The Winter of Our Discontent

The Winter of Our Discontent

The digital ad waters are roiling. Ad tech has brought us amazing innovation: we buy, sell and serve digital media in milliseconds! We target customers and prospects in ways we never thought possible! But, there is a darker side to unchecked tech (no, I’m not thinking of the “Terminator” movies) that our industry has noted and is starting to take steps to address. Seen together, a sampling of recent headlines is quite daunting (and yes, I am conflating both viewability and fraud as I believe they need to be discussed in tandem):

  • AAAA Not Happy With IAB’s 70% Viewability Standard
  • Shape Up or Ship Out – Figures’ Stark Warning On Digital Display
  • Over Half of Video Ads Bought Via RTB Contain Misaligned Data
  • Retailers Waste More Than Half of Digital Budgets on Bot Traffic
  • Marketers Could Lose $6.3B to Bots in 2015
  • More Than 56% of Ad Impressions Are Not Seen, Google Says

Not to worry: Neo-Luddism isn’t on my mind; no one wants to reverse ad tech advances. However, significant recalibration is warranted for us to regain the perspective that tech is a tool that should enable us to achieve our end goals. Ad tech should not be the end goal. A path to a solution can start with interpreting a bit of dialogue from the movie “City Slickers” between Billy Crystal (Mitch, the “City Slicker” seeking worldly advice) and Jack Palance (Curly, the grizzled cowboy character with worldly wisdom).

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger]
Curly: This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.
Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly: [smiles] That’s what *you* have to find out.

What’s the one crucial element? In this case, I believe the one element that needs to be recalibrated is “People”.

  • People to validate a percentage of records to effectively screen illegitimate inventory where current algorithms are not suited to do so
  • People to establish the KPI metrics that will achieve clients’ goals and allow us to move away from the blind pursuit of “scale” and establishing “billions of impressions” as the gold standard for sales calls (or IPO bait?)
  • People to create content that connects within a context that is relevant to our customer and prospect
  • People to create “safe” ad exchanges that deliver our ads to…people
  • People within our industry to transparently and urgently address this issue, even if it disrupts the current business model. The pace and degree of alarm


    , rightfully so, escalating and none of us want the resolution of this issue to fall out of our control.

To this end, it is good to see the creation of the Trustworthy Accountability Group by the ANA, 4As and the IAB and heartening to see that one of their goals is “measuring traffic by driving users to sites that generate undisputed human activity”.

Ahhh, “human activity” (cue the contented sigh).

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