Shattering The AdTech Fantasy

The problem with AdTech is simple: we have way too many over-engineered hammers looking for too few verifiable nails.

It almost conjures up images of Alice in Wonderland-esque humanoid tools, blindly shattering browser screens with reckless abandon. At least that’s what I like to think the dreams of my paid media brethren have been filled with the last 5 years.

The truth is though, they’ve been sleeping like babies thanks to several well-propagated lies. As Mark Duffy points out, we’re all about to get a wake up call in a very big way.

To avoid being stuck holding the bag like so many bad mortgage loans, allow me to point out those lies in very simple terms…

First, AdTech Is Built On Data Of Questionable Integrity

When an AdTech firm sells you a programmatic solution, you’re actually being sold two different things.  You’re being sold both technology and the data it runs on.

I’ve seen this technology and can tell you there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.  In most cases, it’s actually well thought-out and theoretically sound.

However, the challenge is when you start fueling the technology with bad data.

Think about gassing up your car with fuel that hasn’t been verified, has more fillers than anyone would like to admit, and is going to get you just about as far as the next filling station two blocks away.

The data we’re being sold is just that unreliable.

It’s a blend of shopping cart preferences and third-party data bundles.  In it are ridiculous broad-based assumptions that more often than not segment consumers into ill-defined categories for the sake of expediency rather than accuracy.

For example, I’ve seen data sets from programmatic vendors that purport to accurately identify high-value, affluent consumers.  Eager to design strategies to target these individuals, I wanted to know just what parts of their behavior caused them to appear in this group.

It turns out that the segment was called “Country Club” and that the only thing you had to do to be categorized in this group was to show an affinity for brands like J. Crew.  Suffice to say, pointing out the absurdity of this correlation didn’t win me any fans among the AdTech people on my team.

Therein lies the problem. As media professionals we’re OK with the lie as long as the results reach the absolutely ridiculous, low single-digit benchmarks that we’ve taken as gospel.

Second, Creative Isn’t Changing

Unlike fisherman who change their bait based on the specific fish they want to catch, the creative we’re using isn’t changing to meet the audience.

You would think this is a huge missed opportunity and it is.

If you are lucky enough to find a verify a prospect through programmatic, you would think that media professionals would put their best creative foot forward.

You would think they would spend just as much on developing really great, specific ads that are drawn from deep-seated understanding of the audience you’ve worked so hard to find.  You would, of course, be wrong.

But what about the technology? Isn’t finding the audience half the battle? Not really.

As Mark Duffy points out, the reason that ad-blocking technologies continue to grow in popularity despite the promise of programmatic is that consumers are still seeing the same pre-adtech creative.

This is why we’re still mired in such lousy response rates.

In fact, ask anyone who does one-to-one sales.  They will tell you that if you know who your audience is, and can effectively find them, even a cold-approach should net you a 1 in 10 chance of a conversion if you put any mental effort into the pitch at all.

What these two truths add up to is a well-intentioned, wildly expensive way to get the same result as you would without the technology.

I wish this wasn’t so.  I wish the data was better and that media teams would wake up to the fact that creative needs to be just as much priority as the technology.

In my experience though, if wishes were angels…In other words, this is why I’m a bigger fan of owned and shared media than I am paid.

Though paid is a great tool and isn’t going away, there’s going to be a lot of cleanup to do when the industry wakes up to so many shattered dreams.

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