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The end of the agency: Media planning and buying will soon become fully automated, says C1X’s Rammohan Sundaram

Rammohan Sundaram, senior vice-president and managing director of C1X Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa

Having been in the business for about 20 years, I have seen all aspects of media changing. Way back in 1999 I knew that eventually the internet would be the only medium that will survive the test of time. Modes of access will be different, so you could consume movies on your television but the platform will be internet. This is how Netflix works. You could consume videos that are device agnostic but the route will be through the internet. Communication will change and you will use apps as your destinations for everything. Look at the likes of WhatsApp and Imo. News, travel, dating, entertainment and everything else will be internet and internet alone. I guess I was smart enough to embrace change 18 years ago and see what we are seeing today as being the future. I am not stating I was the only one who saw it – I would be stupid to say that – but I am on that list of people who saw it coming and embraced the change.

Change is inevitable, and advertising will change. Media planning and buying will change. By the end of this article, I will conclude that media planning and buying agencies will cease
to exist.

But read on before you hunt me down to kill me.

Why is programmatic advertising seeing such meteoric growth in world markets such as the US, China and Asia-Pacific? It is growing because clients today are realising how, over the last several years, media agencies have made more profits than the actual companies that are advertising. Slowly but steadily accountability, transparency, visibility and anti-fraud mechanisms have taken centre stage, whether it is P&G, which is asking for Media Rating Council-authenticated viewability metrics or Unilever asking for a programmatic solution from Mindshare in the form of proprietary trading desk Ultra (remember, Xaxis exists within Group M). The point is that manual intervention will be overtaken by technological innovations not only in the digital space but also in the traditional space.

It is just a matter of time before print, television and out-of-home will go programmatic and there will be platforms that can enable the entire process of media planning and buying, including negotiations through tech-enabled platforms. What will happen, therefore, is that we will see agencies becoming technology companies. But the question is: does an advertising agency have the DNA of a technology company? The question is simple, and so is the answer. The answer is a big “no”. However, can a technology company become an advertising agency? The answer to this is also simple, and it is a big “yes”.

Why do you think Oracle has bought BlueKai? Or why has Adobe entered into the demand-side platform business? Why did Singtel buy Turn? And why is SalesForce scouting to buy internet companies? Why does IBM have an iX, which is now ranked as high as any other advertising holding company? The answer is simple: data is power, and with data all that a media planning and buying agency can do will be achieved easily by any of these technology companies. They are going after data, and to build a platform that will plan and buy everything programmatically in the time to come is a no-brainer. In fact, some Japanese agencies have already embarked on this journey through print advertising media planning and buying being procured through tech platforms and are moving towards fully programmatic solutions for offline media buying. TV will follow and we all know OOH is already enabled in New York City programmatically, and it is just a matter of time before there will be no media agencies and all media buying will be programmatically driven.

My prediction is this will happen within five to seven years, tops. So don’t be foolish and not see reality.

What will remain will be creative, brand planning and strategy. Although… Did I hear someone say that is moving towards consulting, and Accenture has already started the practice?

It is too early to write an obituary, but rest in peace when you do, media agencies.