Horse-trading in China
2015-01-19

By Malcolm Thorp, vice President of hdtMEDIA          From Campaign

Horse meat and various other equine delicacies can be found in restaurants all over China.  But that¡¯s not what I am referring to here today. 


Also, a common and initially slight amusing word or phrase a lot of foreigners learn when in China is ¡®mama huhu¡¯. This literally (and hence the mild amusement) translates as ¡®horse-horse, tiger-tiger¡¯ but means something like ¡®so-so¡¯.  But neither this nor tigers is what I mean by horse-trading in China.


No my friend, ¡®horse-trading¡¯ is what usually springs to mind whenever I hear the current industry buzzword ¡®programmatic buying¡¯ being mentioned.


Have I missed something lately? Was the wheel quietly re-invented during the enforced APEC holiday, ahem, work-from-home ¡®week off¡¯?   Has the machine finally taken over the world ¨¤ la Hollywood?


It would certainly seem so. But what gives? Have the media buying boffins discovered or created some kind of trading panacea? Has the Holy Grail of buying media space finally given up its hiding place?  Praise be! Hallelujah, people!


Presumably there must have been a similar reaction when someone invented the telephone and a couple buyers and sellers figured out how to use one. Hallelujah indeed, people.


That said, however, without wanting to sprinkle too much water on the rampant flames of exuberance, with a media buying platform or trading desk that enables quicker, more accurate, more everything, you can still end up buying useless crap. But now you can buy that crap quicker and more effectively than before.  Caveat emptor, ¡®fat-finger¡¯ trading errors, garbage in, garbage out and all that!


 And what about the publishers and all these shiny new SSPs that abound? Just because they can plug into a trading desk does that mean they are suddenly going to drop their you-know-whats now someone has a new toy? Doubtful.


So no, the principles of horse trading or any form of buying and selling must remain: strategies, pricing, evaluation, timing -- i.e. experience and skills.


Trust me, I¡¯ve been in the media buying business for over 25 years so I am all for anything that can make my life easier, but let¡¯s not throw the common - sense baby out with the bathwater just yet. Otherwise, the quality and the actual worth of your new-fangled media buys could end up as, well, being rather ¡®horse-horse tiger-tiger¡¯, if you know what I mean.