Stop calling ‘ad tech’ advertising
Advertisers are investing heavily in ad tech, but contributor Daniel Meehan points out that even highly targeted advertising using the latest algorithms and audience data won't accomplish anything if the advertising format, message and creative are not engaging.
Plain and simple: advertising technology is not advertising.
It may contain the root word “ad,” but the realities of the current ad tech world could not be further from its impetus. There is no thoughtful creative, no careful planning and targeting involved. Brands are offloading their advertising — especially on mobile — to algorithms and then calling it a day. This lazy approach has recently come into the spotlight as brands raise 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 only specific to digital media, either, as evidenced by the plummeting advertising that appeared within “The O’Reilly Factor” based on Mr. O’Reilly’s alleged behavior prior to his dismissal.
Turns out, context does matter to advertisers. Quite a lot, actually. Who knew?
Well, everyone did — or at least, they should have. Advertisers have been sold down the river, and they’ve lost their focus on delighting the consumer with the creative they 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.
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, 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, message and creative are 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).
Last month, 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. He 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 Searls wants to save it before we venture too far.
The New York Times 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 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 also giving rise to ad-blocking software. Which again, harms brands and makes those ad tech investments even more of a useless spend.
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, ad tech is quite good. But the point here should be clear: creative, emotionally-connecting advertising (in mobile, at least) is losing to ad tech, and that needs to stop. Good mobile advertising needs good mobile technology, for sure. But it also demands innovative mobile creative.
It all starts with untethering advertising from ad tech. The last month or so was step one. 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.