| John Mracek

Out with the old, in with the new. Heading into 2014, there’s such a swirl of important issues it’s hard to distill predictions down to a few topics. But rather than read like a Mad Lib of ad tech, here are some things I see happening in the industry this year. And a few wishful ones as well.

1. Programmatic will move beyond retargeting. We all got the memo. As a tactic, retargeting works wonders and makes a great partner for programmatic. But retargeting only scratches the surface. What makes programmatic media so successful – powerful algorithms, optimization, automation of tedious manual processes – opens the door for more sophisticated lookalike modeling, based on audience intent. My hope is that advertisers and agencies will focus more on lookalikes to bring in new customers rather than just “reach” to the converted.

2. We’re going to need a bigger funnel/loop/path/cycle. Whatever we call it, 2014 will tip the scales for programmatic brand advertising. A demonstrable lift in awareness and consideration on the path to purchase are must-haves to bring brand advertisers into the programmatic camp. These more complex campaigns will demand a renewed emphasis on brand-safety, quality content, and viewability.

3. We’ll get past the Native “ad sandwich.” In last year’s rush to all-things-Native, placement and format took center stage. But tossing an ad in the middle of a newsfeed does not make it Native, neither does simply mimicking a publisher’s brand guidelines. What made advertorials so effective the first time around was quality content, and sensitivity to context. Those rules still apply and I see content-based Native display ads offering a natural next-click experience through editorial alignment for real brand engagement. There’s a democratic spot for programmatic Native that’s not tied to a specific platform or publication.

4. We’ll witness a keyword and cookie sinkhole. Murky waters lie ahead. On one hand, marketers should expect an increase in frequency of “keyword (not) provided” from the search side of the house – which obscures how your audience got to your page, and why they’re there. On the other hand, the once-venerable cookie is meeting its demise by being either browser-blocked, or replaced by a proprietary, platform-specific audience identifiers. This means that content and context will play an increasingly important role, and having a way to read Concept-based signals will matter. Very much.

5. Images and advertising will intersect in interesting new ways. Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat – and other image-based services that feed the insatiable Internet content beast – aren’t going anywhere. Over this next year, publishers will have new monetization opportunities that tap into this collective movement, but do it in a way that makes an understanding of the surrounding content and context the key to success.

6. Viewability will take three steps forward, and two steps back. We’ll get there ultimately, but while viewability has been bandied about a good deal there are still a lot of ad dollars being swept under the rug. Some “conveniences” of not tracking viewability fall into the same camp as ad bots: pesky, but also advantageous to various corners of an entrenched ad ecosystem. That said, viewability is something we take very seriously, so I hope to be proved wrong on this one.

7. Intent and audience will trump device and platform. That’s not to say that the mobile- and video-specific ad exchanges aren’t important. Quite the contrary. However, what will prove most critical for brand and response campaigns will be the mindset of the audience you are trying to reach in that moment. There are times when a mobile-first strategy makes sense, but not when it’s only mobile for mobile’s sake.

8. Programmatic will not equal robotic. Even with the most powerful algorithms and potent optimization engines, ad tech should never be “set-it-and-forget-it.” While targeting technology is more sophisticated every day, you’re still marketing to humans in the end. From coding to decisioning to optimization, the heavy lifting may still be best done by the machines – but better that they think more like humans, and less like computers.

Here’s to a prosperous and high-performance New Year,