Originally published on The Drum.
Working in marketing for a global ad tech company, I frequently speak with retail and e-commerce brands. I’m tasked with understanding their problems, and then working with my team to develop solutions that address those concerns. The single most common theme I hear during these meetings is a desire to understand if ad tech can actually drive results for their business.
I understand why the sentiment exists. Advertising technology is still a young industry, and as with any early market, there’s a period of development that comes with challenges, confusion and hard learnings.
The vendors of this community have also inadvertently added to the noise surrounding ad tech by touting every shiny new lever, rather than trying to answer the real marketing question: “Do these tools sell more products?”
Today, however, we know the answer: they do sell more products.
How we got here
So why do we even need this adtech stuff? Weren’t advertisers doing just fine? Well, yes, there was a simpler time in advertising when big marketers could simply let TV do the heavy lifting. Even the largest TV advertisers simply picked the age and gender they wanted to target, chose their shows or networks, sent in the creative and then (hopefully) watched the sales roll in. It was effective. And it was simple.
As time went on, the introduction of online video sources, streaming platforms and new devices led to widespread consumer fragmentation. TV went from receiving 100% of video viewing in 2000 to nearly a third of that in 2015. This fragmentation created a need to aggregate all of these audiences for scaled reach and accurate measurement.
To address these challenges, our industry created a whole new set of tools and technologies. DSPs, SSPs, DMPs, bidders, exchanges and the list goes on.
Unfortunately, with the rise of a digital ecosystem came new challenges. New metrics like ‘viewability’ or ‘click through rate’ added to the complexity of measuring ad effectiveness. Additionally, online inventory opened opportunities for bad actors to perpetrate fraud through non-human traffic.
One can rightly ask: “Is adtech solving problems that already existed or is it solving problems that it created by the very nature of its existence?” Today, it’s not unheard of for a marketer to spend more time analyzing fraud or viewability than they do digging into whether or not an ad campaign is actually moving product off of the shelves.
And while these factors are still massively important, they shouldn’t be the marketer’s sole focus. They should be inputs into the ultimate outcome, which is driving sales or other key brand metrics.
The real role of technology
Programmatic barriers can’t be an excuse for not selling products. Technology’s promise is, and always has been, to drive better return for publishers and higher efficiency for advertisers. And, outside of the bad actors, it’s working. We now have systems in place that can forecast the value of one person seeing an ad over another − and then prove that forecast’s accuracy with measurable results.
Technology should never pose a hurdle to progress − it should be a conduit to the real goals this community has been chasing for so long. We’re not at an ‘overly-confusing crossroad,’ we’re at a turning point in shifting from gut-instinct to scientific innovation.
Marketers are charged with building a brand
and driving revenue. For the first time in advertising history, technology can prove that happens − and then adjust strategies to make it happen more often.
Technology is not feeds and speeds − technology is optimization, beyond human capability, that drives results.