On Tuesday, June 12th, Digilant hosted a dinner panel in Boston titled “What Marketers & Media Buyers Need to Know About Blockchain.”Anagram’s Chief Executive Officer, Adam Cahill, moderated a discussion about the complexity and opinions on where blockchain is headed and how marketers, media planner and consumers will be affected with the following leading experts on the topic:
- Dave Balter, Partner at Flipside Crypto
- Isaac Lidsky, President at Underscore CLT
- Erich Wasserman, CoFounder of MediaMath
When discussing blockchain, most people have a very general idea of what it is – something to do with cryptocurrency, transparency, or monetary safety. But, when it comes to how blockchain is implemented, used and especially how it will affect marketing, media and consumers, most people are not well versed. Experts, like Dave, Isaac and Erich expressed their thoughts during the evening and gave their opinion on how best to prepare and stay up to date on changes due to blockchain.
This is my summary of what was said and what I took away from the event and not word for word for how the speakers answered each question.
Adam kicked off the event with the first question: What problems is blockchain designed to solve?
Isaac took to answering this question with an analogy that dates back thousands of years – dozens of commanders are defending their army and they need to coordinate their action, they need to decide to attack or retreat. Obviously, if they act correctly, everything will work great, however, the worst thing that can happen is if they don’t act in coordination. Within their army, there are messengers, which you can choose to trust, with the hope that they aren’t lying. Through all the chaos, they must come to a consensus on a truth of the situation and decide on what plan will work best. Blockchain is the first time we are able to solve the problem in a meaningful way, which doesn’t necessarily yield trust, but facilitates a conversation that everyone can take as the truth. So to draw a direct analogy, in the world of bitcoin, the general’s are the million of people that want to trade. These people need to decide who has how much and who needs to give what to whom. With the increasing complexity of ad tech – over 2000 tech providers and any given campaign you can invoke dozens of them and that will serve one ad to one person – we can now solve this very effectively. With blockchain, there is the ability to (1) solve longstanding structural issues in the industry and (2) solve the dumb pipes of the internet that weren’t meant to survive, bringing about a whole new generation of innovation, models and tools.
Erich joined in stating that blockchain is going to solve everything. Through all the issues that ad tech and digital marketing face, the consumer is the victim. Blockchain is in its infancy, people are talking and trying to figure out what they think. The companies who are quickly and aggressively creating a solution are a mess because it is such an early start. However, from this mess, applications that answer some of these questions will emerge, some taking longer than others.
Adam then asked Dave to play the role of contraire, to which he responded that out of ten possible use cases, there’s a handful of real cases where blockchain would help and ad tech is is at the top of that list. For ad tech, the problems really need to be solved. But he questioned, can blockchain change a company from the inside? Will you start adding blockchain or will you have to rebuild from the technology from scratch? People are saying they will start from the inside, but it isn’t happening. He posed the question if it can really be done?
Erich responded stating that after 22 years of ad tech, it would be ironic if this was the answer, if we are going to use the “stuff” we have today. The “stuff” we have today is bubblegum and duct tape – a quick, easy fix that isn’t sustainable.
Inspired from Erich’s response, Adam asked him why after all the different fields he has found success in and companies he has started, he planted his roots in ad tech?
Erich stated that he is a believer in ad tech, not to say it is without problems. He was surprised to see, after significant research, that many of the problems that ad tech is facing today, stem from the late 90s. Blockchain is new, it’s misunderstood, misapplied and many people say they have the solution. However, when you take into account that there is an opportunity to completely change the industry, there is a generation one opportunity to roll out some core functions that would sit next to and eventually replace that technology. His choice to work in ad tech was deliberate. He believes there is an opportunity to develop a new standard platform that will only succeed with adoption. But, they will get it done.
Adam turned to the audience as someone was curious to learn who profits from the current model? And if this were to start from the roots up, that would mean people are demanding this type of transparency. So, who can block this? Or who would be an objector?
After Dave joked that he’s the guy who isn’t benefiting from the current model, he went on to explain that the finance industry is taking their slice from everyone else. Everyone wants to maintain their part and when you insert something new, everyone wants their piece to be protected. However, no one gets a piece until we use this new system. You would need a consortium of the biggest companies who come together and break down the whole system. It would start from no one getting anything, building back up, and forcing big companies to join in. Naturally people are going to resist.
Erich jumped off of Dave’s point to say that there are people making more money than they should because the inefficiency is bigger than it should be. There are structural imbalances, frauds in the marketplace, vendors of dubious value and people are unclear what the contribution to the value actually is. We are in need of a mechanism to go deeper into the ad impression and see what the vendors are doing to the plan. Doing this would add a lot of value because as of now, lots of people are profiting but not off the right denominator.
Isaac concluded the answers to the question simply stating that there is no doubt that it is a big deal to get an industry to adopt a new idea. It is a challenge but that’s why it is interesting.
The next question also came from someone in the audience who asked how long they thought it would take for this to come to fruition?
Erich first stated the cop out answer that this will come to fruition during our lifetime, continuing to say that the real answer requires a conversation with publishers. There is an iterative way to roll this out that will provide accountability and legitimize the technology, all of which through new innovation. He concluded saying that he sees this happening in five to ten years.
After hearing those numbers, Adam asked if Erich thought it would be possible to see something like this happen in the next year?
