That jewel of a visual image came from a tweet by “The Last Party Cookie” (a clever play on the imminent death of the Adtech’s tracking cookies) and, it stopped me in my tracks. The comment was made in a lightweight Twitter exchange talking about what’s wrong with Adtech and it rang true as a metaphor for a lot that’s wrong with Adtech in all its multi-layered complexity.
“Like hanging a picture on a billboard” clicked for me as a visual way to think about some of the most troublesome issues facing Adtech.
Viewability. The battle to ensure an ad can be seen by a person on a web page is a battle that advertisers often lose. This sad, lost cause is the result of a few factors. First, publishers often rotate ads so frequently – no human can see it for it to register or do any good. Then, working against viewability, you have issues around whether the ads are in a viewable part of the screen. As our “picture on a billboard” metaphor suggests no one will ever see what the picture on a billboard really is and too often no one will ever see your digital ads either.
Outcome Effectiveness. Billboards are, arguably, the least measurable of all advertising vehicles because, mostly, they are part of the scenery as we whiz by at 60 miles per hour. If billboards are hard to measure, then a picture on a billboard is, well, hopelessly incapable of being measured. This is how many advertisers feel about Adtech – as impossible to measure as a “picture on a billboard.”
Cost Efficiency. Related to outcome effectiveness, linking digital ad spend to specific outcomes is one of the most frustrating black holes of digital advertising. Too much time and effort is spent measuring inconsequential metrics like CPMs or how many impressions were bought. Advertisers want to track the cost of outcomes but that is too often impossible in digital advertising just like attributing outdoor advertising to a specific business outcome. No wonder determining the ROI of a picture on a billboard is not even comprehensible.
Transparency. The metaphor continues to characterize Adtech because just as Adtech likes to hide a lot of its workings in a black box – a picture on a billboard might as well be a black box. Anything can be on that picture – anything at all. Adtech’s murkiness is inherent in its workings because, without transparency, Adtech is able to hide a lot of bad activity.
The next time you travel and see a billboard, I bet you’ll imagine a picture up there and remember how messed up Adtech really is.