Digilant Hosts Panel On Blockchain Innovation in Ad Tech

Blockchain Explained for: Digital Marketers, Media Buyers & Advertisers

BOSTON, June 28, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — Digilant, a global provider of programmatic ad buying solutions and services, assembled a panel of speakers in Boston, to discuss the impact of blockchain innovation on the advertising technology industry. The panel was moderated by Adam Cahill, Executive Chairman, Digilant US and CEO of Anagram and the panelists included:

One of the more prominent buzzwords in digital circles these days is “blockchain” and, as is the case in the early days of a market trend, there’s significant confusion about its meaning, application, and future. That’s certainly the case with blockchain in general, and more specifically, what it means to marketers and digital media professionals.

To give our community insight into where this trend is going, Digilant pulled together ad-tech’s leading experts on the topic of blockchain for a dinner panel at the scenic Legal Harborside in Boston’s Seaport District. The room was full of  leaders across the spectrum of digital media buyers, technologists, and investors. After an hour of conversation, everyone walked away with a deeper understanding of the topic but here are the highlights.

The Digital Media Supply Chain Is A Serious Problem Looking For a Solution

That the advertising industry has efficiency challenges to address is undeniable. And while digital advertising channels have created more opportunities to address consumers where they are across screens and experiences, the supply chain needed to deliver relevant and compelling ads is complex – likely, unnecessarily so – to the detriment of the channel. By some estimates, more than 50% of internet advertising is wasted due to issues relating to viewability, fraud, and transparency. In an industry category that totaled almost $90 billion in the U.S. last year, according to the IAB and PwC, that means serious dollars are frittering away.
Joe Zawadzki of MediaMath, one of the largest independent digital advertising software companies, described the reach and complexity of the supply chain challenges: “In too many instances, advertisers lack transparency, discrepancies arise among stakeholders, inventory fails to meet quality standards, and/or a noisy minority of bad actors exploits internet infrastructure weaknesses to siphon unearned value from the ecosystem.” And this doesn’t even speak to the privacy and GDPR concerns that have been front-and-center in recent months, which add yet additional complexity.

While industry associations and watchgroups have been discussing these challenges for years, momentum accelerated in 2017 when CMOs from some of the largest advertisers on the planet — Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Bank of America — began talking about the issues publicly and frequently. In turn, the mainstream business press now covers the trends more closely, and that means CEOs and CFOs have been put on alert. That of course means that CMOs need to be armed with information and problem-solving tactics to explain how they are addressing the problem. And blockchain will be part of the longer term solution. MediaMath has already started working towards integrating blockchain for their programmatic platform by announcing its investment in a new business, Underscore CLT.

How Blockchain Works?

At its core, blockchain is a relatively complex and technical suite of technologies that “allows a network of computers to agree at regular intervals on the true state of a distributed ledger,” according to Christian Catalini of MIT. And a quick Google search reveals a slew of explanations, including this user-friendly video from Simply Explained.

Isaac Lidsky of Underscore CLT, offered an analog example to explain blockchain. “Imagine,” he explained, “that it’s the Middle Ages and you’re a general of an army that’s loosely confederated with other armies, and you’re about to attack a position that’s defended by the Roman Army. If the attacking armies act in concert and coordinate their attack, everything will work out great. The worst thing they can do is not act in coordination. But at the same time, it’s impossible to trust the communications being transferred by the generals and their runners. It’s similar to the situation faced by advertisers, publishers, and intermediaries today — except more complex; there are thousands of players involved, and blockchain technology offers the ability to facilitate communication and transaction which can be taken as the truth.”
Sound complicated? It is. But marketers don’t need to worry too much about the underpinnings of blockchain. Others will figure that out — entrepreneurs, technology companies, regulators and the like. But just like marketers don’t need to understand how the internet works, they do need to understand its implications on the ability to go to market effectively for their companies and clients.

Blockchain Will Disrupt The Ad-Tech Supply Chain In The Near Future

Blockchain will offer significant benefits to marketers — and it will probably be disruptive at one point but we are not sure when — the technology being used to power digital advertising today is due for a significant upgrade, and quick fixes are not a longer term solution. That’s why MediaMath, Facebook, Google, Amazon and others are all investing in blockchain right now as the marketplace expects more data privacy and transactional transparency from these advertising giants.

Erich Wasserman, CoFounder of MediaMath thinks that “there are structural imbalances, fraud in the marketplace, vendors of dubious value, and people are unclear what the contribution to the value actually is by individual participants. We are in need of a mechanism to go deeper into the ad impression and surface what exact value individual technologies are adding to the return on investment.”

Ross Benes of eMarketer summarizes the promise and challenges of blockchain neatly in a recent piece. “Some ad industry observers believe that blockchain’s open and distributed ledger could clear up some of these issues by making advertising transactions more transparent. But right now, blockchain doesn’t operate quickly enough to work in the fast-paced bidding world of programmatic advertising. Until the technology gets faster and more people adopt it…” Fortunately, if there is one thing of which we can be certain it is that technology will continue to develop and disrupt at rapid pace – which, of course, is the reason we’re here discussing blockchain at all. As stated above, there is heavy investment in the technology, so marketers need to keep their eyes on the prize.  It’s going to be a race to the finish line.  The first company able to mainstream the technology will write the rules for everyone else.

