Since its introduction, advertisers have both welcomed and been wary of programmatic technology. The potential to place an ad in the perfect moment, with the right audience member and on the best channel promises significant return of investment for brands that can get it right. UK companies have been quick to recognise the value of the technology, investing more than £3 billion into programmatic ads last year in an effort to improve campaign engagement among consumers.

Yet there are still rumblings about the issues around programmatic and the persistent murky ad supply chains. Companies are calling for more accountability around how their ads are being delivered online; they want to know their content is finding a brand-safe environment, in a way that reaches the right audience, at the right time, in the right context and at the right price.

The power of programmatic

The rise of programmatic can be traced back to the increasing fragmentation of the digital landscape. More than ever before, audiences are engaging with ads on a multitude of devices and platforms, from mobile and social media to video-on-demand sites. While this means that there are more opportunities for brands to reach consumers, it also means that audiences have been scattered across different media. To combat the fragmentation, advertisers turned to programmatic technology to use the vast quantities of consumer data at their fingertips to pinpoint the best moment at which to target people with relevant, branded content.

With the promise of reaching audiences online more efficiently and cost-effectively than the alternative manual ad bidding and placements, it’s unsurprising that programmatic is the tool of choice for most marketers. However, the convenience of programmatic has been undone in recent years, thanks to the lack of transparency into how the technology chooses the ideal ad environment based on audience numbers and segments, along with the exact cost of delivering the ad on certain sites.

So, how can advertisers ensure that programmatic targeting is doing the job it has been tasked with?

AI can do the heavy lifting in a programmatic world

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been heralded as the solution to business challenges in a range of industries from manufacturing and healthcare to banking and transport. In digital advertising, AI’s key value-driver is its ability to analyse information and attribute it at speed and scale, which makes it the perfect foundation upon which to build an unparalleled programmatic offering.

Essentially, AI gives advertisers more control over how they define, source and target their ideal ad environment; all in a brand-safe way. There is a much bigger benefit as well. As we see digital and programmatic ad spend rise, the role of AI will shift from decision-maker to trusted advisor, with more transparency into algorithms and data inputs.

This will unpick the tangled web behind the complex workings of machine learning, so the decisions made by AI are no longer held deep within a ‘black box’ of technology. While machine learning does the hard work analysing vast quantities of data in real-time, it will also guarantee that advertisers understand the mechanisms at work and can make informed decisions about how they want to deliver ad campaigns to their consumers.

At the end of the day, AI can analyse data and draw insights in a way that humans can’t. It is this previously unattainable insight that will be key to bringing clarity to the advertising supply chain and demonstrating to both brands and consumers that ad tech is ready to be open and transparent.