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AdTech Reboot

From Mad Men to Just Mad.

Judy Shapiro

Judy Shapiro

Editor-in-Chief at The Trust Web Times
Judy Shapiro

Judy Shapiro

Editor-in-Chief at The Trust Web Times

Why the Trust Web Times is so important for advertisers, agencies & publisher – right now!

My tenure in marketing doesn’t go all the way back to the Mad Men era of the 1960’s but almost. I started in 1979 and have been fortunate to be in an industry that rewarded me with a meaningful career.

That is – until about 10 years ago.

It was then that AdTech exploded onto the scene with all sorts of tech promises – “data-driven” cohort targeting, influencer marketing success, personalization to incentivize engagement, programmatic media for cost efficiency, native media for contextual relevance, social platforms for precise psychographic targeting all tied up in the magic of marketing automation.   

AdTech was so seductive because it promised to take some of the guesswork out of the messy and very human process of marketing. With tech, marketers hoped, costs could go down and quality would improve.

Ten years into this AdTech experiment and everyone, to a large degree, is pissed. Advertisers can’t see ROI ever happening. Agencies struggle to create a profitable value prop. Too many publishers are barely subsisting with their revenue eroding day by day by the largest content distribution platforms.

It took a while for the truth was laid bare but here we are. AdTech platforms gamed everything to increase their profits and did not even try to mitigate the fake promises that pervades AdTech.

Even Gartner recently conceded that expensive automation and personalization efforts bear little fruit with their projection that 80% of marketers will abandon marketing efforts due to a lack of productivity: “Personal data has long been the fuel that fires marketing at every stage of the customer journey … “However, this quest has failed to meet marketers’ ambitions and, in some cases, has backfired, as consumers both directly and indirectly reject brands’ overtures.” (Source:–of-marketers-will-abandon-person.)

My transformation from hopefulness to anger became acute when I realized the very organizations who should be “trust gatekeepers” for AdTech failed everyone badly.

Let’s start with the industry’s trade organizations. Their mission is to set the industry’s “trust standards.” They failed to reign in bad actors because, despite their best efforts, unscrupulous AdTech firms are far better at technically avoiding any restrictions that encroached on their profits. It became hard to know the good guys from the bad because so much of AdTech happens under the AI hood and beyond real scrutiny of any trade organization or standards body (ie – TAG).

The ad agencies also dropped the ball and jumped onto the AdTech bandwagon, albeit late in the game. Instead of trying to scrutinize AdTech for its “trust gaps,” they hopped on board to shore up their profits. The largest holding companies spent oodles on AdTech firms just as clients were coming out of their AdTech drunken stupor.  Smaller agencies played the “fake it till you make it” concept, but never became competent in vetting and activating AdTech. As a result, all agencies were an easy mark for slick salespeople who promised marketing nirvana driven by AI and data. This “if you can’t beat ‘me, join ‘em” strategy was catastrophic for agencies putting all agencies under severe financial pressure with no easy answers. Sadly, agencies large and small, are in a grip of a death cycle of their own making with little ability to escape.  

For me though, the biggest disappointment has been in the response of the advertising/ marketing trade journals.

For years, they have been the industry’s advocates and I used to publish regularly in virtually all of them with pieces meant to educate about the best and worst uses of AdTech. Yet in the last 12 months or so – all outlets rejected my articles that are critical of AdTech no matter the topic; Facebook, DSPs, Data, Automation – all of it.

At first, I was stumped. Did my articles lacked information or “click appeal?” Then over time, I realized the answer was far more basic and had nothing to do with me. It had to do with the fact that they couldn’t be seen as undermining these tech platforms that represented major ad revenue to these publications. Again and again and again I submitted articles for instance, about the pervasiveness of fraud in programmatic and it was rejected claiming I was “bashing” the category. Then within a week, I saw an article on the very topic but recast to be a glowing affirmation of the brilliance and innovation of AdTech.  

Again and again, I saw these trade journals who are supposed to help understand the truth of AdTech become AdTech’s unofficial PR agencies – spinning the issues into a positive story that evoked the outrage one might feel at all forms of “fake news.”

Where was their journalistic integrity? How did they abdicate their position as an industry mover to just report on which exec moved from one job to another or which event they were hawking? Why did they abandon their primary mission to make the industry better and stronger even if that meant ruffling a few AdTech feathers?

I became mad because now the industry had no independent journalistic scrutiny or criticism of AdTech. It was a true “buyer beware” game that left everyone poorer except for AdTech firms and their investors.  

My anger left me nearly paralyzed with fury. Instead of just screaming into my pillow, I took my anger and channeled it into the Trust Web Times. A truly objective view of the good/ bad/ ugly of AdTech. No truth is too touchy for us to publish.

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