Digital media transparency has an immediate solution... and no, it’s not blockchain

Andrew Altersohn, Adfin, chief executive officer, says advertisers should take greater control of their data to control budgets

Andrew Altersohn, Adfin, chief executive officer, dissects one of 2018's most buzz phrases – 'blockchain' – and sets expectations straight on its immediate prospects for the advertising industry.

Did you hear? No matter the problem, blockchain is ready to solve it. Banking. Healthcare. Food Production. Government. Music ...

Now it’s advertising’s turn. Once advertising implements blockchain, all those pesky problems from fraud, to arbitrage, to the black box will just disappear. Or will they?

Blockchain clearly has great promise, with many experts claiming it will clean up the supply chain with full transparency. Others say it will validate and expedite payments. Sounds great.

Although haven’t we heard big promises before? Remember when programmatic technology was introduced as a panacea. Faster, smarter, cheaper. Wall Street-like trading desks. Targeting a needle in a haystack at scale.

For some advertisers, it’s delivered as advertised (no pun intended).

However, for many, the introduction of new technologies and processes has also brought their share of unintended consequences, from fraud, to brand safety, to the “tech-tax.” These issues are now a part of our reality, and they need practical, scalable, market-ready solutions ... ASAP.

Unfortunately, blockchain is not that solution. At least not yet.

It’s not ready for advertising. Especially programmatic advertising, where the majority of transparency and fraud issues exist. Why?

  • It’s not fast enough (yet). Programmatic transactions happen in milliseconds, yet today the average bitcoin transaction takes 10 minutes to validate in ideal scenarios, and the average Ethereum transaction takes 15 seconds to validate a block. This will get solved, but it’s not fast enough today.
  • It’s not scalable (yet). There are more programmatic transactions in a day (100 billion plus) then there are transactions on the NASDAQ in a year.
  • It adds new expense and technical overhead that needs to be funded. Blockchain is not free and can put a strain on server loads, something DSPs and SSPs are battling every day to reduce, not increase.
  • It’s not ready for our complex ecosystem. A single programmatic campaign can easily include 30+ players including the Advertiser, Agency, Trading desk, DSPs (multiple), Data Providers (multiple), Verifications companies (multiple), Ad Server(s), SSPs (multiple)...and this doesn’t even count the 100’s to 1000’s of publishers involved. With blockchain, you need ALL of them to collaborate to leverage the same smart contracts and distributed ledger.
  • It’s not well understood. Let’s not introduce another complex technology into our ecosystem until there’s a baseline understanding of how it works within marketers’ organizations. It’s taken almost a decade to get people comfortable and knowledgeable on programmatic ad tech, so blockchain will take some time for us all to learn.

But there is good news.

There is a market-ready, scalable solution. It’s right under our noses...or more precisely it’s part and parcel to the technology that drives every buy.

Log level event data (and metadata).

Event data is a natural output of every impression purchased in today’s tech stack, providing a detailed record of each action. DSPs, SSPs, ad servers, data vendors, verification platforms all write or leverage log level event data. It’s a powerful source of knowledge. And it does not require anyone to add new tech to an already over-complicated tech stack.

All it requires is for marketers to get their data before it’s lost or deleted (which is often standard protocol because its big (petabytes) and messy (few standards).

But once you have your event-level data, transparency is only the beginning of what’s possible. With the data, you now know the who, what, where, when and how much for virtually everything that happens across the ecosystem.

This is not an argument against blockchain.

Blockchain trials are good. Experimenting is good. Learning is good. Eventually, blockchain may become a key part of the advertising and media tech stack. But it will take a few years to get there.

Existing log level event data can address key industry needs

Blockchain-ready (when ready for advertising) ✓

Complete digital supply chain transparency ✓

Works @ speed & scale of programmatic ✓

Builds proprietary data set to mine ✓

Builds internal & market benchmarks ✓

Informs trading optimization ✓

Informs ad ops process optimization ✓

Market-ready ✓

Blockchain-ready (when ready for advertising) ✓

Today – and for the foreseeable future – the solution to transparency, accountability and supply chain management is to take control of the underlying log level event data. Control the data and you control your investment.

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