When it comes to broad marketplace adoption, it’s always difficult for new technologies to enter on a grand scale, and usually requires either massive investment from one or a handful of companies (think Android / Google), or a disruptive evolution in user behavior, such as the massive increase in smartphone adoption (negligible in mid 2000s to around 80% in mid 2010s).

Companies like MediaMath and Underscore CLT are working on the speed and adoption issues, while organization’s such as Dave Balter’s Flipside Crypto are constantly on the lookout for attractive companies to invest in that rely on blockchain technology or infrastructure. Dave Balter used an analogy to the music industry to explain the resistance of some in the ad industry to adopting blockchain: “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 in the short term, while transitioning to secure a sustainable future.”
 

In Summary

The dinner panel was a great education for all who attended, an opportunity to hear from real experts, and get a glimpse into how blockchain could impact the digital advertising business. And like MediaMath, we are very concerned about the internet advertising supply chain, as it’s core to our business — and these are the areas of our industry where blockchain could be most impactful, at least over the next several years. So these are the three primary takeaways:

  1. We are keeping close tabs on blockchain. Just as we do with any other market trends that have the potential to impact data management, demand-side platforms (DSPs), exchanges, and trading desks.
  2. We do not anticipate blockchain having a material short-term (6-12 months) impact on ad-tech methodology. Programmatic vendors need to stay customer focused and transparent until blockchain enables the technology to automate more fraud detection as well as changing the value supply chain.
  3. Big players in the industry could accelerate blockchain’s application in the digital advertising business. As is the case with any emerging technologies — think about the growth of open source in the mid-2000s — the adoption and acceleration of blockchain could be turbo-charged by big company attention and investment. For example, IBM made an announcement at Cannes last week; if this launch is successful, it will likely attract other influential organizations (Oracle, Adobe, etc.) and so blockchain’s role in advertising could look very different in 2019 or 2020.

 

Programmatic Media Buying 101: What is GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)? What Does It Mean For Digital Advertising?

Over the past few months, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) acronym has been thrown around often in the programmatic media industry, as everybody scrambles to define what it means for them and how to apply it.  At least on this side of the ocean, it seems like most digital marketers are still unaware of what the GDPR is and the heavy implications it holds on their programmatic media buying future.

What is GDPR?

The GDPR Transparency & Consent Framework was launched in Europe on April 24, 2018,  with the objective to help all companies in the digital advertising industry ensure that they comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, when processing personal data or accessing non-personal or personal data on user devices.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has recently established new requirements for companies that collect,use, and share data about EU citizens. As of May 25, 2018, all companies handling data of EU citizens must adhere to these new data privacy and security measures, regardless of whether the organization is located within the EU or not. After this date, companies around the world will no longer be allowed to collect or process consumer data from EU citizens without identifying their legal basis for doing so.  Not only that, but the same companies will also be barred from using any previously collected data if it wasn’t on-boarded with the appropriate notice and consent. Companies that fail to comply with any of these new rules and regulations could be subject to fines as high as 20 Million Euros or 4% of their annual global revenue.
However, the new European privacy policy affects more than just data miners and web developers and more than just European businesses.  Data controllers and any subcontractors will be obligated to maintain written records of their data processing activities, including why they’re processing the data and how long they plan to keep it and must be made available to data protection authorities upon request.  It’s crucial that digital marketers prepare themselves, because even if you’re operating outside the borders of the EU, if any of the data your organization collects goes through the region, then it’s subject to the legislation.

GDPR Starts Right Now

For digital marketers the changes will start immediately with websites. For example, we are accustomed to reading this message on many websites: “We use cookies to ensure that we give the best experience to the user on our site. If you continue browsing we will assume that you agree.” With this notice, or similar messages, the editors would be considered authorized to insert cookies for the visitor, but now, this will change. 
With GDPR, the copy used by the organizations to obtain legal consent must explain in a clear and concise manner why their data is being collected and what it will be used for, before it can be stored, processed, analyzed, and transmitted. When referring to personal or identifiable data, this that means personal data which is now classified as any information that could be used to identify a person, including location data, mobile device IDs and, in some cases, IP address. (Biometric and genetic data is considered to be “sensitive personal data.”)  Data that can be re-identified by data scientists or analysts with effort, by combining it with additional data points, is also considered personal data.

Article 4.1: “personal data means any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’); an identifiable natural person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that natural person.”

What Does That Mean for Programmatic Advertisers on the Other Side of the Ocean?

