From AI to Walled Gardens: the Top 5 Trending Topics in Advertising

How today’s digital advertising industry is evolving and what you should know.

There is an evolution happening in the digital advertising industry, and recent changes have been so dramatic, says Toccara Baker, who works in product marketing for Adobe Advertising Cloud, that some of the topics being discussed are causing a roller coaster of emotions — to the point of even “grief and hysteria.”

From transparency in the value chain to artificial intelligence (AI), data management, and safety, here are the top five trends that are sure to shake up the advertising industry this year:

1. Where’s the transparency?

First and foremost, Toccara says, there is a new awareness of the key challenges in programmatic advertising. In 2017, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) published the report “The Bot Baseline: Fraud in Digital Advertising,” which stated that global economic losses due to bot fraud were estimated to reach $6.5 billion that year. People started thinking about transparency (where they were spending their advertising dollars) and value (with all the intermediaries in the pipeline, how much was their investment bringing in?).

Toccara says the industry also has Procter & Gamble’s Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard to thank for bringing attention to the integrity of digital advertising.

“He started digging into what the ecosystem looked like,” she says, “and started calling out inventory that could be fraudulent at worse or murky at best.”

She says you need to know how much you’re paying each of the links in the advertising supply chain, including publishers, data management platforms (DMP), demand-side platforms (DSP), ad-block technology, exchanges, supply-side platforms (SSPs), ad networks, ad servers, and ad verification. “Do you know how much they’re taking out of your overall budget campaign, and how much of that is actually going toward a human seeing the ad?”

Some brands are increasing their spend in areas or channels they can prove are brand safe. “Others are reviewing their agency partnerships or their supplier relationships,” she says. “They are looking for a direct way to work with suppliers or inventory to reduce all of those intermediaries.”

Adobe Advertising Cloud recently partnered with SSPs to provide clients with complete transparency as to the chain. “It’s available in our platform and something we give to partners, our advertisers, right now,” says Toccara. “It will be fully integrated into our platform later this year.”

2. AI is driving personalization

Some advertisers and marketers worry about the rapid increase in automation, and are wondering if robots will take over all the jobs. AI is big right now in both marketing and sales, according to Toccara.

“We’re starting to see an evolution in how AI and machine learning are used to target various audiences,” she says. “It lets us start analyzing millions and millions of data points and learn from that. Predictive analytics help us be more turnkey and more innovative as advertisers.” Machine learning and AI also are driving personalization.

Adobe Sensei, Adobe’s artificial intelligence and machine-learning framework, is integrated into the Adobe Advertising Cloud DSP and its search products. Toccara says the technologies automate data analysis so you can find more audiences who are likely to make a purchase. “You can start to target and look at audiences a lot larger than that singular initial audience you looked at with a propensity to convert. You can scale them.”

The key takeaway here is to know which of your current partners use AI, and how. Figure out how AI can provide value to your business, and seek-out companies that offer that service. And remember that technology is only as good as the data that’s being put into it.

“It’s really important to create a data governance, or a data strategy, for how you’re starting to ingest data or use data sets to understand your consumers and your prospect,” says Toccara.

3. Protecting against fraud with ads.txt

Fraud continues to be an enormous problem within the digital advertising landscape. In a 2017 study, the advertising group WPP, and ad verification company Adloox estimated that revenue wasted on fraudulent traffic or clicks could reach $16.4 billion.

“That’s a lot of money spent reaching bots and not people,” Toccara says.

Ads.txt, which allows content owners to declare who is authorized to sell their inventory, is one company increasing transparency in the supply chain. “If I’ve bought inventory from an exchange, say I’ve bought it off of, but I think it’s kind of ‘funny,’ I can go to and see a file and list of all the inventory sources and exchanges that are allowed to sell inventory off of I can look at the SSP or the exchange domain, and I can see their seller ID and their type,” Toccara says.

The Adobe Advertising Cloud uses technology to crawl across all the various files and ensure a full view of the distributors authorized to sell inventory within the platform.

4. Managing data and safety

For a lot of brands, the most important emerging technology are big data and analytics.

“Ninety percent of executives worldwide who use data analytics noticed that it improved their ability to deliver a superior customer experience or a superior journey for consumers,” Toccara says. “So there’s a lot of value in investing in data analytics and in data.”

She recommends focusing on first-party data, ensuring you use cross-device solutions, and making sure you understand the systems and technologies that give you better access to unique data.

Also understand how they integrate with technologies you already own. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, says Toccara. These technologies can work well together, so ask specific questions, and learn to use them.

Adobe has three such solutions integrated within the Adobe Advertising Cloud platform. The data management platform Adobe Audience Manager helps you understand various audiences. Device Co-op is a marketplace that lets participating brands work together to better identify consumers as they move across devices while ensuring privacy and transparency. And Adobe Analytics lets you measure and understand how and where data is driving ROI.

5. Climbing the walled garden

Viewership is high within “walled gardens” at closed platforms like Facebook and YouTube, and Toccara says advertisers know they need to invest there.

“But if our tech platform is evaluating inventory that a partner owns,” says Toccara, “and the partner is telling us how successful that inventory is in comparison to everything else, where’s the separation of church and state?” Brands are starting to ask how we know the partner is aligned with our interests, she says, and not just funneling more money toward its own inventory.

“At Adobe, we’re proud of our independence and the fact we don’t own media,” she says. “We’ve also built-out access to all the various platforms where possible, such as our integrations with Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat to gain that holistic view of the consumer and fully understand how all these different areas work together.”

When possible, she says, buy from independent and agnostic vendors that are focused on making sure the buy side is successful and helping to drive that overarching customer journey or experience.

“It’s really important to ask questions of your partners that own both media and buying platforms,” she says. “Buy-side conflict is a fair reality, and it is key to understand how these partners build tools that do not funnel spend to their own inventory.”

Toccara says there will always be a “bit of a swirl” when the industry changes how it operates or buys inventory. But we’re also starting to see some education and standardization across the industry, and these trends will help to resolve some of advertisers’ biggest challenges and move the industry forward.

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