The 2018 ad tech predictions you didn’t expect to see
Martech and ad tech are here to stay, but it's not going to be all smooth sailing in 2018. Columnist Lewis Gersh shares three predictions that will shape our industry in the year ahead.
We see a lot of prediction pieces every season, and they’re often similar in tone: “This will be the year of mobile!” “Digital will pull in more than TV in 20XX.” These positive predictions are spun to make everyone feel optimistic about the future of the industry, to ensure that we’re able to communicate that positivity to our brand and agency clients who — upon seeing the bright future of the space — will feel confident in spending more, more, more!
Well, I’m not that guy and these aren’t those predictions. While I’m confident that digital ad tech and martech are here to stay, I can’t say 2018 is going to be the best year ever. I think it will be a pivotal year, and a year that sets us on a better path, but I think you’re going to have to buckle your seatbelts, because the road to that “better path” will be a rocky one.
Without further ado, here are those less-than-rosy predictions:
Prediction one: Dramatically increased velocity of change in the martech space
Back in the “old days” of Bubble 1.0, startups took two to three years to bring a product to market. If the product was solid, it could hold dominance in its space for up to seven years. Things moved quickly in the online world even then, but the landscape didn’t change all that much. (Take, for example, DoubleClick, which was the leading ad server and didn’t reinvent much of itself or product for over five years.)
After the markets tanked in ‘08 and we entered Bubble 2.0, there was less to be invested and spent, but the speed of change was suddenly accelerated. Technology improved rapidly and dramatically. In an internet minute, we had ad exchanges, open APIs and big data. And we had a landscape dotted with a million innovative point solutions, all of which marketers had to add individually to their tech stacks. That’s how the landscape has remained: thousands of point solutions vying for space within an already packed LUMAscape.
The next phase, which will accelerate rapidly in 2018, is consolidation. Behemoths like Salesforce, Oracle and Amazon — not to mention Facebook and Google — will begin aggregating data and services, which will dramatically increase the velocity of this change.
Marketers shouldn’t have to string together six to eight specialized solutions to accomplish their goals. They’re bound to realize that they’re getting hosed on arbitrage or visibility from one dataset to another, for one thing — and for another, they just want the ease and safety of a single solution for their marketing services. These larger players will be able to absorb those point solutions to offer marketers a single platform that can help them achieve their goals easily and at massive scale.
The effects of this consolidation will be felt keenly downstream as it hits a tipping point in the months ahead. Those solution providers who haven’t married up or at least established a dominant position in their corner of the PowerPoint slide will be dead men walking in 2018. It’s a game of musical chairs, except when the music stops, five chairs disappear at once.
Prediction two: The legal backlash begins
In 2017, we began to see lawsuits. There were complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission regarding ambient listening devices, the suit that Uber has reportedly filed against its mobile agency, Dentsu’s Fetch Media, for enabling fraud, and other smaller lawsuits within the industry. In 2018, the hatchets and sickles will come out, and the mobs will start forming.
A key driver for this is that brands are beginning to pay attention. They’re looking closely at where their budgets are being (mis)spent — and they’re going to start initiating lawsuits on behalf of that money. Shareholders will also be filing derivative suits. And don’t count on consumers not paying attention, either.
It’s a bit shocking that this hasn’t begun already. We all know the numbers: Agencies spend millions and millions of brand dollars on digital advertising, and half of it is never seen by human eyes.
The complaints will be filed because when an agency spends $50 million of a publicly traded company’s money, knowing full well that 50 percent of it is enabling fraud, someone — or some group of people — is liable. If this scenario occurred in any other industry, for example, real estate, the perpetrators would actually go to jail! In our industry, some CMOs may end up on the hook for those millions as the result of a complaint, but they’ll insist that the company settle instead. That’s when the floodgates will open.
Digital advertising has managed to stay under the radar for a long time now, but the Uber v. Fetch Media case brought into view the first glimpse of its dirty laundry. The industry needs to own the fact that we’ve been enabling and turning a blind eye to fraud against our clients and shareholders.
It’s not OK. It’s not acceptable breakage. And now the world’s going to begin hearing about it.
Prediction three: Non-abusive marketing finally catches on
For the last decade, industry thought leaders have preached the gospel of customer-centric marketing. We’ve been encouraged to think like our customers, to use data to understand our customers and prospects and to study and learn our customer’s decisioning journey. We’ve been advised to create a “360-degree view of our customer” and “look at all the touch points,” so that we could create relevant and meaningful customer engagement.
What we’ve done, really, is create excellent dashboards that help us understand how our customers use their digital devices and interact with digital content. We’ve then used those dashboards to create and measure ads that do their best to distract consumers away from whatever they were trying to do online so that they will pay attention to our ad instead. For all our talk of customer-centric experiences, we’ve become impolite, interruptive and downright obnoxious.
To be fair, we’re still years away from true omnichannel integration, although we will see major breakthroughs next year. Until we can start tying together dashboards across channels to influence results, we won’t see a meaningful reduction in disrespectful digital ads. However, that doesn’t mean we should wait to begin our efforts.
If we’re really concerned about issues like brand safety and ad blocking, we should start focusing — in a very real and tangible way — on building more respectful ads right now. After all, you can worry about your ads appearing on “fake news” sites or adjacent to bad content all day long. But if your brand placement appears in a superstitial format that covers the content a user is attempting to access, do you think that consumer is going to feel positive sentiment toward your brand or product?
If your midroll ad interrupts the video your potential customer was watching on Facebook, do you think they’re going to watch your ad because they’re interested in your product, or because they have to if they want to finish the video?
Building more respectful ads is the best way forward for our industry. Whether the LUMAscape devours itself or agencies get mired in lawsuits, good advertising is the one thing we can control — and the one really positive thing we can do for our vertical and our customers.
Predictions aside, let’s resolve that 2018 will be the year we take the path toward respect. Let’s own that even the most beautiful and creatively brilliant ads can be disruptive and abusive. From there, we can start to piece together a digital world that really is built on a fair value exchange, where people don’t mind engaging with our ads in return for accessing all the amazing content the web has to offer.