I am more of a consensus builder rather than “burn the house down” type of change agenct. Yet, in the space of a few weeks on Reddit, I had been transformed from a moderate advocating for change, into a full tilt radical calling for the dismantling of much of adtech today.
Reddit radicalized me to understand, we can’t evolve adtech until we radically evolve the mindset of those creating, managing and investing in adtech. Its not adtech per se that’s the enemy, it’s the people who are supporting an ecosystem that protects shady actors.
Many people in adtech are honorably working to create new approaches for marketers. Unfortunately, their efforts are overshadowed by the pervasiveness of the trust issues that plague adtech. Worse, their efforts are propped up by those working behind the scenes in adtech as this Reddit subgroup fully revealed. They ponder the dark side of Adtech such as:
- How to package crappy traffic/ impressions to charge premium CPMs
- How to game various analytic platforms to demonstrate “success”
- How to monetize low quality content sites
- How to trick traffic verification platforms
The situation feels impossible.
As I struggled to find a helpful path of evolution, Reddit opened my eyes to how a radical mindset shift is how we start moving forward.
My radicalization started innocently as I was participating in a Reddit Ad Ops discussion for publishers and advertisers. The conversations are technical with a consistent top note about how publishers and campaign managers can game the system(s) – Google, Facebook, trade desks, advertisers et al and in one particular thread, a publisher noted how the pandemic was reducing their ad monetization. One “dude” suggested that this was just temporary blip and things would do back to normal. Innocently I responded; “IMHO nothing is going back to normal … The pandemic stopped the adtech Merry-go-round and the secret is out – a lot of adtech is fraud, fake or just doesn’t work. This is when the real work begins. Keep the good, ditch the bad and rehabilitate the big tech pieces.”
Surprisingly, this triggered a full-frontal backlash challenging my qualifications to challenge the Adtech machinery with this comments:
“If the buyer believes hes [sic] getting value, no matter the murky supply chain – the buyer is right, he’s getting value period. And that’s my problem. You don’t know jack shit. You just spurt regurgitated buzzwords and reports. F*king stop being a peasant”
In effect he is saying, (insults aside), since no one complains and advertisers keep buying, the market has spoken.
This, more than all the insults he hurled my way and the silence of the community in the face of the abuse, sent a chill down my spine. His out of proportion response fully exposed how vulnerable a lot of adtech is as it will only take a small chink in the adtech armor for the whole system to come crashing down.
As angry as I was, it also emboldened me to understand that adtech needs a few hardy rebels ready and willing to make some “good trouble.”
AdTech v2.0 will be about trust-based technologies, standards and systems.
The dysfunction of AdTech took a long time to recognize but the gaps have become more and more obvious. This fact is putting epic fear into the hearts of the low-quality players which unfortunately dominate adtech right now. The collapse of many “scale” DSPs and Data ventures is a clear indication of the deep trouble Adtech is in.
Adtech went awry when it ignored the fundamental truth that the Internet is a content serving engine – not a “people” serving engine. Adtech focused on people packaged up as “impressions” because that was more gameable than finding quality content to put ads on.
Adtech bros know that if advertisers or their agencies fully understood the depth of the dishonor – most Adtech firms would wither away for lack of advertiser support.
They are counting on buyer complacency and a murky supply chain to keep their tainted profits up.
But the fight has just begun. If Adtech was created in a tech bubble, ignorant of a Marketer’s real challenges, now we can transform the untrustworthy AdTech machinery into a trust-based ecosystem using five foundational principles:
1) No AdTech firm is too be big to be held accountable.
This means fewer CPMs, less clicks and more emphasis on people-centric metrics like privacy and revenue predictability.
2) The Agency business model will fundamentally change in the coming decade.
Redemption is straightforward. Agencies should go back to their traditional and deep credentials around Brand Custodian but translated in a modern integration innovation strategy that animates a holistic user experience.
3) AdTech fraud is solvable – for real.
Best practices are new, transparent, single supply chain platform that offer proprietary data, media buying and attribution – all integrated. This approach reduces tech tax and fraud while increasing predictability of outcomes.
4) Attribution will become a real thing.
To thread the attribution needle, we need to abandon our attachments to demo/ cookie/ look-alike targeting in favor of a new approach centered on topic intelligence – an emerging space. The pivot to topic intelligence targeting, can efficiently map the topic journey to conversion while eliminating messy issues around cookies.
5) Data in a trusted tech landscape requires consent and proof.
There answer is to pivot to a first party data strategy as the only way to adhere to new standards around data provenance, compliance and privacy. This painful transition is unavoidable but ultimately will lead be better and more economical (less data fees) results for Brands.
My radicalization by Reddit is complete. The potential of technology in digital marketing was being usurped by a mindset that assumes it’s OK to trade in counterfeit goods called impressions or that it’s no big deal to sell stolen data.
AdTech can accomplish many wonderful goals, but too many of the people who create adtech created ventures to appeal to investors with a keen eye to scale as fast as possible to show traction and sell for as much as they can.
That set in motion a chain of events that led us to this place. The mindset shift we need to save Adtech is a realization that marketers need to step up and create the type of advertising ventures they would want to buy from. It’s the radical journey I am on. Join me.