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AdTech Reboot

The new adtech data battle is a battle of words and for the truth.

Picture of Judy Shapiro

Judy Shapiro

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

Judy Shapiro

Editor-in-Chief at The Trust Web Times

I am shaking with fury at the colossal deception.

I am deeply disheartened at the linguistic harm being perpetrated on advertisers by adtech firms.

I am full of despair that advertisers will ever find their way out of the messy, messy world of adtech data.

My fury is aimed at bad faith adtech firms that use language as a weapon to deflect, distort and deceive advertisers with tech promises that are as fake as the impressions delivered in many DSPs. This battle of words is the new battlefront as we push to get adtech to be trusted because it is transparent.

This battleground has been active for years but the intensity of the battle increased as adtech struggles to survive the Black Swan events of the impending cookie- apocalypse along with increased push for user privacy. These two events test adtech to its core because it forces a technological pivot which adtech firms seem reluctant or incapable of doing. Instead, they pivot in terms of how they explain their technology to be sure to lean into advertiser concerns while changing very little about how they do business.

This is the source of my anger, fury, wrath, angst and consternation.

What set me off is when I listened to a recent podcast called, “Contextual targeting in a cookieless age.” featuring “Mega DSP” CEO and his product team. The topic is of critical importance to advertisers because contextual ad placement seems to be the way out of cookie targeting trap they are in now. As I started to listen to this podcast, I felt anger morph into fury for an excruciating 45 minutes. I was exhausted by the end.   

The misdirection was stunning to observe as it unfolded over the course of the podcast. They said all the things advertisers are struggling with now – contextual advertising and creating their own first party data but Mega DSP’s disingenuous word play in this podcast was a compound injury.

First the conversation centered on contextual ad placement, a hot topic for advertisers. Mega DSP cheerfully explained how their contextual solution solves marketers’ targeting issues. Then in a blizzard of buzz terms, they went on to explain their contextual tech was so powerful because ads are placed contextually relevant to the person seeing the ad. It’s OK if you experience some whiplash because that’s not how marketers think of contextual ad placement at all. Advertisers define contextual as meaning the ad and content around it are related to each other, or as we used to say “adjacency” in pre-digital days of magazines and newspapers. 

Mega DSP’s version of contextual ad placement is far from marketers’ definition but by using the right language they can work their misdirection magic. They know to emphasize the concept of contextual while glossing over their flavor relying on the fact that advertisers won’t spot the disconnect unless they happen to be a friggin’ adtech engineer.  

Let’s understand that real contextual ad placement is really really hard to do, requiring real innovation in semantic contextual content processing. Most adtech ventures don’t bother so they use the far easier cookie targeting paradigm. Now that cookie targeting has an expiration date, they had to make a hard left turn in how they sell to appear to be contextual without really “doing contextual” in terms of tech breakthroughs. Instead, they repackaged simple and existing weak targeting solutions like keyword matching (high misfire rates) or interest classification (too broad to be useful), using the best buzz terms of the moment to convince advertisers they are the answer to advertisers’ contextual dreams.  

The podcast continued as did the misdirection.

They moved on to explain they offer this high level of contextual ad placement because of their first party data. Again, deliberately using a term that advertisers are focused on but again contorting so wildly to make it appear as though this data is kosher on the privacy front. FWIW, when brands talk about first party data they mean it is their “first party data.”  

Mega DSP’s first party data is, technically speaking, third party to the advertiser thus useless to the advertisers’ struggle for privacy-first data. Why bother with being precise or accurate or even truthful language in describing your data offering when you frame the conversation in enough attractive topics despite the lack of tech substance.  

It is important for advertisers to realize adtech is facing a Black Swan event between the anticipated Google cookie-apocalypse and the increased pressure to limit tracking. We can’t expect adtech to lay down and just give up so they pivot – not with their tech but with language designed to confuse brands. That’s why language has become, sadly, the new and active battlefront that adds to advertisers’ challenges. The old phrase; “Sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words can never harm me” is exactly reverse in adtech. Words used by adtech firms to befuddle are what cause the most harm. Please – stay safe out there

P.S. If you don’t know who to ask when your instincts tell you something is amiss – AMA (serious offer – seriously).