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Marketing Adtech

Adtech’s innovation revolution translated into word soup brands. It didn’t have to


By Dan Radley, Head of strategy

May 8, 2024 | 5 min read

NB Studio’s Dan Radley takes us through the good, the bad and the ugly of adtech branding.


For all the innovation adtech has driven, its branding is typically embarrassing, especially given that these brands live in the world of media, advertising and publishing. Tech is booming. New brands are appearing all the time. Is it just me, or do they all blend into one forgettable soup?

The adtech landscape is congested, bewildering and homogeneous. And where’s the relationship between what these products are called, how they look and what they actually do?

I’m seeing some of the worst crimes against design since The Apprentice season 13. There’s the double-headed arrow cliché, the mandatory light bulb of inspiration, the local authority color palette, the gratuitous use of whizzy shapes in motion, the impossibly complicated infographic of their proprietary model ™, not forgetting the stock photography of hyperactive people ‘from the future.’ In circles.

The irony is most of these brands would look better if they’d been designed by AI. In fact, they’ve generally been art directed by a tech expert, typically a surveillance specialist who started out watching terrorists and now watches consumers.

If we peep over the fence into health tech or insure tech, they’re the same. Familiar patterns that may have originally been influenced by Nielsen’s 10 Heuristics for User Interface Design have now descended into sterile cliché.

The trouble is, ‘different’ isn’t just valuable to a brand, it’s fundamental. As humans, we’re much more likely to remember the misfit. This is known as the Von Restorff Effect after a 1933 experiment by Hedwig Von Restorff. In a disruptive industry, shouldn’t today’s adtech revolutionaries be looking for which conventions of branding they can overthrow?

Adtech is in the business of innovation: it’s brilliant at inventing new ad formats inside 3D games. Or eradicating cookies. Or making giant leaps forward in artificial intelligence. Or predicting what I’m going to want for my tea. It excels at unconventional answers. Now, it needs some peculiar branding.

Some of adtech’s identity issues begin with language. The contrived product names may make them easier to protect, but Permutive, Algonomy and Audigent sound like suppositories. More seriously, where are the simple analogies or the storytelling that helps us understand what these brands mean in human terms?

Digital transformation strategist Kimberly Miller, who’s worked in adtech, recalls entire trade events where the marketing failed at the most basic level. “Don’t tell me what your tech does,” says Kimberly. “Tell me what your tech will do for me.”

Adtech is full of amazing stories that could be experienced through static and dynamic graphics. How about transformation, change and scaling? Time efficiencies? Or the realization of human potential? I was just reading about a product that ‘Helps you build a single view of the customer by connecting data from multiple sources’. In the right hands, that could be a dream design brief.

New formats in CTV and 3D gaming are opening up possibilities for in-game advertising. Inspired by these rich visual worlds, perhaps this could be the new frontier for adtech brand identity?

Surprisingly, some of the more established players are showing the newcomers a thing or two. Wavemaker took its ‘Positive Provocation’ strategy into a visual identity system that affects, reacts and responds to the world around it.


WPP cousins Mindshare developed a dynamic system where the brand name opens up and literally shares content.

And I like Liveramp’s stylish system, reminiscent of Deutschebank. The simple slash added to its logo creates a literal ramp to represent the elevation of the enterprise and accelerated growth. We did that one.


For those of us who specialize in design for brands, the highest priority in our work is differentiation. We’re most interested in the real estate in people’s minds that a brand can own. Distinctive assets make it easier for our brains to store and retrieve a brand message. Having built up a bank of associations, we’re most likely to buy the brand that demands the least cognitive energy.

As the industry braces itself for the eventual disappearance of third-party cookies, how can adtech brands avoid the cloak of invisibility? In a world of similarity, it pays to be different.

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