With recent, damaging claims that certain programmatic ads have had a role in unexpectedly helping to promote hate speech, and even worse, to fund terrorism, ad tech’s reputation has taken a real battering in the last few months.
The most difficult thing to digest from this whole episode is that it seems to just keep on happening. For example, during last year’s American presidential election, some candidates’ online adverts, again, were displayed alongside content promoting terrorism.
The impact of both of these high-profile issues can’t be understated. The behemoth that is Google, whose YouTube platform was where these ads were placed, has even had to promise better policing of where ads now appear. This is primarily because many top brands had begun to pull their budgets from Google and its video platform.
Negative headlines for ad tech
This whole situation is bad enough, but it is also coupled with an overall slowing down of the funding cycle for the ad tech industry. Firms in the sector saw a 17% drop in funding last year when compared to 2015, which is a total drop of $1bn.
It would seem that ad tech is heading into a perfect storm, whereby the industry’s image is in tatters and investors and VCs who have consistently believed in the potential of our sector are beginning to doubt it. Indeed, the future for ad tech looks quite grim on the face of it.
Despite what might seem like desperate times, in my opinion ad tech is poised to rebound quickly and, more importantly, become significantly bigger than before.
Reasons for optimism
The industry has been, and still is, at the forefront of technological development that not only impacts our industry and customers, but also wider society. As I mentioned in a previous post on Econsultancy, we’re seeing huge growth in the use of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), which have tremendous potential in revolutionising the online user experience and also helping us to better target consumers.
Firstly, looking at it from an industry point of view, the reason we’ve seen such a huge rise in the development of AI technology has been because of what it can achieve. Simply put, the scale and scope of what it offers is way beyond human abilities.
Taking the YouTube situation as an example, Google said that it employed a “wide variety of tools” in order to maintain brand safety. Yet these tools, some human, some technology-driven, failed. Tasking AI solutions with upholding and consistently maintaining brand safety is, in my mind, the solution. This is because the technology has unparalleled capabilities. Within mere seconds it has the ability to assess and analyse hundred of thousands of webpages, in all shapes and sizes, and provide critical insights.
Why this matters so much to brand safety is because this information can be delivered in real time, so if something does go wrong, or an issue needs to be addressed immediately, it can be. In effect, it gives a huge amount of control back to brands and professionals within the industry and will hopefully mend what has become a sometimes fraught relationship with ad tech companies.
Moving beyond the ad tech industry bubble however, AI has a critical role to play in one of the biggest issues now affecting societies across the world – “fake news”. We’ve all seen the headlines and the accusations fly, to the point that it has now become a critical geopolitical issue that governments are actively trying to combat. The most significant problem with the rise of such “fake” content is that it makes people question the legitimacy of all online content, regardless of how respected the source actually is.
The Fake News media is officially out of control. They will do or say anything in order to get attention – never been a time like this!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 4, 2017
The effects of this are quite dangerous as trust can be completely eroded between a wide variety of stakeholders including advertisers, their agencies, ad tech firms and most importantly, the end consumer. However, this is where AI can play a critical role. It is so advanced that it now has the ability to monitor a brand’s safety on a huge scale, which in turn protects it from any threats. This breaks the vicious circle of mistrust caused by such “fake news”, while also benefiting society by also protecting it from such misinformation.
The other reason I feel that ad tech’s days are far from numbered is that the entire advertising industry needs, and wants us, as active partners to effectively run digital campaigns. To be honest, five years ago this probably wasn’t the case. Again, technology was the main driver in changing what was once probably an adversarial relationship between agencies and ad tech companies.
Agencies do a really incredible job at managing their clients and also figuring out ways for them to work best. By contrast, ad tech partners complement this by having the ability to actually achieve clients’ digital marketing goals, thanks to our technology and expertise.
Despite the recent bumps in the road for ad tech, there are many reasons to be optimistic for the future. A recent survey found that 90% of agency side marketers said they have a close relationship with their ad tech partners, while new technology is being developed at a breakneck speed within the industry. Forget the headlines, ad tech will be fine.
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