We Are Rebuilding Digital Advertising: Marketers, Your Choices Matter

July 15, 2021

By Joe Zawadzki

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Last year, I led a conversation among industry leaders in partnership with the ANA, where we discussed how to fix the broken digital media supply chain. The advertising industry's challenges are well documented: fraud (now on phones and TVs), misaligned metrics, and a foundational lack of trust and transparency, resulting from fragmented solutions pieced together without purposeful design in the form of the open web, or with very intentional design in the market structure of GAFA.

Over the last year, we've also seen a new set of challenges emerge — the global pandemic disrupted nearly every facet of life at both a business and individual level. The use of CTV increased exponentially as quarantine and shutdowns saw many of us flocking to streaming services. All the while, we’re still dealing with the proliferation of misinformation and the impending demise of third-party cookies. These trends will only accelerate in the post-pandemic world, and the cracks in the digital media supply chain will deepen. With status quo ante disrupted — how to connect to desktops, mobile devices, and TV in a privacy-forward way; how to measure omnichannel performance and compare year-over-year results — marketers effectively have a forced zero-basing of the 51 percent of the budget that is digital advertising.

As we look forward to the reopening of society, “getting back to normal” will become an intentional choice. We can choose what aspects of our pre-pandemic routine we want to go back to and what we want to leave in the past — everything from five-day workweeks in an office, to business travel, to the role of physical-only conferences will be re-considered.

For marketers, the events of the last year should serve as a catalyst for real and lasting change. If you lamented the lack of transparency in the supply chain, you have a choice right now. If you were frustrated by inflated metrics, and with growing fragility around cross-media measurement thanks to regulation and the competitive response to it — you have a choice. If you want your dollars to fund high-quality journalism over misinformation or to amplify the voices of people of color, women, and the under-represented — guess what?

The need to address these issues is more urgent than ever. We need to reboot, change and commit to choices now. There isn’t another opportunity where business is so clearly disrupted, where the leverage in coherent choices will have such impact. The sins and saints of commission — of active choice — trump those of omission. Those who simply go back to normal are making a decidedly specific choice about the marketplace they are re-voting with their wallets for.

 

What Decisions do Marketers Need to Make Now?

There are currently two approaches to addressing the challenges facing marketers — walled gardens and open supply chains — and both are flawed. Closed environments are kind of like fast food — you have scale and simplicity, it's easy for money and data to go in; but it's empty calories, lacking metrics and insights, renting your customers as opposed to creating durable connections with them. On the flip side, a fully open supply chain, in theory, looks to resolve the transparency and direct connect to media and consumer issue. Yet, it is fragmented without anything to tie all the disparate pieces and technologies together. We need an “enterprise open” marketplace. The middle way where scale doesn’t require opacity, where transparency doesn’t take ten times more work.

We at MediaMath have been working toward this “enterprise” version of digital advertising since our inception. Over the last two-and-a-half years, our roadmap for collaboration — SOURCE — has looked to direct the efforts across brand, agency, media, tech, and data toward common goals.

We aren’t saying that this is the only framework. We are saying it is a working-at-scale commercial framework that connects the world’s most sophisticated brands and their agents, to the most premium publishers across all channels and devices, globally. It brings the “ecosystem” of technology and identity and service together to support that connection in ways that work for everyone.

We used three pillars to systematize the work — Accountability, Addressability, Alignment — and we’ll touch on each with specific examples of what each pillar actually means and does:

  • Accountability. A lot goes into this in terms of data rights and consent, anti-fraud tools and a starving of the financial incentives for it in the market. But if you were to pick out one thing to demand from this pillar it’s (radical) transparency. Being able to see everything that happens around a real-time transaction is the beginning of trust. Who influenced the decision? What role did they play, what value did they create, what price did they charge? The IAB’s work here around ads.txt, sellers and buyers.json are strong technical specifications to drive transparency; the ANA’s membership can choose to adopt them.

    Marketers demanding transparency — and sharing their own goals and constraints with increasing fidelity to those who have earned their trust – is the way forward. If you control the budget, you should vote with your wallet, spending more if not exclusively with those who are willing to operate with sunlight.

  • Addressability. We are taking an active role in industry efforts emerging under the pressure of solving identity's future approach, including IAB's Project Rearc and PRAM ensuring the effort has a core focus on marketer needs.

    Thankfully, we’ve seen growing convergence that the third-party cookie will not be replaced with a silver bullet. Rather, that a portfolio of privacy-first solutions will be deployed to “last-mile” ads to screens and speakers, and to measure and attribute what happened from there. Proprietary standards like those of Google and Apple, to commercial solutions on top of open standards across cohorts, consent, contextual. Cohort-based approaches such as FLoC can't address the ongoing transparency issues completely by themselves.

    Will it be easy to “select, stitch, and scale” across this portfolio to build addressability back better? No. Do we have the tools to be able to reinforce identity signals across brands and premium media, while striking the right balance between openness and scale? Yes.

  • Alignment. Finally, the most challenging and profound of pillars — designing a marketplace that works together to drive the shared outcomes of people, marketers and media. There is so much to be done to move the industry from “optimize this single transaction for me” to “optimize the sum of interactions, over time, for us”.

The key for marketers is to take baby steps: First, share what you really are driving toward; your organization’s actual business goals. Don’t focus exclusively on efficiency (price) but reward effectiveness (value) in your media and service partners. If the people you work with can’t leverage this insight — or worse, use it against you — find new ones. But this commitment to the closed loop is what will separate those who choose to do good, and win over time, from those who don’t.

This is a stressful period in marketing, advertising, digital. It’s become impossible to look backwards for reference, and hard to look forward into the cloud of probability that is the future. But, like the pandemic, we’ll come out here too, one choice at a time. Two good times to plant a tree, journey of a thousand miles: make some choices, make them count.

Joe Zawadzki is CEO and founder of MediaMath.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


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