Artificial Intelligence’s Role in Media Buying

Alissa Ricci Headshot - 200 x 200By Alissa Ricci, Executive Director, Media and Research

Artificial Intelligence seems scary. It brings to mind images of humanoid robots taking over our jobs and doing them better than any imperfect human could. The term AI can strike fear into the heart of marketers, if we don’t pause to understand what it means to our specific roles.

In media buying, AI has played a large role for many years in the form of programmatic media, primarily in the digital space. Letting technology optimize our buys to efficiently mine datasets and then deliver targeted ads is the norm, especially with user-friendly self-serve platforms such as GoogleAds or Facebook Ads Manager. But, we are not in a space yet where AI could completely replace the valuable role of a human media buyer.

Big brands even have the opportunity to create their own AI platforms to leverage first-party data to drive their ad purchases. Digiday wrote an in-depth blog to this effect earlier in the year, citing popular gym chain Orange Theory’s experience with AI. Initially Orange Theory developed their own AI solutions to manage their ad buying, and went all-in on the tech after they saw a drastic decrease in cost-per-lead. However, just two years later they made the transition to using AI as a tool wielded by an internal team and a media agency. Global Marketing Director Tammie DeGrasse-Cabrera correctly categorizes media buying as an “art and science” which can leverage AI platforms to find efficiencies.

Orange Theory didn’t have it all wrong. AI can be highly effective for a media team in the planning and reporting phases. Leveraging AI to find trends, patterns and opportunities integrating both first- and third-party datasets is a planner’s dream. Big brands can develop their own platforms, like Orange Theory did, or there are already many paid applications and tools available that agencies can use to leverage AI in this way.

But aside from automated data analysis and programmatic digital, it will be interesting to see how AI might play a future role in more traditional media buying where we rely heavily on trained expert humans. One key area where the human touch is incredibly powerful is in rate negotiation on traditional platforms such as broadcast TV, radio, print, OOH, etc. Clients can expect significant savings off rate card paired with impactful, value-added placements when a media buyer trained in negotiation barters on their behalf. Will these savings still be found as automated programmatic buying comes into play with more traditional mediums?

And while there’s no “negotiating” with Google, Facebook or other DSP giants where AI is already the norm, the role of the media buyer in finding cost efficiencies is still essential. The buyer should be keeping an eye on the campaign, measuring it against industry and historical benchmarks to ensure the client gets the best bang for their buck. As any good media buyer knows, you can’t just “set and forget” automated campaigns. AI is a tool for humans to leverage, not the complete solution. Campaigns should be consistently monitored and tweaked to ensure the AI is operating to its fullest extent.

In sum, don’t expect humanoid robots to replace your media agency just yet because of the “art and science” of media buying, negotiation expertise and close monitoring that living, breathing media buyers bring to the table.