Zachary King
Mar 14, 2019

Beyond a buzzword: How blockchain is making its mark on adtech

Blockchain is expected to move from theory into practice by making the programmatic supply chain more transparent in short order.

Beyond a buzzword: How blockchain is making its mark on adtech

While Asia Pacific (APAC) has grown to be a global leader in digital ad spend, digital marketing still faces several fundamental challenges. Globally and locally, advertisers have raised concerns around the lack of transparency, discrepancies among stakeholders remain, inventory fails to meet quality standards and a noisy minority of bad actors exploits internet infrastructure weaknesses to siphon unearned value. At the same time, consumers are increasingly aware of the privacy implications and economic value inherent in the data they generate. Consumers are now demanding a clear view of how companies handle their data.

In this situation, it is even more critical for the industry to carefully handle the delicate concern of consumer trust.

Blockchain: A disruptive concept in adtech

So how does blockchain fit into all of this? Blockchain is an immutable, distributed ledger (or record of transactions) between a network of participants, with the entries in the ledger being governed by pre-defined rules and validated by the network. Simply put, blockchain can be one way to introduce trust into a system, by providing an independent record of activities.

Given the complex nature of the digital advertising supply chain, blockchain has the tantalizing potential to provide a layer of trust and transparency that is currently not always available. As a decentralized system, blockchain allows all parties in the ecosystem to access a trusted, common version of the transactions and processes taking place. This is gaining serious attention and Forrester predicts that more than 50% of the top 100 advertisers will use blockchain for supply chain transparency by the end of 2019.

Building transparency in a digital age

However, the enthusiasm for using blockchain in advertising has looked a little like my own cryptocurrency portfolio—initially filled with excitement and now left somewhat ignored. However, with the cost of ad fraud in APAC expected to reach a staggering $56 billion by 2022, showcasing a major lack of transparency and accountability in the system, the industry should be excited for a (potential) solution to this problem.

Like most emerging technologies, there are always going to be barriers to adoption. Inscribing data onto the blockchain, for example, incurs costs. Additionally, when you combine the enormous amount of data in programmatic (for example, Mediamath alone sees around 14 billion impressions a day, each with approximately 45 data points attached) with a relentless need for speed, these become potential impediments. Programmatic media buying is dependent upon decisions made in real time and differences in milliseconds can lead to significant performance differences.

This does not mean that all is lost, as there are signs of growth across the industry. At MediaMath, we have launched several solutions to support the growth of blockchain in adtech, including guaranteed viewable market—a blockchain-ready solution that guarantees a 100% viewable, fraud-free market, with credit returns for spend on non-viewable or suspected fraudulent placements, launched in collaboration with Underscore CLT, a blockchain technology company. In APAC, we have also been a foundation partner along with Mindshare, IAS, Rubicon Project and Zilliqa on project proton, an ecosystem-wide effort to assess the applicability of blockchain technology in the current programmatic advertising ecosystem.

Creating better marketing for consumers

There are additional creative methods for how blockchain can be applied in advertising and rectify the long-standing neglect of online consumer data.

For example, consumers can be rewarded—through cryptocurrencies that can be redeemed through brand loyalty programmes—for engaging with ads, providing personal data or completing other activities that add brand value. Cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, act as trusted digital currencies, due to a reliable, publicly accessible ledger of transactions. This creates a more equitable exchange that could serve as an attractive proposition in the age of the adblocker.

As we transition through the hype cycle towards adoption, blockchain has moved from a theoretical buzzword to making a material impact on how business will be conducted. While blockchain will not cure all of adtech’s problems, industry players should take note of the technology that will likely play a significant role in shaping the future of digital marketing. When blockchain technology proves its worth, it will be hard to wind back the dial to the era of informed guesswork.


Zachary King is vice president of commercial for Asia at MediaMath 

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