universal sales teams together (including broadcast, cable and digital sales) Yaccarino believes this has also made the company much more efficient and in a much stronger position to offer a strong, scalable solution going forward.

Furthermore, NBC’s investments in various digital properties have also helped the company extend its reach particularly to a younger audience. These include a $500 million strategic partnership with Snap Inc., the technology company behind Snapchat, and a further investment with the publisher Buzzfeed. “For a new generation of consumer, it’s really important to partner with people who do it best.”

One key focus over the next few years for NBC Universal is the Olympics, for which it has full rights until 2032. For example, content for the Olympics will be created by Buzzfeed and distributed via Snapchat as well as on the Apple News platform through another one of its partnerships.

So what’s next for NBC Universal? It seems that personalisation will be a major focus. Concludes Yaccarino: “You will be able to see the right ad at the right time on any channel. You may get one auto ad while your neighbour could get another.”

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