The entire plot of HBO’s Westworld. The crux of Will Smith’s 2004 box office hit I, Robot. The half-digital love story HER (that resonated with you way more than you’d like to admit). All three of these fictional tales found themselves centered around one core theme: the complex dynamic of the human condition as it relates to AI. And while data scientists increasingly attempt to blur the lines between the two, it’s become evident both on and off screen that humans, as fallible, flawed and unpredictable as we are, simply cannot measure up to the brain power of AI.

Yet what these fantastical sci-fi tales also continue to illustrate is that in each instance, while humans may not be able to empty our memory cache, devoid ourselves of conscious emotion or read thousands of books in seconds, there is another more compelling side to the story: AI, just as fairly, will not completely dispense of humans any time soon.

No different (but far less dramatic) is the see-sawing relationship between marketers and their technology. Gone are the days of hinging every campaign-execution strategy on inspiration and experience alone. With the ability to measure KPIs like relevancy, engagement and ROAS, even the grittiest marketers are finding their every move tethered to robotic tools, automated metrics, pivot tables and big data points.

Just one problem: technologies don’t make decisions; people do.  

The necessity of technology as it informs digital media optimization goes without saying. Marketers see the value in gathering all the data needed to inform each campaign. But the time spent downloading spreadsheets, the inevitability of error (because, woops, human!) and the sheer impossibility of continuously updating and refreshing it all will, ironically, leave even the most tech-savvy and creative marketers with no time left to, well, create impactful marketing.

And herein lies the necessary balance: Marketers need technology to do what’s necessary and native to technology, as it informs, supports and empowers humans to do what’s necessary and native to humans – relate to one another.

Case in point: It’s Wednesday morning, and you come to the office to see your DSP has generated over 300 million rows of impressions. You know there’s invaluable insight in there. You know the analysis behind your ad spend, your campaign performance and your customer interactions all lie within those rows. And, yet, there’s nothing you can do with it.

With an automated digital media optimization solution, however, suddenly those 300 million rows of impressions are summed up into the seven KPIs that matter most to your brand. Now you know what creative delivers the highest viewability and engagement, how much you’re wasting on unviewable impressions and where to redirect budget to reach more unique users for less. Even more, you can make in-the-moment media and strategy adjustments. Yet what that technology still can’t do is run that data through the filter of audience, cultural and social relevance that only you – as a human – can.

This critical last step is the key differentiator between brands that lead and brands that follow. Because if everyone played it safe, we wouldn’t have brands like Nike, which took a huge risk last fall by featuring Colin Kaepernick as the face of their new campaign. And it paid.

Despite the stories the data may have predicted (consumer backlash and plunging share prices), a team of marketers at Nike identified a culturally relevant opportunity to capitalize on a social stance that they—based on human instincts—understood would resonate with the hearts and minds of their primary target, teen males. Within days, Nike’s sales soared over 30% and its stock price rebounded to an all-time high.

It’s human insights like those that move the needle, and it’s people like the team at Nike that pull a company to the front of the pack. So, until the day that Hollywood thrillers become reality and marketing technology becomes self-aware, it’s up to us, as marketers, to continue to use our own brains, too. We must insist on the human connection. And we owe it to ourselves to choose the right technology solutions to empower us to do just that.

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