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Can blockchain fix digital advertising’s trust problem?

  • Digital advertising is plagued by challenges for all stakeholders, including a lack of trust and poor customer experience.
  • A blockchain solution can help overcome these, improving return on investment through more targeted and relevant ads that enhance the experience, delivering value for advertisers and consumers alike.
  • Implementation can be done incrementally, and insights can be gleaned from best practice examples. 

It’s boom time for digital advertising. According to the PwC Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2019-2023, US$130 billion was spent on the industry in 2018 in the US alone. 

But it’s also becoming increasingly complex. The number of stakeholders typically involved in bringing one ad to market leaves it vulnerable to fraud: an estimated US$19 billion was siphoned from the industry last year alone. From an ad buyer’s perspective, the money wasted by click farms, bots, fake websites and customers, makes it harder for them to justify the return on investment. 

Ad publishers meanwhile are grappling with an inability to glean insights from data, which makes it harder to justify their costs, as well as threatening their brand. And, crucially, customers are becoming increasingly disengaged by a poor experience thanks to poorly targeted ads that result from this lack of metrics.  

A blockchain solution

But blockchain — the emerging technology once synonymous with cryptocurrency but being rapidly adopted for a swath of business solutions — could provide the missing link that helps turbocharge the industry’s growth. A blockchain solution, like those being rapidly adopted by organisations to enhance the security and transparency of their operations, reduces fraud, while combining real time insights through trusted data, and delivering more relevant ads and stronger privacy rights to consumers. 

Blockchain has the potential to address major pain points across the advertising industry, such as:

  • Unwarranted and fraudulent bot traffic which results in overpayment and difficulty in tracking customer data. Through its distributed ledger system, a blockchain network could prevent fraudsters from entering the advertising ecosystem.
  • The prevalence of ‘ghost sites’ lead to ads being placed on nonexistent or incorrect sites. Blockchain could track exactly where an advertisement is placed and determine if that location is legitimate.
  • A lack of trust in the supply chain means data is shared sparingly by participants, reducing the ability to make informed business decisions. Blockchain could solve this issue by enabling enhanced fraud-free data sharing.

A digital dashboard 

For example, imagine a blockchain-powered digital dashboard. Such a solution could enable ad buyers to verify how their ads are performing across all channels in real time. It could show which ads are driving engagement and desired outcomes, and by how much. It could even confirm the authenticity of the outlets where ads appear. 

This data would then support analytics and automatic payments, with records stored in blockchain’s immutable and auditable tamper-proof technology. This would also allow data sharing between vendors, and also the customer to the advertiser. What once were pain points, turn into a secure, transparent, and easily accessible service. 

The veracity and reliability of this data would help increase confidence levels among all parties along the supply chain, including consumers. Customers could choose to share information with vendors, with the knowledge that their privacy rights were protected. The insights delivered from the dashboard would also ensure that ads were targeted to the customer, enhancing customer experience.

A step-by-step approach

When implementing all emerging technologies, there are multiple obstacles stakeholders must first overcome. In the digital advertising industry, these include the need for a fragmented industry to work collaboratively, navigate the competing interests of participants in the ecosystem, and convincing customers to buy-in and share their data. For the best chance of success, an incremental approach is key. Here are five ways the industry can move towards blockchain implementation:

Explain the power

Clearly articulating the business value and defining the ways it will positively impact the business is the script that proponents need to get right if it is to fly. In digital advertising, that means explaining its ability to scale and automate trust.

Start where it’s easiest

The digital advertising ecosystem is complex. Some parts more readily lend themselves to blockchain solutions — so start there. By generating some early ‘quick wins’, stakeholders can will be able to see some tangible benefits that blockchain can deliver. That includes over-the-top media services that typically require users to login with their unique credentials. This layer can be a starting point for trusted data and identities on the blockchain. In-app advertising also offers a similar layer of authentication protections.

Start with a few trusted partners

The more participants in the blockchain, the more value it can deliver. But you don’t need all players on board to get started. Blockchain should be designed so that it can scale. In allowing that, it needs to be able to handle high data flows and transaction volumes, as well as choosing the rules of engagement so that partners can come on board to the system when the trust is established.  

Monitor and build on the success of others

Blockchain may not be in common use in digital advertising, but it’s been used in countless other industries. Businesses should take their cues from the use cases, such as in fighting counterfeit, safeguarding the pharmaceutical supply chain, music rights management and payments, food safety and credentials management.

Agree on standards

Once blockchain becomes common use in the advertising  industry, it will need to manage all the data flowing through it. Both buy- and sell-side participants need to be involved in setting the standards that will be put in practice, from definitions, labels, units of measurement and so on.  They must be overseen by vigilant governance, including respecting consumers rights and wishes. 

Implementing blockchain requires all stakeholders in the digital advertising ecosystem to overcome challenges that impede collaboration. But taking an incremental approach, and focusing on the four strategies for success, the reward that awaits is undeniable: a revolution in trust, customer experience, and ultimately, more effective advertising.

For further details, visit the Is blockchain the answer to digital advertising’s trust gap? website.