De-blurring Lines Between ‘Ad Tech’ and Advertising

Advertising technology and advertising are two separate pieces of the same solution, yet both are commonly lumped together. The former creates the infrastructure on which the ad is delivered (and measured), while the latter is the actual final product delivered to the consumer. Advertising can exist without ad tech, though ad tech would find a pretty difficult time without the creative placed over it.

But perhaps brands, after years of offloading their advertising to algorithms — especially on mobile — are finally wising up and keeping these two separated. Celtra’s Richard Knott recently noted that 2017’s mobile ads have shown marked improvement. Quality is on the rise, disruption is starting to fade, and relevancy is more important than ever.

Evaluating Automated Advertising Strategies for Brand Safety

Creative is actively hitting back against an old, lazy approach that led to trouble for brands. The lazy, automated “advertising” has come into a negative spotlight lately, as brands raised alarm bells about where content has appeared by way of Google and Facebook’s ad tech ecosystems. Countless large brands have pulled out of these streams entirely, forcing Google most of all to reevaluate how it does business with regard to ads and brand safety.

The issue isn’t just specific to digital media, either. After Bill O’Reilly’s alleged behavior toward female co-workers become public, advertising plummeted during The O’Reilly Factor. Turns out, context does matter to advertisers, quite a lot actually. O’Reilly’s program was canceled and O’Reilly was let go within weeks.

Everyone knew this already. Or at least, they should have.

Advertisers have been sold infrastructure and metrics, losing their focus on delighting the consumer with the creative they can deliver. Ad tech promised clicks and eyeballs — those imperative measurables for any advertising budget — but never expanded on the solution it was providing. Now we live with an ad tech market that has very little to do with advertising. It was really just the technology underneath.

Engagement using Mobile Advertising Relies on Analytics

Every brand wants their messages delivered to mobile consumers, despite lacking the expertise. Ad tech doesn’t have that expertise either, though. The innovation in the space has been focused on the underlying nuts and bolts: algorithms, connecting buy-side and supply-side, on data management and of course, hitting those coveted metrics by any means necessary.

The creative (the most important part of an effective ad) was hung out to dry in the name of a nebulous concept of “technology.” Even highly targeted advertising, using the latest algorithms and audience data, won’t accomplish anything if the advertising format, the message and the creative is not engaging.

The backlash against the ad tech model is long overdue.

Brand advertisers were always pretty keen on both the creative and the context in which their message was seen. Ad tech made it so that they weren’t interested in either anymore. Advertisers traded that focus on creative and context for collecting customer data. Wouldn’t more customer data mean the resulting ads are more informed, not less? This dynamic makes absolutely no sense, given the goals of paid advertising (delivering a message completely owned and controlled by the advertiser).

End Ad Tech and Return to Traditional?

In March, Harvard’s Doc Searls dug into what on earth brands are doing — and have been doing for years. He’s just as confused by this shift of advertisers effectively offloading their jobs to algorithms. Searls also calls for an end to ad tech, in favor of a return to “traditional” advertising approaches. The state of ad tech’s been killing media, too. And he wants to save it before we venture too far.

Rise of Ad-Blocking Harming Ad Tech Investments

The New York Times also agrees — and they obviously have their own interest here as a media entity too. Google/YouTube’s solution to the ad tech issue is just a restriction, which is (also) not an advertising policy. It’s hurting publishers large and small from being able to create content free from interference by the underlying technology — not the brands advertising! It’s giving rise to ad-blocking software, as well. Which again, harms brands and makes those ad tech investments even more of a useless spend.

Creative Programmatic Deliver the Right Message to All Parties

Ideally, we’d start from scratch to repair this broken system. Go back to smart creative and strategic buys, and tell the large ecosystem players (Google, Facebook) to get lost unless they start selling themselves as what they are: underlying algorithms TO the creative. Middlemen can still exist to help plan, create and sell in programmatic campaigns. In this scenario, they provide clear value to delivering messages to the consumers in a more honest and beneficial way for all parties.

Of course, not all ad tech is bad. In fact, much of ad tech is quite good. But the point here should be clear: We must untether advertising from ad tech. Good mobile advertising needs good mobile technology, for sure. But it also demands innovative mobile creative.

The last month or so was step one in separating these two. Now we wait and see if these brands have learned enough from the placement debacle to take matters into their own hands and start providing valuable ads again. That technology and the expertise exist to do so. Advertisers simply need to demand it.

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