Market to People, Not Pixels: Ad-tech Resolutions for 2017

The online advertising landscape is in a transparency crisis, and it’s about time we pull up the curtain on the “quality issues” plaguing so much of the ad tech industry. Questions about viewability, complaints about outdated targeting capabilities, and a pitiful track record of non-human traffic all plague programmatic display advertising. And yet, advertisers continue to support the industrial complex of SSPs, DSPs, exchanges, and networks, as if no scalable alternatives exist. Publishers still fire pixels as though this is a desktop world. Advertisers still pay for commoditized impressions across billions of unnamed web pages and are surprised when their brands show up (again) next to something unsavory.

Here’s a 2017 prediction: Advertisers will continue to run into problems when they focus their advertising investments on traditional programmatic display.

Earlier this year, header bidding sent shockwaves through the digital advertising ecosystem, as the latest evolution of “open web” technologies forced thousands of advertisers into a massive reevaluation of ad investment strategy. And recent placement-related headlines mark the latest moment in the same long saga. One step forward and two steps back is the theme.

This recent setback was an episode of blacklisted site wack-a-mole, spurred by a movement on Twitter that awakened sleeping giants like Kellogg’s and Warby Parker by outting their placements on far-right news site Breitbart. Advertisers were once again left questioning their ad investment strategies.

The problem facing programmatic advertisers will not be addressed by blacklisting an individual publisher, or even a hundred. It’s simply not possible to control what your ad lands next to in an environment that treats inventory sourced from all corners of the web as a single commodity. The system is the problem here, not a few bad actors.

Beyond the massive lack of transparency, it’s time that advertisers truly acknowledge the impact of mobile. Consumer time spent on mobile surpassed time spent on desktop back in 2013. The rise of mobile is not new. Why are advertisers still spending so much on programmatic display designed for a desktop world? Time spent on mobile devices is dominated by apps, by the way, not the mobile web. In fact, users spend over 80% of their in-app time on just 5 apps, according to a 2015 Forrester study. In this context, the continued investment in programmatic display feels downright silly.

So, what’s a marketer to do?

In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions let’s look to the hit diet book Eat This, Not That for a new approach to ad investment strategy. The underlying premise of the book is that making simple swaps can help you lean up without missing the junk you’re giving up. Okay, marketers, ready to make some swaps?

  • Target people NOT pixels
  • Serve native ads NOT banners
  • Prioritize mobile NOT desktop
  • Advertise in apps NOT on sites
  • Demand transparency NOT black box delivery

How did those swaps feel? Better than your office gift swap, right? Now for the big swap, you don’t have to make: quality for quantity.

That’s right, you can reach more (real) users with better quality ads by using this strategy. Consider Facebook, at the top of the world’s list of most-used apps. By utilizing its deterministic targeting capabilities and strategic ad solutions, any brand can tap into the social channel’s 1.86 monthly billion users and place a message that’s timely, relevant and actionable. No guessing. Just precision creative and targeting, delivered in the highly contextual Facebook News Feed. Facebook continues to forge new ground for advertisers seeking greater clarity, including launching a new initiative to boost transparency about its performance metrics. Conveniently, other leading social platforms like Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Snapchat have adopted similar deterministic audience matching models to monetize their massive audiences.

Time to ring in 2017, my friends. Pixels do not track across devices. Probabilistic targeting models cannot keep up with deterministic ones. Transparency is no longer out of reach. Better retargeting alternatives are available. They may not be entirely open, but they’re also not a sloppy amalgamation of technologies slapped together to soak up ad dollars. By focusing your digital budgets on programmatic social, you simply sidestep the problems that plagued advertisers throughout 2016. A new year is upon us, and the alternatives to last year’s programmatic strategy are looking better and better.

So, what’s your resolution?


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