For all the prognostications about why AdTech is so toxic, the answer is simpler than we think which creates the space for real change in AdTech.
Many hypotheses have been offered as to why AdTech became a fraud-laden toxic mess. Greed. Avarice. Dishonor. Ignorance on the part of investors. The reasons seem as varied as the type of fraud that pervades digital marketing – from programmatic to native advertising.
One thing is for sure, no one can debate that AdTech is way too toxic to ignore anymore.
Sadly, the debate about fraud centers on how much fraud exists – not if fraud exists. Recent estimates project fraud to cost Advertisers $35 billion this year, (Source: https://www.campaignlive.com/article/digital-ad-fraud-will-hit-35-billion-year/1698761). You read that right – $35 Billion with a “B.”
For all the prognostications about the “why” that confounds easy solutions, the answer is simpler than we think creating the space for real change in the trajectory of AdTech over the next five years.
AdTech went off the rails when it fought against the core fact that Internet is a content serving engine – not a people serving engine.
From its very earliest days, Internet allowed academics anywhere to share research and papers; “The first workable prototype of the Internet came in the late 1960s with the creation of ARPANET, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network… to allow multiple computers to communicate on a single network,” (Source: https://www.history.com/news/who-invented-the-internet)
It was never meant to serve up “people” configured to what advertisers need to target. Yet, “people targeting” became the currency of Internet represented in the concept of “Impressions.”
AdTech became so perverted because it became very clear very early, that one can “scale up” impressions masquerading as people much easier than it was to “scale up” quality content pages that advertisers wanted to run on.
This one simple fact had a devastating and negative cascading effect on all of AdTech.
> Because Internet is a content serving engine and not a people serving engine, it is hard to really know how many people any digital campaign is reaching.
> Because Internet is a content serving engine and not a people serving engine, the financial incentives for AdTech firms to “scalable up” impressions was too strong, often requiring black boxing of ad buys to fool advertisers they are reaching real audiences when they aren’t.
> Because Internet is a content serving engine and not a people serving engine, the industry became obsessed with fake promises of creating “customer segments” ready to convert.
> Because Internet is a content serving engine and not a people serving engine, it spent a lot of time scaling up “data” with questionable provenance even if it meant violating every notion of User privacy, (GDPR notwithstanding).
> Because Internet is a content serving engine and not a people serving engine, quality publishers who had niche but valuable audiences were blown out of the water because they couldn’t compete against the large, yet low quality “scale” audiences on low quality publisher sites that were either faked or bought for almost nothing.
It is now clear that AdTech was built on twin pillars of dishonor by making advertisers believe “impressions” were surrogates for real people and that “scale” was the core requirement of digital advertising.
The technologists put all their energy in solving the scale/ impression issue and VCs bought their pitches since none, not the AdTech engineers or VCs, had a marketer’s perspective and sensitivity that marketers needed to reach real digital audiences – not proxy audiences called “impressions.”
Now that we understand the source of AdTech’s corruption, we are in a position to carve out a new path if we tilt our perspective 90°.
Because Internet is a content serving engine and not a people serving engine, we need a topic-based AdTech tech stack with new ideas about – uh – just about everything:
- Replace audience/ cohort data with a new class of topic data that advertisers can use to model how productive a topic can be to convert BEFORE ad dollars have been spent
- Replace “scale” CPM-based media deals with niche topic-centric media that reaches far fewer impressions but do reach high-quality audiences
- Replace “cohort” and behavioral targeting with true contextual or adjacency ad placement where the ad is closely aligned with web content – not just a loose connection endemic to Interest Classification targeting
- Replace KPI centered on clicks and CTRs with metrics around actual purchase and revenue
There is a new movement towards a topic-oriented approach because at its heart – it is more trustworthy than “impression/ scale” based digital media.
Google itself is testing Topic-Based Cohort Advertising; “Imagine cohorts of coffee lovers, guitar players, young mothers or car intenders labeled with random alphanumeric strings. Advertisers could bid on impressions associated with a particular FLoC label on exchanges or in DSPs,” (Source: https://www.adexchanger.com/privacy/google-releases-results-from-early-tests-of-cohort-based-advertising/).
A topic approach to digital marketing is the leading edge of AdTech innovation today because by pursuing a topic-based tech stack, it can elegantly solve many of the most profound issues plaguing AdTech today:
- Privacy is ensured because this type of paradigm chases topics on web pages – not people
- Fraud is greatly reduced because there is little ability to game quality pages on specific topics
- Transparency is greatly increased because metrics centered on real revenue, the most trusted KPI of all
- Revenue for digital campaigns is more efficient because a marketer can target the content journey to conversion instead of some look-a-like customer segmentation strategy which is not related to real time intent
Topic based digital advertising requires new types of topic data, new types of buying against real topics (not Interest Classifications) and a new way to create attribution models that can map the integrated journey to conversion.
This is beginning of a new, topic-centric era in AdTech – the era of trusted AdTech.
In support of this movement, we have started a Reddit Subgroup called, most aptly, Trust_Web… Join us there for the conversations. https://www.reddit.com/r/Trust_Web/