In Finnish folklore there’s a famous story about a farmer who builds a robot to clear his field for him because he’s not a fan of hard work. All he has to do is turn the robot when it gets to the end of the field for the return leg. Inevitably he falls asleep, the robot plough through the woods and into the river where it drowns along with its creator, depending on the version.

Though grisly (indeed, there’s a truly awesome folk metal song by Korpiklaani inspired by this story) it paints a scarily accurate picture of what can happen when you build something to be lazy instead of building it to be smart.

In digital media we have a huge variety of tools available that enable us to automate basic functions of account management to free up time for optimisation and innovation that would otherwise be spent twiddling the knobs. There are some seriously clever things we can do with tool-assisted optimisation that make us look like mad scientists to our clients and we kind of love that, or at least I do. I’d rather be Victor Frankenstein over Einstein any day.

Automation Picture

Pictured: Sandals. Also, theoretical physics. Not pictured: Monsters.

Where it all comes unstuck is complacency. Have you ever set up a rule you thought was bulletproof only to later discover that it had done something totally unintended? Or perhaps it did everything it was intended to do (great!) until you factor in all the other stuff it did which it wasn’t supposed to (less than great). Here are some easy-to-parse ideas to consider when building your own robot slave automation rule set.

Any automation is only as good as the amount of effort that goes into making it.

If you find yourself making the same optimisation decisions based on the same criteria at regular intervals, then you have 2 choices: wait until your job is replaced by robots (or perhaps very intelligent chimps) or train the robots to do your job so you can get around to doing something else important.

Before you do, however, make sure you have a clear idea of what campaign elements are actually being included in your automations. When writing rules, get into the habit of asking yourself the question, “What else could be included in this that I haven’t thought of?”

What about things the rule can’t affect now because they aren’t in the account yet? This is where a consistent naming convention becomes essential, so you can ensure that new campaigns added to the account down the road won’t be picked up by the rule because it knows to look somewhere else to find what it needs.

Unexpected stuff will happen; make sure you know when it does.

Only checking your rules the day after they go live and again a week later is buying yourself a one-way trip down to the river. Whenever I’m working on an account audit for a pitch and I see automations set up by the incumbent account managers I’m invariably blown away by the lack of science that goes into them.

All it takes is one stoned sysadmin to accidentally kick a cable out in the client’s server room and suddenly your account is driving $12 CPC traffic to a 404 page. Your client will always send you a Christmas card if you always seem to know when their site dies before they do.

There are free online scripts you can apply to your campaigns to ping every Final URL in your account for a valid response, or you can go with a piece of 3rd party kit to ping the site at any regularity you nominate.

Don’t be afraid to start small.

I like to think that before making his famous monster, Frankenstein made a horde of stitched-together rabbits and kittens as a kind of practice run. After all, in Mary Shelley’s original the monster was in most regards superior to a regular person; it wasn’t until Boris Karloff came along in 1931 that the iconic image of the lumbering palooka with bolts in his neck became etched into the public’s minds. What, you think Victor just chanced a perfectly function artificial human on his first shot?

A lot of marketers fall into the trap of trying to create the One Rule to Rule Them All. What they fail to factor in is that the amount of time to create one rule that does x, y and z is far greater than the time required to make 3 rules that achieve all 3 goals independently- to say nothing of potential for human error.

Some of the best automations you can set up are the simple ones. For example, one rule to pause all “summer” ads on the last day of the season and one to activate all “spring” ads at midnight. Boom! That’s your sophisticated tactical strategy reduced to 2 required actions: pause this, activate that. All it takes is loading your tactical assets early, making sure they have accurate, specific labels and creating thoughtful, exhaustive criteria. On the other hand…

You shouldn’t be afraid to think big either.

Don’t let the fear of failure deter you from being as clever as you can possibly be. Ultimately, the tools were built to help you make your job easier, and it’s up to you to turn your account into Skynet if you so choose.

Of course, the other key takeaway from this whole story is to plough your own damn fields, lest you be drowned by your own kalevalic automaton.

Which, to be fair, rolls off the tongue way better.

About Phil O'Connor

Phil O’Connor (Searchinae Peculiaris).Mammal: Digital Performance Manager for indago digital in Sydney, Australia; has been at the forefront of technological & tactical innovation of the search industry since 2007.Natural habitat: Reddit. Can be found occasionally in whisky bars. Hibernates in winter.Diet: Steady intake of marketing industry content. Crippling dependency on ham & cheese croissants.
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