BlockChain: the programmatic industry’s shiny new distraction 

  • The marketing industry loves a shiny new toy. And nowhere is that love more deep seated than in the world of digital and advertising technology.

The latest topic dominating the trade press, the panels and the comment pieces is BlockChain and how it will revolutionise the digital advertising industry.

The favourite buzzword being spouted at DMexco this year, and the subject of 1M+ articles indexed in Google I doubt there is an Adtech pitch deck which doesn’t have it front and centre as part of their future developments.

But what is BlockChain?

A key component in the growth of crypto-currencies BlockChain is the technology that monitors and verifies the flow of funds from one person to another.  All transactions relating to Bitcoin are recorded on an permanent ledger verified by numerous sources.

The BlockChain was BitCoins original solution for removing the issue of fraud from digital transactions, without the need for establishments such as banks. It is the decentralized solution to the central banking system and without it BitCoin wouldn’t function.

What’s that got to do with Advertising?

Well unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last year, you should be aware of the issue of fraud in programmatic advertising. Fraudulent impressions, ads appearing against dubious content, funding terrorism, organised crime and everything else bad in the world apparently. And BlockChain has become the new silver bullet for eradicating fraud and cleaning up the digital advertising ecosystem.

And in theoretical terms it makes sense. BlockChain could allow for the verification of a number of key issues affecting programmatic today:
– multiple sources could verify that an ad was served
– it could verify the domain/page the ad was served on thus removing the issue of domain spoofing
– it could verify the ad was seen by a human visitor and not a bot
– it could verify the ad was viewable and to what degree

As a result so far we have AdChain, AdEx, and MadHive all lining up to be the industries BlockChain based solution. And because we all love to lap up such solutions which distract from the core issues we face, we as an industry are jumping on the BlockChain band wagon.


The core issues we are facing as an industry right now, are far less complex to solve than we are led to believe. And yet we still can’t seem to come together as an industry and solve them. Take the issue of viewability.

It’s a relatively simple question. Was the ad in view, or not, and for how long. Yet we have multiple definitions of what in view means, how long it should be in view, and what is an acceptable level of viewability. And then even if we can agree on that, every different tool that monitors it will provide a different reading.

But we are expected to believe that in the future everybody will come together and agree on a decentralised solution? Unlikely. And that’s before you get into the amount of money some players may lose if we solved all of these problems.

Light weight, easy to implement, non conflicting solutions such as the ads.txt project aimed at bringing an end to domain spoofing are building traction, but is still only adopted by 4% of the Alexa top 5000 sites.

BlockChain may be a solution for the future, and something people should be investigating. But in terms of our immediate issues as a digital advertising channel, it is nothing more a shiny distraction from the things we should be focussing on.

Lets not beat about the bush:
– publishers have the ability to prevent bot traffic more than they do
– publishers know which ad units have the poorest viewability
– Exchanges and DSPs have the capability to root out bad actors and spoofing more than they do
– Trade desks and buyers of advertising know which inventory is poor and could stop buying it tomorrow

How about we get our own houses in order and stop touting complex solutions to distract from the immediate issues facing our industry?

If you would like some further reading on this then AdExchanger wrote a good piece about the challenges:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *