All Ad Tech isn’t Evil

Ad tech is getting blamed for everything that is wrong with digital media today. And when the pundits speak of “ad tech,” they are lumping in everything from ad servers to RTB platforms to DMPs (Data Management Platforms) to SSPs (Supply Side Platforms) to retargeters to data trackers. But as usual, these generalizations throw out the baby with the bath water.

We also don’t like what consumers mean by “ad tech,” — programs that distribute malware, gather personal information and sell it, or slow down web sites with trackers.

But we think there’s a difference between tracking, which consumers think of as a violation of privacy, and giving useful information.

For example, we are an ad server. As an ad server, we don’t track anything, we simply receive information from advertisers and publishers and serve an ad. We’re a back end technology that isn’t sexy and doesn’t violate anyone’s privacy. That’s how we started.

We also have a private platform. A private platform, too, doesn’t track any personal information. It simply allows an advertiser to buy our high impact formats and be sure they’re going to our premium publisher network without any extraneous influence on the supply chain. If everyone did what we did, consumers wouldn’t be turning on ad blockers.

But they are, and that’s why we spend time with the Online Trust Association, listening to its members speak about what we have to do to preserve advertising as a way to keep content free. Ironically, even the people who make ad blocker software know that advertising won’t go away, and content should continue to be free.

How do we make this happen? Both advertisers and publishers need to learn more about their customers. That involves actually serving them once they are acquired, and talking to them to find out what they truly want to see.

For example, I’m looking for a new car. I no longer buy cars based on horsepower, or even gas mileage, and heaven forbid looks. I buy them for consumer safety technology, which involves movement in the direction of autonomous driving. I also buy them for their in-car media platforms: how much and what kind of software does this car have to help me be productive even in a traffic jam?

But most car salesmen can’t talk about those features in a new car, and most ads don’t feature them. Instead, the ads feature sleek bodies and voiceovers about speed.

When advertisers begin to make ads that actually make consumers familiar with the characteristics of a product that the consumer would actually use, advertising will be helpful again, and consumers won’t be tempted to block it. That’s why there’s such a movement toward native advertising.

But there are two kinds of native ads: one is native to the format of the digital publisher, and means the ad looks like whatever else the consumer is receiving in his or her stream. Promoted Tweets fall into this category. The other is native to the content of the publisher, and means the ad contains information that might be helpful to a consumer making a decision.

Both of these “native” concepts are most suited for brand advertising, and less for direct response. And isn’t that the way advertising was intended? As a way to offer consumers valuable information about products they might want, in a location where they already are?

Let’s go back to that future, and consumers will turn off the ad blockers.