While companies figure out how to comply with the new rules there might be a loss of momentum with data tech innovation.  GDPR will require programmatic advertisers to obtain active consent from users to use their personal information, and also give them the power to erase their accumulated historical data from any database they wish, thus being more transparent.
With the rise of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, there has been a lot of progress on the way programmatic advertising technology uses consumer data to provide intelligent and automated ad targeting. With these regulation changes we might see a halt in the progress made to enable automated and personalized advertising.  The implications of GDPR could somewhat restrict the extent of the role that AI-driven data insights and intelligence technology plays in the future. This will create significant challenges for the innovation of programmatic advertising.  That said, it is even more important today that programmatic service providers introduce other emerging technologies with the capabilities needed to address the goals of GDPR and ensure both secure and efficient advertising.
One emerging technology that could have a significant impact on programmatic advertising and how marketers deal with GDPR is blockchain. Blockchain has the ability to create a highly secure trading network for advertisers, by publicly storing data to create a permanent audit trail with an unchangeable record of all transactions that occur within the programmatic buying marketplace. This provides marketers with full visibility into their ad buy, to better track all transactions that are taking place automatically and a record of all transactions taking place throughout the ad-buying and selling process.

Possible applications for Blockchain to abide by GDPR rules and regulations:

  • “Do Not Record” personal data on a blockchain
  • Record personal data pseudo-anonymously
  • Encrypt the data on the blockchain
  • Store the data in a referenced encrypted database

What Else Should we Expect from GDPR?

Trust and transparency have been leading many of the conversations about programmatic advertising, and GDPR may serve to accelerate the industry-wide push for more accountability.  Blockchain is one solution but there are other solutions waiting to be discovered and tried out.  Over the next several months we will see more on how the EU applies GDPR in a practical manner, so the approaches and implementation of new technologies like blockchain should become clearer.
Programmatic advertisers, marketers and publishers may be held accountable for non-compliance by third party data providers, which means all players in the ad tech ecosystem will become more reliant on one another. What this also means is that the ad-tech ecosystem will be a lot pickier with who we choose as partners and how many partners and publishers we all work with. Contracts will need to be revised to ensure compliance, and for publishers it will be an opportunity to gain leverage to demand transparency regarding the data used by any of their partners or platforms.

For more information on the GDPR, its goals, what you need to do to be compliant, and Digilant’s commitment to the regulation, download our white paper below.

You can also check out our privacy policy or contact us at privacy@digilant.com to learn more.

Programmatic Media Buying 101: Why Are Marketers Talking About Blockchain Technology?

Will Blockchain be the technology that solves the programmatic industry woes, or is it just another buzzword that we need to add to our vernacular in case someone brings it up in a conversation?
Either way it helps to know why people are talking about blockchain technology and how it will help or change the programmatic buying industry.  The problem that most people are hoping that blockchain has the potential to solve is transparency throughout the advertising supply chain – which means advertisers having a better understanding of cost and the visibility of their ads.

What is Blockchain Technology?

First of all Blockchain isn’t a new technology, and it wasn’t developed specifically for the advertising industry.   It was originally created for managing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.  Blockchain is a continuous series of records – blocks – linked by encryption, that sit across a distributed database and are stored on computers all around the world. Each time a transaction is made, a message is sent to the network to agree (or disagree) that the transaction is legitimate before giving the approval.

Why Are Marketers Interested in Blockchain for Programmatic Buying?

Blockchain has the ability to create a highly secure trading network for advertisers, by publicly storing data to create a permanent audit trail with an unchangeable record of all transactions that occur within the programmatic buying marketplace. This provides marketers with full visibility into their ad buy, to better track all transactions that are taking place automatically and ensure their budget is actually being used effectively. Using blockchain technology, a record of all transactions taking place throughout the ad-buying and selling process is made and in the future marketers can use this knowledge to reduce, or even eradicate, hidden costs or fees from multiple intermediaries within the ad-buying supply chain.

The main benefits of blockchain for advertisers include:

  • Keeping track of each point where that ad shows up effectively, so that the advertiser can control the process and get more working dollars in front of users/ clients
  • It can provide more transparency with relation to ad fraud and brand safety by allowing advertisers to record exactly where their ad campaign is being delivered and whom it is reaching

For those companies who are thinking of bringing their programmatic in-house there will be some benefits from the direct line of communication that blockchain offers with data providers and other vendors.  This means more transparency on how data is collected and sourced.  So if the advertiser doesn’t have to worry about security or fraud and is able to leverage transparency they can focus on improving their targeting strategies and invest in creative and an overall better experience for their audience.

So When Should We Expect Blockchain to go Mainstream?

If blockchain is so powerful, why has it not being used more widely?  After all, it’s not a new technology, what’s holding the ad-tech business back from implementing it?
First of all, it’s really bad for the environment!  Blockchain inherently uses an immense amount of energy.  It’s by nature a space-hungry technology because the series of blocks become very large very quickly and become hundreds of gigabytes in size.  And as the chains get bigger you need more storage and capacity is limited.  Then that data needs to load every time you make a transaction, which is not practical for any type of programmatic buying, which involves millions of transaction per second.  That’s a lot of blocks.
So this probably not going to be the year of blockchain for Real-Time Bidding (RTB) but it doesn’t mean it can’t be implemented in other parts of the ecosystem.  For instance, it can be used to authenticate the publishers advertisers are working with when they set up private marketplace deals.  Even though PMPs are meant to be safer or fraud free they are still subject to domain spoofing. Using blockchain to set these deals up could give advertisers another layer of verification.  So blockchain still has some possibilities.  We are keeping an eye on it but haven’t seen it move the needle in any direction as of yet.

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