Marketing with a focus on digital

A Thought Exercise on the Future of Ad Tech

Some context

You’ve probably read the trending deep dive, How much of the internet is fake? If you haven’t, please do. Like, stop reading this and read that. It’s better and more important than this. And you’ve probably also read the trending Twitter rant from the Washington Post’s Director of Ad Tech. If you haven’t, read that, too. Also better and more important than this. And if you’re feeling intimidated by all the sub-threads included in it, just read this one.

You’ve also probably had your own experiences with utter garbage in digital marketing. Whether it’s audience make-up, inventory quality, or reporting accuracy/integrity, it’s all out there. And among those experiences, there have been times you’ve called it out and times you haven’t. You’ve said something when you felt it was important to your campaign’s or company’s success, or when you’ve felt like saying something could actually make a difference. You’ve held your tongue when you felt like saying something wouldn’t make a damn difference anyway.

My favorite example of this is ad tech around fraud detection/prevention. “98% fraud detection!” Yay! But we all know you can’t prove a negative. It kinda seems like we’ve all made a collective decision to hold our tongues though, and just pretend to know something it’s impossible to, you know, know. This isn’t malicious. Or even unethical. It’s partly because we all know we all know what what’s actually being said, and pointing out the semantic inaccuracy wouldn’t actually accomplish anything. But also partly because reporting up/out that, “Well, we know there are things we don’t know, but by definition we can’t know how much of it there is, so there’s really no way of knowing how much of the inventory we paid for was fraudulent,” just, like, wouldn’t go over well at all. Mostly because we’ve only got half an hour on the calendar for this campaign performance report and going down that particular rabbit hole with a non-technical audience would suck up half of it.

The exercise

Anyway, the point all that is to say that things are sideways, upside down, and underwater in Ad Land. And we’ve all kind of known it. But what happens next? I’ve laid out one mindset to help prepare for a different (inevitable?) advertising future, but I’d like to propose this thought exercise too.

I’d like you to watch the movie The Big Short. If you’ve already seen it, watch it again. I don’t think it’s free to stream anywhere, but it’s on Amazon for $3.99. And here’s the thing: If you do this and don’t feel like you got something useful out of it, email me and I’ll buy you a coffee* as a make-good. But watch it with these this questions in mind:

  • Does the rate and complexity of fraud in the financial industry remind you of ad tech right now?

  • Does the “head in the sand” / “the sky’s the limit” mindset in the financial industry remind you of ad tech right now?

  • Post-crash, what would have happened to the financial industry if

    • It didn’t have a “too big to fail” relationship with the broader economy

    • It didn’t have enough money to block retributive/regulatory legislation from passing

    • The money from the negligence/criminality was funding national security threats like Russian intelligence, Chinese cyber-war capabilities, the North Korean government, and Iranian bad actors?

I think that, if you watch the movie and ask those questions, your answer will be, “The financial industry would have been legislated out of existence.” Zoiks, right? Unfortunately, that’s what I think the inescapable future of ad tech is. So… Happy New Year! 2019’s gonna be a wild ride.

*If you’re in MSP I’d love to do it in-person. If you’re not or just don’t want to talk, email atgrote-at-gmail-dot-com. I’ll send you a $5 Caribou e-gift card. If this goes crazy I’ll cut it off after I feel like I’ve spent as much as I can.

Aaron Grote