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Will GDPR see the death of programmatic advertising?

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There’s little doubt that programmatic practices have changed the face of digital advertising as we know it. This multi-billion pound industry uses an approach defined by the Display Trading Council as automation in the buying and selling of media and can apply to anything from display to digital out-of-home and television.

While a game changer for brands such as Topman, IHG and charity Missing Persons (read more on these success stories in Marketing Week), a 2018 report by London Research and TRUTH revealed that 79% of its advertising industry respondents have worries over the level of transparency in programmatic advertising. A significant contributor to this concern undoubtedly comes from the upcoming implementation of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

Introduced on 25th May, the law covers everything from data portability and cyber security to consent, with non-compliance carrying fines of up to 4% of a firm’s annual turnover or £18m, whichever is higher. GDPR gives EU citizens greater control over what happens to their data and, in many cases, requires active consent, which presents a major challenge in programmatic advertising.

Founder and chairman of communications agency REaD Group and former chair of the Direct Marketing Association, Mark Roy, believes GDPR could spell the beginning of the end for programmatic. In an article for AdExchanger, Roy wrote: "The ‘right to be forgotten’ rule, in which an individual can have their historic data removed from a database, will leave the programmatic industry with a significant conundrum. In order to be ‘forgotten’, we must be able to know what needs to be forgotten. Every click, path, transaction, request or click-through must be recorded and be deletable. Therefore, by putting data assets into the ether and allowing thousands of organisations to use it, it is nigh on impossible to comply with the GDPR."

There may still be ways that programmatic advertising can be used post-GDPR however. Johnny Ryan, head of ecosystem at anti-ad-blocking solutions provider PageFair, recently stated in an interview for MarTech Today that advertisers could avoid using personal data and instead use targeting segments that group users in ways that won’t identify them. For example, create groups of users based on things like the holidays they book or sports teams they support etc. However, Ryan addresses the difficulty of identifying when that data becomes too personal and in breach of GDPR.

Although it seems the digital advertising industry will go through a seismic shift, insiders have heralded GDPR as the start of a new era of greater trust between organisations and customers who still want to share data in exchange for personalised services. It’s also been stated that advertising is likely to shift from its heavy reliance on algorithmic models of communicating and back to a simpler approach that relies on less volume and better quality of data.

With the use of programmatic technology scaled back, we’re set to see the return of a more personal touch in advertising that’s facilitated by people rather than machines. Something advertising professionals who faced an uncertain future at the start of the programmatic boom will undoubtedly welcome with open arms. As will we.