Why AdTech is down a rabbit hole and how to climb back out

Why AdTech is down a rabbit hole and how to climb back out 1000 748 Ryan Garner

I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions over the past few years about the effectiveness of digital marketing. Being critical of AdTech and related digital marketing ecosystems used to be a very ‘alternative’ position to take. But this week I spoke at the BreakOut event about ‘Why AdTech is down a rabbit hole and how to climb back out’. Instead of spiky questions there was a lot of agreement and constructive discussion. I think the mood for change has finally arrived and it’s exciting to see how the industry will transform over the next few years.

You can find my wonderful Alice in Wonderland themed presentation on slideshare, and a brief overview below.

Display advertising hasn’t transitioned well to digital. It hasn’t been performing well for a long time. Since 2010 the average Click Through Rate (CTR) is 0.1%. Which leads me to my next question, where do we go from here and what are the alternatives that produce better results?

AdTech is not short of ideas and ad formats. In fact over the years AdTech has been extremely industrious with bringing new solutions to market, just look at the landscape. The problem is that we end up down a rabbit hole whichever direction we take.

Ad fraud is one of the biggest problems. It is skyrocketing right now and projected to reach $19bn in 2018. To put that into context, that would make it second only to the drug trade as an illegal source of income. This has not gone unnoticed and has caused the big advertisers, including P&G, to call for reform.

Still lost in AdTech Wonderland? What else can we try?

How about buying in third party data and tracking consumers around the internet so they can be served a more personalised experience? Well the past few years has shown us why not. The only direction this will take us is further down the rabbit hole. Why?

  1. Consumers do not want this. What we’re witnessing is one of the world’s largest consumer protests. At the start of the year, 615m devices globally are blocking ads.
  2. Then there is GDPR. Two key things in this new legislation; 1) you need consent from customers to use their data for EVERY specific use case, and 2) you have to give your customers access to the data you store on them in a machine readable way.

This new regulation will ask big questions of the tracking and data broking industries blanket and underhand way of collecting and selling customer data. The financial risks of non compliance are huge, €20 million or 4% of global revenue, whichever is higher.

So is there any way out of Wonderland?

Well, we could stop using data and revert back to corporate guess work. I think that ship has sailed. That really would be madness! All of these routes are failing. They are failing because we are looking at the problem the wrong way round. Somewhere down the line we’ve lost touch with the person who really matters, the customer. Roy Disney, who was in charge of Disney when they made Alice in Wonderland once said:

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”

So here are three values for the digital era that help us think about the problem in a different way.

  1. Use data to accentuate our humanity. Not make humans more digital. I think we often forget about the human behind the data when we’re trying to maximise conversion rates. Technology should be about bringing us closer, not chasing eyeballs around the internet.
  2. Marketing is about relationships. It’s not something you do to someone. We constantly push and follow customers around the internet expecting them to like us. Marketing should be about building trust and relationships. Relationships are not built by stalking people and constantly shouting “look at me, look at me”.
  3. Better understand your customers by giving them control of their data. Well after all a bit of ‘give and take’ is the basis of all good relationships. The customer data you hold has enormous value to consumers aswell. Given both you and the customer created it, it belongs to them too. Open it up to them and see the wealth of opportunities unfold.

Is human data really the way forward for AdTech?

I know what you’re thinking. I’m the crazy one. Data is an asset – we can’t give it away! Well it’s already happening and regulation is on it’s way to help that process along. There is a lot of emerging customer tech on the horizon, CitizenMe being one of them. Tech that works behalf of the customer, not the business. Through data, customer tech will help people to better understand themselves and help them make better decisions.

Furthermore, in May 2018 (that’s eight months away from the time of writing/presenting) GDPR will lay down some clear pathways on how to engage with customers that promote trust. If we see this as an opportunity, there’s huge competitive advantage to be gained on those mitigating it as a risk.

So don’t be late. The clock is ticking. It’s time every business re-assesses their use of customer data and how they go about forming relationships with customers.


Ryan Garner

Ryan has provided insights to global brands, helping shape products and services around real customer needs. He has spent the past 3 years helping businesses think about the opportunities in the personal information economy. He now brings this experience to CitizenMe. As much as Ryan loves technology, he likes to escape by growing fruit and veg on an allotment with his kids. And if you have not already heard, Ryan is a very smug Leicester City supporter right now!

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