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The Media Planning Robots are coming…

Are we about to be automated?

With the news* that Blackwood Seven has just launched a media planning business that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI), we explore whether we’ll be among the millions to be replaced by machines in the near future. (*Campaign Media October 2016)

Firstly, how does it work? Essentially it’s a software platform that uses 82 data sources – from YouGov and Nielsen to a client’s sales information and even the weather. The algorithm-based system can predict the likely outcome of the media plan and allows a campaign to be optimised in real time.  Some big names like Volkswagen, Amazon are already spending their millions with it, and if they can get a "25%-50%" improvement in the effect of their media then there may be cause for alarm from humans.

If it was my money that was being spent, I’d like the appliance of science and would absolutely buy into the transparency, but surely there’s an argument for using a professional planner’s lifetime of experience and expertise?

In the most fundamental terms, we are yet again looking at the art versus science debate.

Obviously science is playing an increasingly important role in media planning, with an abundance of data, online tools, and tracking systems that take our trade to a new level.

Binary digits swirling around a blue face

I’d argue however that it’s the art of interpreting data, drawing insights, and applying learnings that the human brain can (for now) do better than AI. The scale of big data is undeniably more powerful than a great deal of brain power, and it sometimes takes number crunching at a level not humanly possible to spot trends and correlations. The danger of using AI alone though, is that there is no ‘sense check’ and definitely no ‘gut feeling’.

If we make a virtue of both of these organic faculties, maybe there is space yet for a person to work alongside machine for the best of both worlds.  A sense check, by an experienced planner, would know if media activity was appropriate - for instance HFSS ads (advertising for products that are high in fat, salt or sugar) in proximity to schools.  The experienced planner can rely on gut feel, when applying the learnings from similar previous campaigns, and perhaps most importantly if at an integrated agency, fully understand the way in which creative can shape media.

Some content is so perfect for certain platforms – think long form emotive brand film and cinema, or hyper local creative that relies on placement at a granular level for outdoor media.

Lastly, let’s just remember that people and business are one and the same. The way we communicate, influence and interact may not be clinically efficient but it gives us purpose, makes life more interesting and occasionally sparks thoughts, ideas and inspired magic that binary code cannot.

To think that AI can replace people, underestimates the human touch, but to down play the way AI will be part of our future is naïve.

We just hope that the two can coexist in a mutually beneficial and productive way.

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