Isaac jumped in to say that there are certain things that could sit next to the current technology.
Erich added that other organizations are developing their own points of view. Very large media planning organizations have a process where they sit in front of a media planner and select where they want to provide orders. There is a great deal of buying that happens quite transactionally. So, there is clarity, reporting and accountability in this process that can be taken and applied to blockchain. This could provide an intermittent step in showing the value in accountability for traditional media buying. At the impression level however, this is much more interesting as there are 12+ companies involved in each impression served to a consumer. He concluded stating that the analog way of buying is not going to last throughout our lifetime.
What is motivation to create this and bring it to the marketplace?
Dave used a comparison to the music industry to answer this question. At first, the music industry was very opposed to digital music. It was a ten year process to get them to adapt to the digital side but they quickly realized it was a process in which they would make a little less money while transitioning over in order to secure a sustainable future.
Isaac stated that there is a noisy minority of bad actors who are largely spoiling things for the other folks. The core of all of this comes from eliminating the waste this is directly related to fraud, automated inference processes and the creation of a new protocol to initiate blockchain into the marketplace. More money spent at a more efficient rate will produce better results. All of this will be a reckoning of the noisy bad actors.
Erich posed the question asking how long the industry is going to be passive to the fact that they are wasting half of what they are spending? There is a coalition of the willing who want to spend more money, more efficiently, but changes need to be made now in order for that to happen.
Who are the winners and losers through all of this?
All panelists jumped in to agree that the advertiser wins, the publisher wins, and the consumer wins. The biggest loser is the holding company, those writing the check that knows what is costs but don’t know why or how?
Where is the resistance coming from?
Erich was the first to jump in saying that there are agencies in the world whose business practices are suspect, which has nothing to do with blockchain. But, there is also a group of enlightened agencies, and with this group, there is hope that the conversation about blockchain enables empowered advertisers and agencies to make a better decision, have clarity in where value is created. Blockchain could disrupt how some agencies operate today.
Adam then asked if people are going to come together to make this happen? Obviously blockchain technology helps with transparency and fraud, but many people associate it with cryptocurrency, so does that mean that media will need to be paid for by cryptocurrency?
Dave explained that people often mix the technology of blockchain and cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency can ride on top of blockchain and utilize it; there would not be blockcahin without cryptocurrency, but you don’t need cryptocurrency to validate it. Cryptocurrency can have nothing to do with the payments. He then used the example of lbry. Lbry is “free, open and community-run digital marketplace” built on the idea that people deserve free information. If a publisher is going to take upwards of 30% of the ad revenue, we should just let the people deal with each other. There is already iterative technology that is being built to take away the idea that you can make money from advertising.
Adam again went to the audience and someone asked how does someone go to P&G, for example, and ask them to use blockchain? From a security point of view, blockchain was built to be secure, but cryptocurrency has been hacked. So, how does one prove that blockchain is safe?
Erich took to answering this question by explaining that there are many insecure systems still in their infancy. We keep putting our own paradyme on how the industry should work, but, maybe there is a different paradigm that we have to play within.
Isaac added that blockchain itself has never been cracked, but people are trying to build so fast, people are leaving holes that can be cracked.
Adam brought up Brave Browser, started by Mozilla, which is a browser that lets people manage their identity and get paid for their personal data – a unique approach that questions who gets paid for what. He then asked if the panelists believed that people care enough to build something from the ground up?
Isaac’s opinion on this question was that if you have to ask consumers to install new browser, new marketing, new ways of “everything,” it doesn’t strike as the most optimal way forward for the industry. New protocol should enable those kinds of interaction. Everything should be built into the new enabling infrastructure or technology. He also added that we shouldn’t count out the traditional advertising people,
Erich believes that people do care. He brought up ad blocking and the poor advertising environment that consumers currently experience. The current answer to the ineffective environment is more volume, more poor advertising. 50% of advertising is fraud so the other 50% has to work harder, at a higher volume, with a lower cost. So, how do advertisers do it? What do they need? They don’t need a new internet, but rather a well articulated process between the advertiser and the consumer. We need new technology that is reliable everyday with an optimized consumer experience.
The final question of the evening came from the audience. GDPR has unveiled a lot of questions with cost – companies have closed because they can’t afford the new costs. Could this prohibit companies from activating blockchain? Will small start-ups not be able to afford it?
Of course it costs money to reformat a business, stated Erich. However, he is weary that cost is not the sole reason companies left the market after GDPR. Effective deployment of the technology is at an infrastructure level. This would not require companies to create an entire new workflow.
The pipes of the internet are GDPR compliant, added Isaac, so it would be efficient to have smarter pipes that do the heavy lifting for us.
Adam concluded the panel, thanking the panelists for their time.
There is much to get excited about regarding blockchain. Although still at the beginning stages of development, adoption and acceptance, there is so much to be learned and gained from its adoption. A world that enables less fraud, more transparency and more brand safety is something to look forward to.
After more conversations and a delicious dessert, we were all pleasantly surprised by a spontaneous fireworks show over the water. Great discussion, delicious food and a beautiful view made for a spectacular Boston event. We want to thank our three amazing panelist once again for giving their unique and informative perspectives on this very relevant topic. We look forward to seeing you at one of our dinner panels in the near future.