Reality Check: Top eight digital promises no marketer should believe anymore.

Judy Shapiro

Judy Shapiro

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

Judy Shapiro

Editor-in-Chief at The Trust Web Times

The AdTech rose isn’t smelling as sweet because savvy marketers now see it for what it is – a lot of promises that may never materialize. Here are the 8 promises that rise to the top of the disbelief list.

AdTech boldly promised advertisers they can reach digital audiences more precisely and with greater accountability than ever before. These promises had advertisers flocking to integrate data stacks and automation platforms but after painful experiences, marketers are skeptical of many AdTech promises. And they should be. Countless analysts, from Gartner to Forrester, have acknowledged that a lot of AdTech has a lot of gaps when it comes transparency, accountability and ethics.

This list presents the top eight digital promises that no marketer should believe anymore.    

1) “Marketing automation automates marketing.”

Many articles have been written about the challenges of marketing automation like this Ad Age Article, “Beware the Siren Song of Marketing Automation,” https://adage.com/article/digitalnext/beware-siren-song-marketing-automation/304160/. A central issue is that marketing automation promises to create wonderful user experiences when, in fact, these platforms automate fragmented marketing tasks (i.e. email or landing page development) but fall short in linking the tasks into a holistic user engagement journey.  This promise is a classic case of over-promise but under-delivery in the real world.  Smart money is moving from marketing automation technology to acquisition-centric tech stacks.

2) “The media and message are optimized if they are managed separately.”

The current separation of media and creative agency functions is grounded in false promises made by Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) vendors that their “set it ‘n forget it” automation technology doesn’t require need people to optimize media buys.  This just not true. The reality is that managing campaigns in DSPs is labor intensive both technically and creatively to get the platform to optimize results. Separate media and creative functions sub-optimize campaigns because the disconnect undermines the optimization potential of both creative and media. By silo’ing creative from media, unhealthy media metrics – like CPMs – unnaturally dominate the conversations.

3) “Facebook is a ‘must do’ in our advertising plan.”

A year ago, Facebook would be a given in any media plan but today, Brands are not seeing Facebook as a core outlet anyone. There are multiple reasons for this that includes a hard look at Facebook’s ethical gaps but the pragmatic reality is that Facebook struggles to deliver conversion for many advertisers. The data becomes achingly clear when advertisers create clean tests where channel attribution can determined from data. Facebook can work for some advertisers, but if you are in the acquisition game, Facebook has been demoted from a “must do” to a maybe we will do.  

4) “AdTech response to a cookie-less future is robust.”

There is a lot of activity around the industry’s response to how it will replace cookies targeting especially given how reliant AdTech is on cookie targeting. The evolution is falling into the “wait and see” category but leading AdTech firms are dancing around some notion of email as a unifying data hook. The details are still murky but anyone who grew up in the data world of email, understands instinctively the challenges in this approach from data efficacy to data provenance. In the end, while the data hook may be different (email versus cookie), the net result goes against the privacy intent leaving privacy champions worrying. Advocates of this email-centric approach argue that emails as a universal identifier has an opt-in component, but that belies the reality that people don’t want their online behaviors tracked.  As brand stakes get higher, no marketer should diminish the current consumer sentiment against online tracking no matter how technologists get there.

5) “We are getting contextual ad placement in our digital media plan.”

The growing consensus is that contextual advertising creates a better user experience. The problem is that media buying vendors promise contextual advertising but dont deliver what advertisers would expect contextual advertising to be; where the ad and the content are directly related.

Contextual targeting as it stands today with AdTech uses two prevailing and limited methods for “contextual” targeting.

The first option is keyword matching in programmatic media. This method fails if a word has multiple meanings making it likely an ad will be placed on the wrong contextual pages. A keyword like “banking” will mean ads will end up pages about “blood banks” or “West Bank.”

The second option is “Interest or Topic Targeting.” Technically, this contextual targeting option uses a predefined topic structure that fails advertisers who don’t fit predefined categories. If you want to sell “drones” – figuring out which categories you should target is impossible. This mostly affects eCommerce, B2B and direct-to-consumer marketers the most.

The truth is that today’s DSP’s have a deep financial interest to push as many impressions as possible whereas meaningful precise contextual matching means number of impressions bought/ sold would plummet. This is a huge disincentive for DSPs to offer precise contextual targeting which is why this functional gap is as large as it is.  

6) “AdTech self-serve platforms are easy to use so in-sourcing is a good idea.”

The in-sourcing question eventually comes up for any tech-centric marketing function like digital media buying as a potential cost savings measure. The question about whether Advertisers should bring in-house marketing functions, like programmatic media buying, are best answered if there is a practical understanding of what is really involved. AdTech likes potential customers to believe that digital ad buying platforms (a.k.a. DSPs) are “hands-off” with promises of AI optimization. Unfortunately, this promise significantly underestimates the huge technical and labor costs required to manage a complex ad buying platform. To be sure, some of the largest companies can make a case for it but by and large most advertisers are simply ill equipped to manage it with quality long-term.

7) “Digital transformation is a journey with a final destination.”

Many people think of digital transformation as journey with a beginning, middle and an end but this line of thinking is blind to the reality that digital technology will continually evolve making a final destination in the digital transformation journey undesirable. Instead, the need is to create a nimble and fluid corporate architecture that can continually evolve in concert with new technology.

8) “Investing in more AdTech will increase ROI.”

AdTech needs to coordinate diverse flavors of automation, AI and algorithms platforms all wrapped up in cloud-based business models called SaaS. It is easy to be tempted to buy another low-cost SaaS platform but it is silo’d from other platforms the organization uses and likely to sit on the virtual shelf barely if ever used. The fragmentation of marketing functions into many SaaS platforms undermines all ROI optimization opportunities as these platforms don’t play together well. Never believe any vendor who promises their solution is an ROI silver bullet without a lot of data to back up their claims.

The gilding has come off the AdTech rose and savvy marketers now see it for what it is – a great enabler but within a messy and opaque ecosystem that cant be taken at face value anymore. AdTech needs to evolve into a model that lives in the reality of “promises made – promises kept.” That’s game changing for AdTech because now it has got to get real.

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